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Chelsea lose the game of inches and close calls at West Ham United

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Match report from an unfortunate trip across London as Chelsea have a man, a manager, and a coach sent off and lose 2-1 to West Ham United.

Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

"Sometimes you play the same way but you hit the post and the opposition don't hit the post, when last year it happened the other way round; it doesn't have to be anything major," said West Ham manager Slaven Bilic ahead of the match against Chelsea.  The only way his words could have turned out more prophetic was if we hadn't been watching Chelsea's season slip away one unlucky bounce, one individual mistake, one bad call, one bad decision at a time.

For the first time all season, Mourinho named a completely unchanged starting lineup.  We had so much stability in the squad last season that people started complaining; it took well over a dozen matches to finally repeat such a trick this season.  And just like midweek against Dynamo Kiev, the actual performance really wasn't that bad.  We've certainly seen worst and not too long ago either.  I hesitate to call it good just because of the result, but viewing it after the fact, with full knowledge of how things turned out, it really was not bad from the Chelsea eleven (and then ten).

But just as it has most of the season, the vast majority of breaks did not go our way.

Nothing of note happened for about the first 10 minutes after kick-off, despite what was ostensibly a cross-town rivalry playing out for the last time at Upton Park.  The hosts' game-plan was obvious.  As expected, they let Chelsea have the ball in non-threatening areas, while in possession or on the counter, they looked to create havoc through the interchanging trio of Payet, Lanzini, and Zarate.  That doesn't exactly have the name-recognition of, say, a Hazard-Mata-Oscar unleashed, but their movement and individual skill (especially from Payet) is fairly effective nonetheless.

With West Ham sitting deep, Chelsea tried to create opportunities and gaps with vertical movement.  Hazard often dropped deep to pick up the ball, as Matic shuttled forward, for example.  It was from just such a sequence that the first chance of the game was created.  Hazard threaded the ball up to Willian, whose deft flick found Fabregas.  Cesc has had his struggles this season (and in this match), but his ball over the top for Costa was perfect.  The striker's finish... well... not.  Not even close.  There's a good chance he hoofed that shot straight out of the stadium and into low earth, non-decaying orbit.

Costa was at the center of our next two mildly promising attacks as well, but Willian's cross was cut out at the near post for the first, and Costa dribbled himself into a cul-de-sac with the second.  Chelsea looked to be building momentum.  So of course, disaster struck at the other end.

It all started with a lazy Fabregas tackle on Payet.  Begovic parried the resulting Payet free kick for a corner, which was also taken by, you guessed it, Payet.  The outswinger didn't look like it would pose much danger, but Costa flubbed his clearance and Zarate spanked it low and hard into the short corner.  Begovic perhaps could've done better on the free kick, but he had no chance on that shot.  Another individual error, punished without fail.

Chelsea responded well, immediately creating a decent chance ruined by Costa's terrible shinned attempt at control.  Ramires tried his luck from 25 yards after some more slick passing.  The Blues controlled the game, but West Ham stuck to their tasks. With Chelsea dealing with their counters well enough however, real chances were at a premium.  So when Chelsea were denied an equalizer by an inch, literally, that familiar feeling of universal dread returned.

It all started with Ramires winning a free kick at the top of the box.  Willian's effort looked to be sailing just inches wide, but drew a save from Adrian anyway.  Chelsea retained possession, worked the ball around for a few minutes, eventually winning a corner when Willian picked out Fabregas's run down the channel.  Cesc took the corner himself, Zouma rising highest.  You quite literally can't get any closer.  To add further misery, Matic picked up a yellow after stopping West Ham's resulting counter attack by pulling Kouyate back.  It seemed like a "smart" yellow at the time.  But Chelsea's grip on the game slipped.

Both teams created several chances in the final ten minutes of the half, both coming closest on the counter.  Lanzini luckily chipped the ball inches high of not just Begovic but the crossbar as well after Payet's pass beat two defenders.  At the other end, Fabregas finished well as Willian led the counter, but the Spaniard (with his kneecap?) was offside by inches.  Or onside by inches.  It just depends on when and where you draw the line.

This period was the first (and just about last) time all game that Chelsea did not look in control, and eventually we did something stupid.  Matic again, this time with a take-down after he got sucked in on Payet.  The referee initially waved play on — second yellows are often afforded a bigger leeway — but the linesman was having none of that.  Matic was sent off, then Silvino Louro was sent off from the bench, then Jose Mourinho was sent off in the tunnel, while both Fabregas and Costa collected yellow cards for dissent as well.  It was all unraveling as the half-time whistle blew.

To their immense credit, the remaining nine men from the first half, plus substitute Mikel who took Cesc's place played almost as well, if not even better at times than the team did in the first half.  Mikel was the cool, calm center of the midfield universe, Ramires running as much as two normal players combined, as we know he can.  Hazard and Willian took over with direct running and dribbling.  The equalizer was nothing less than their efforts deserved, Gary Cahill finding the loose ball in the box after Zouma rose highest on a corner once again.

Chelsea were back in control, stringing passes together and generally containing the counter threat as well.  Ten on eleven, it was impressive stuff.  A winning goal would not have been unexpected.  One did come of course, but not when Eden Hazard set up Ramires.  Instead, it was for the other guys.  Andy Carroll may be a one-trick pony, but we've succumbed to his tricks before and did so again, as the substitute worked the isolation on Azpilicueta and headed in a winner from Cresswell's cross.  (Dammit, Branislav!)  With Begovic in no man's land and Terry complaining about a foul, Azpilicueta was the last person we wanted to be defending there.

Chelsea's subs were rather less effective, Falcao and Baba Rahman picking up token Premier League minutes (spare a thought for Oscar, whatever his deal may be).  With a fifth loss in ten matches to start the season, and at least eight points off fourth place despite improving play, things are once again looking bleak and hopeless.