Things have not gone Chelsea’s way in recent times both on and off the pitch, the latter marked by the loss of club legend Ray Wilkins at 61 years of age earlier this week. And taking the pitch was an emotionally charged affair after rounds of homages paid all over the world, as well as today at the Bridge, for such a classy character.
And it appeared at first that Chelsea would be able to turn their 2018 fortunes around by grabbing the opening score in the first half. But wastefulness, decreased intensity and the work of an old nemesis stole that from us as the Blues drew 1-1 to West Ham at Stamford Bridge.
From Chelsea’s starting lineup that picked up a 3-1 loss to Tottenham at the Bridge last weekend, there was only one change in the outfield with captain Gary Cahill taking a centre-back spot from youngster Andreas Christensen. Last but not least, there was also the return of Thibaut Courtois, taking back goalkeeping duties from Wilfredo Caballero.
West Ham, coming from a 3-0 win over Southampton, followed suit by making one change to their starters in the outfield. Their shift was made upfront with Edimilson Fernandes taking over injured Michail Antonio’s place in attack.
At home and against a team under relegation threat, Chelsea got themselves on the front foot while West Ham sat deep and tight at the back. Both sides were using the 3-4-3 shape made famous by Conte last season, with the initial minutes being a bit too clunky as neither side were able to create clear-cut chances.
The visitors were not too interested in having the ball to themselves. They were more than happy to simply sit back and wait for Chelsea’s advances, hoping to connect a pass from the defensive third or the flanks with lone striker Marko Arnautovic who was initially finding time and space to work with the ball in our box. Those were thankfully cut short by Antonio Rüdiger and Cahill, who were getting the better out of the duels with the Austrian attacker.
At times, West Ham would push their attacking front ahead and try to steal balls from Chelsea initiating play from deep. They were successful on a couple of occasions, as this systematic problem has been exploited for a good part of our current season. But their own misgivings had them failing to enjoy any opportunities provided by Chelsea.
Then, the Hammers quickly lost the stamina to keep the pressing game up. And Chelsea duly followed, starting to utilise their domination in ball retention to bring danger moving forward.
With Cesc Fàbregas occupying the right side of our midfield pivot, most of Chelsea’s possession and advances were done on that flank. The moves went through the Spaniard and were supported by César Azpilicueta and Victor Moses, while Willian and Eden Hazard carried the ball, drifted and shifted flanks between themselves. Morata was algo involved, doing good work to link up and be at the end of attacks.
Our trio of attackers were particularly inspired in the first half, leaving fans wondering how they were unable to find an early score. In the first minutes there were shots from both wide attackers, Willian’s attempt blocked by defender Angelo Ogbonna and Eden’s veering wide from Joe Hart’s goal.
20 minutes later, the Blues’ complete overtaking of the game allowed our men upfront to work some nice interchanges. With support from Cesc and/or the wing-backs pushing up, Chelsea were no longer having to resort to shots outside the box, forcing Hart to work with close attempts.
Shots from Chelsea kept coming, some stopped by our lack of aim, others by Hart and the offside line. Even if they were being a bit wasteful with their chances, West Ham were lacking an answer to this flurry of attacks much thanks to good work from Chelsea to impose themselves with their off-the-ball work.
Our best chance to open the score went to waste at minute 35 when Willian got at the end of yet another great flow of passes between himself and his colleagues Morata and Eden to force a good intervention from Hart. The ensuing chance would not have the same ending, though.
It was Azpilicueta who said that Chelsea’s best way to pay homage to Ray Wilkins would be winning today’s game, and he would take the matter with his own hands. On a short corner taken by Eden after Willian’s shot parried by Hart, Fàbregas played the ball to Victor Moses so the right wing-back could put a cross into West Ham’s box. Morata’s flick combined with the Hammers’ complete failure to clear the ball had it falling near Azpi’s vicinity. And with a simple push, he scored the first goal of the match, remembering Butch during his celebrations.
Match momentum was already weighing heavily on Chelsea’s side and the opener only thrust it further. Wisely, the Blues used the goal to push for another one.
But chances were yet again going to waste, West Ham working hard to keep our advantage at just one goal. They even tried to counter our efforts with Pablo Zabaleta, but their last haul would not wield any sort of success.
Even if profligate, Chelsea were still far ahead of West Ham in the general display. And it felt as if we would be able not only to gain three points from the match but do so with a good scoreline. That if we were able to carry this form while adding better aim — and luck! — to our finishing in the second half.
For those hoping Chelsea would improve their goalscoring margin, the start of second half was a good show. It took the Blues only a minute to get another shot at Hart’s goal, an attempt from Willian going wide.
Although goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was forced to work a few seconds later on an Arnautovic shot, it was clear that the beginning of the second half would continue to be largely on Chelsea’s favour. Much like in the first half the Blues would keep stringing great advances, with their attacking line supported by wing-backs and approaches from Cesc on the right.
However, it is in moments like these that we remember chances created are not worth a damn thing if you are not able to convert them.
Shots were created and made from left, right and centre in Chelsea’s camp. Most of those missed the target, with some turning into corners or deemed offside. Meanwhile West Ham were unable to answer, counters attempted being cut short by our defenders and some turning into chances for us to attack Hart and his colleagues at the defensive line.
But none of these opportunities were taken to our advantage where it mattered the most: the scoreboard.
Chelsea’s effort and tempo began to decrease, the players feeling tiredness accumulated throughout the season creeping in. We started to drop deep, a complete reversal of positions between ourselves and West Ham.
At the beginning they were not able to do much with the new found space to work the ball around. But upon the introduction of old Chelsea nemesis Javier “Chicharito” Hernández to the fold by West Ham manager David Moyes, things turned for the worse.
The most pessimistic of our fans could say it was something written in the stars, as it has been a sight too common for Chelsea this year. A ball was crossed to our box and cleared to the side by Cahill. There was however no one to punt it out, nor to impede Arnautovic from chasing after the ball and set it up for Chicharito. The Mexican striker, who had not scored a single goal since February 10th, broke his duck today with loads of help from Cesc who gave him space and time for a shot good enough to beat Courtois.
Having found the tie, the visitor side desperate for points to take themselves further away from the relegation zone would keep pushing for the turnaround. All while Chelsea looked around as passers-by, dumbfounded by yet another game starting out well but going awry as time went forth.
At least changes were made by Conte, Giroud and Pedro introduced in place of Morata and Moses after a good 5 minutes of heavy pressure from West Ham onto our end. The tactical shape was still a 3-4-3, but it looked at times like a 4-2-3-1 which had Chelsea finding much needed improvement in their offensive forays.
It was then time for another common happenstance in our history: the day of the (almost) impenetrable goalkeeper.
On the back and forth to close out the game, Chelsea were approaching West Ham’s defence with clearer opportunities to score as we were managing to work the ball around with possession in our grasp, while the Hammers resorted to long punts trying to engage a counter-attack. In those Chelsea got close to getting their second on multiple times, but good work from Hart put a damper on our hopes.
With that, the unlikely 1-1 draw left West Ham fans with wide smiles on their faces. All while Chelsea fans began to leave Stamford Bridge wondering if we could fall deeper into our own sea of sorrow.
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