London is blue. And London has been blue. And before this weekend, Chelsea had won seven consecutive away derbies against London-based opposition, even.
Chelsea have won 7 of their last 7 away derbies in London, the best record recorded in the entire history of the Football League of the 4 English divisions since 1888. Today they can win their 8th derby. pic.twitter.com/6fJgKHkqjR— LIGI Football ™ (@LIGIFootball) December 4, 2021
And yet, after the misfortune of the United game and the lackluster performance midweek, not to mention our accumulating injuries and the level of play at which David Moyes has gotten West Ham to play, we needed to be even more wary than usual of this cross-town trip.
West Ham have now beaten Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham in the Premier League this season.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 4, 2021
They've also knocked both Manchester sides out of the League Cup. pic.twitter.com/AaLT3kh8tv
Chelsea lined up in the typical 3-4-2-1 formation to start, with four changes from midweek. Jorginho was a necessary addition to the midfield and Ruben Loftus-Cheek seems to have a significantly better grasp on his role whenever a senior midfielder is on the pitch next to him.
Up front, Romelu Lukaku was still not fully fit, while Timo Werner remained on the bench, so Kai Havertz got the nod again. Hakim Ziyech and Mason Mount served as the two No.10s in support after both got on the scoresheet midweek.
The number of changes to lineups this season, forced by injury, squad rotation, or structural reorganization, have, at times, minimized the cohesion between those on the pitch. Earlier this season, with a more fully fit squad, changes were often made one or two at a time, which is far less disruptive to the team’s rhythm. Lately, resulting from that accumulation of injuries, we have been forced to play out of form players, or in-form players out of position.
54 - Chelsea have made four changes to their starting XI today, bringing their total to 54 in the Premier League this season; only Manchester United in 2001-02 have ever made more at this stage of a Premier League campaign (65 in first 15 games). Tinker. #WHUCHE— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 4, 2021
West Ham played an entirely new formation, ditching their typical 4-2-3-1 and mimicking the 3-4-2-1 sent out by Chelsea. Tuchel likely was not expecting this, as Moyes had been staunchly adherent to the 4-2-3-1 regardless of competition or competitor.
In the first half, Chelsea were the prepotent side and forced West Ham into a 5-2-2-1 and isolated Michail Antonio up top — essentially seven players tasked with defending at all times for the home side.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, it took a set piece to open the scoring — though surprisingly it were not the Hammers to do so, despite leading the league in such goals.
While coach Anthony Barry has been receiving plaudits for his set piece work with the team, credit for this goal is less in the tactics and more in individual execution. It boils down to Thiago Silva’s will and good aim, and Michail Antonio’s decision to become a tree, growing roots to let the ball fly over his head and onto Silva’s. Easy as you’d like.
While Chelsea were in control, we were served an immediate reminder that we would not be cruising to a win so easily.
West Ham’s very first attack after our goal needed a goal-line clearance from the goalscorer himself — Thiago Silva with a two-goal swing all by himself!
Chelsea resumed control after that and were finding success on both flanks (the middle congested with West Ham’s seven defenders), creating plenty of shots, though not many from high probability angles. Lukasz Fabianski was able to finish with a save percentage well above the league average.
Chelsea’s facade of control was shattered unfortunately with an entirely self-inflicted wound, when a poor back pass from Jorginho and some equally poor decision-making from Mendy contrived to give away a penalty — Mendy fouling the pesky Jarrod Bowen.
The spot kick was duly dispatched by Manuel Lanzini for his third career goal against the Blues in nine appearances.
Still, we would go into the half with the lead.
Loftus-Cheek sprung a counter-attack after West Ham’s first real controlled spell of possession in our half, passing up a few chances to put a ball into the box and preferring to keep the ball instead. But Declan Rice, who had a great game otherwise, misplayed a pass. Loftus-Cheek stole the ball and was able to advance, for once without West Ham having numbers back or being defensively set.
With Rice covering the run of Havertz down the middle, Loftus-Cheek chose to go left towards Ziyech, with Mount also joining the attack and advancing on the other flank.
The ball isn’t great as it curves away from the action and Ziyech’s first touch isn’t perfect either, forcing him to check back a bit. But then his long diagonal into the box is in fact perfect, arriving just as Mount arrives at the end of his lung-busting run.
With West Ham’s center halves occupied with the run of Havertz, Mount is left wide open at the far post. He could take a touch if he wanted to, but he opts for a side-footed first-time finish instead ... and it was glorious indeed.
After such a high last year and a slower start to the season, Mount has again been hugely impressive this week.
In the first half, Chelsea penned West Ham back, with the exception of a few bouts of counterpressure. With advanced positions and literally every player on the pitch having a shot on target, we were trying through all avenues to keep our goals coming.
However, the second half was nothing like the first. Chelsea were forced into a change at the break as Kai Havertz was injured by a Kurt Zouma (sigh) tackle, and replaced by Romelu Lukaku. For the Hammers, Arthur Masuaku was put on for Ben Johnson just before the break after Johnson pulled up with a muscle injury.
While these two events are unrelated, they both played a role in the outcome. West Ham were playing better and increasing their possession after the first goal. They would be rewarded by a fortunate strike from Chelsea’s thorn in the side all day, Jarrod Bowen.
Antonio, after checking to receive a ball, made a darting run towards our box and, although Silva won the header, Vladimír Coufal was there to pick up the pieces. He squared for Bowen and, with Mendy unsighted, he arrowed a shot into the far corner through the legs of Christensen.
A level match brought more changes to the game. Callum Hudson-Odoi was subbed on for Ziyech in hopes of finding space through width, as we had during our best period of the game. But the hosts were now too invigorated by going level for the second time.
West Ham were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from the flanks and created a high number of chances relative to their possession, with a high shot frequency while on the ball. Once again, conversion rates would come to haunt us: our 10% being too low and their 27% being too high.
Christian Pulisic would come on for Alonso, who would exit the field holding his back, which sent Hudson-Odoi to wingback. This would only garner West Ham’s confidence going forward, knowing that Hudson-Odoi’s preference would be to attack. Antonio wasted no time in proving that by bullishly running CHO off the ball and presenting another chance to the tiresome (but evidently untiring) Bowen.
An entertaining, at least for a time, match ensued and was only dampened by the hosts’ resilient defending and attacking. In the last fifteen minutes, we were doing wonderfully to open up their right side in repeated long spells of possession. They were doing the same down our right and had shifted into their preferred 4-2-3-1 at this point. That mattered because Antonio playing deeper would lead to their winner.
After forcing Christensen into a clearance for a throw, Antonio showed liveliness to both make the initial darting run and quickly receive the throw from Masuaku. Masuaku receives it back straight away but is not put under pressure by Loftus-Cheek, so James has two to mark and cannot commit to a challenge. Loftus-Cheek instructs James to pick up the run of Antonio and yet does not close down on the ball. With that space, Masuaku aims a cross towards Souček, but slices it badly and instead beats Mendy at his near post.
An absolute fluke, but it counted just the same.
It was a horrible way to conclude the derby, but a testament to why West Ham are the leaders of the chasing pack and have inflicted such damage on the big teams in the process.
Mount commented afterwards that the team were a big leggy and tired, both physically and mentally. There is no break in December, so let’s hope the added injuries from the day heal quickly and those out come back very soon.
I can’t finish on a negative note, so enjoy this tweet.