In Benitez’s third game in charge of Chelsea Torres retained his place in the side. Having scored more goals in the Premiership against West Ham than any other side, he would have been optimistic prior to the game commencing.
Chelsea lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1
Both teams started reasonably with neither side clearly in the ascendancy.
As the game began to settle down, the opening goal was created and scored by Juan Mata. Mata was given far too much freedom by a very linear West Ham side in the opening half and the Spaniard duly punished the Hammers in the 12th minute of the game.
Collecting a throw in from Azpilicueta, Mata passed to Moses on the wing before setting off towards the penalty area. Neither Noble or the closer Tomkins matched his run enabling Mata to comfortably move onto Torres cut back to drive the ball home for the opening goal.
It was a common theme in the opening 45minutes as West Ham struggled to adapt to Mata’s movement particularly when he dropped deep and Ramires made surging runs.Chelsea continued to dominate proceedings and carved out a number of scoring opportunities for themselves but the second goal eluded them. The crucial moment in the first half saw Mata have two shots in quick succession, the first being saved by Jaaskelainen whilst the second shot was blocked and cleared for a corner. Had the Hammers trailed 2-0 at half time, it’s unlikely that we would have seen such a rousing second half performance.
Kevin Nolan fouled Petr Cech after 35 minutes. It was a clear barge on the goalkeeper as Nolan was never going to win the ball but the concession of the foul was less important that what it said. Until that point Cech had been relatively trouble free but Nolan fouled the keeper simply as a statement. A reminder that whilst he made have had an easy afternoon until that point, it could change.
The Key Change:- Introduction of Diame
With West Ham playing their third game in just six days, Allardyce decided to rest Diame given his energetic, industrious style within the midfield area. Yet it was clear as half time approached that his qualities were exactly what the Hammers needed. The change was made with Tomkins making way for Diame. The Statistics below provide a glimpse of what Diame brought to the team:-
Diame was only on the field for 45 minutes yet made more tackles than anyone else and was involved in more ground duels than anyone else. His introduction was central to West Ham getting back into the game along with a couple of small changes from Allardyce at half time.
West Ham moved further up the pitch as a unit. Whereas in the first half, West Ham had been passive and defended deep, with Diame in the midfield area pressing opponents, they pushed higher upfield. Secondly, as can partly be seen from the statistics, West Ham were more direct in the second half. Diame only attempted 13 passes compared to the player he replaced, Tomkins, attempting 25 passes. West Ham were moving the ball forward quicker, seeking out Carlton Cole. The power and aggression of Diame enabling them to compete for second balls if Cole was unsuccessful.
West Ham Pressure
An improvement from West Ham was always likely and it arrived as soon as the second half kicked doff. They ball went forward quicker and the Hammers won a number of set pieces which they launched into the Chelsea penalty area. Although these were largely cleared, there was a sense that Chelsea were uncomfortable with this tactic. In total West Ham played 25 crosses into the Chelsea penalty area during the game and from one of them, albeit deflected, the equalising goal arrived.
The determination of Diame and Jarvis on the left, competing for the ball enable West Ham to retain possession. The cross from Nolan was deflected and looped into the air. The ball was in the air for some time and Cech should have claimed it. Expecting his keeper to do so, Ivanovic tried to shield the ball and Cole clambered over the top of him to head home. Probably a foul but it highlighted the indecision within the defence. Was Cech reluctant to come out based upon the earlier challenge from Nolan?
Next Page: Chelsea 2nd Half Chances, The Impact of Benitez and Conclusions (click on Page 2 below or click here to read more.)
Chelsea 2nd Half Chances
Chelsea immediately went back onto the front foot after West Ham’s equalising goal. A shot by Eden Hazard in the 64th minute was well saved by Jaaskelainen with the rebound falling to Torres but his effort was weak and straight at the keeper. A moment later a free kick by Mata struck the side of the post, one of the few second half moments when Mata was involved. His influence waned when West Ham pressed and increased the tempo of the game.
One moment stood out in the second half. Mata collected the ball in the centre of the pitch and was immediately closed down by Diame who won the ball and launched a West Ham attack. The time and space was no longer on offer. Chelsea continued to see more of the ball and overall they enjoyed nearly 58% possession compared to the hosts 42% but the second goal would not arrive.
As the game appeared to be heading for stalemate, another West Ham throw in on the left reaped dividend.
Somewhat inexplicably, Mikel was marking Cole around 3 or 4 yards deeper than the remainder of the defence. As players moved back, Cole passed to the edge of the box where the unmarked Diame fired low past Cech.
The game’s final goal also involved Diame. He pursued Ashley Cole which led to a sloppy pass from the left back. A player of Cole’s experience and quality should have known better than knocking a sideways pass when under pressure. Taylor and Maiga combined with the final goal.
The Impact of Benitez
With two goalless draws and a derby defeat in his short time at Chelsea already, Benitez is doing little to enamour himself to a set of supporters, many of whom don’t want to see him at the club anyway.
With only a few training sessions with his new squad given the number of games that are scheduled, a situation that is unlikely to alter in the short term either with the World Club Championship looming on the horizon, Benitez has little time to instigate meaningful change.
The small changes that Benitez has implemented are already visible within the Chelsea team. During his tenure at Valencia and Liverpool, Benitez could often be seeing on the sidelines clasping his hands together in an exaggerated motion. The significance? His hands were compact and together and he expects his team to operate in the same way.
The standard 4-2-3-1 which Chelsea operated under Di Matteo remains in position but in the defensive phase of the game it becomes a 4-4-1-1 with the wingers, on Saturday being Hazard and Moses, expected to drop deep and undertake their share of defensive duties.
In the short term it means attacking guile will be sacrificed until the defensive frailties are addressed.
West Ham continue to surprise in the Premier League. Whilst they were always likely to avoid relegation, their form has probably surpassed even their most ardent followers expectations. A word of caution could be appropriate. During his tenure at Bolton, Allardyce’s team occasionally went on a particularly barren spell of form at one stage of the season usually characterised by a run of defeats. If such an event happened at Upton Park, the points already gained win stand them in good stead.
Chelseahas now gone seven league games without a win. This is their longest barren spell since Glenn Hoddle in 1995. With suggestions that Avram Grant could make a return to Stamford Bridge in a consultative role, pressure is only going to continue to mount on Benitez until he can get a few wins under his belt whilst somehow attempting to resurrect the stalled career of Fernando Torres in the process.
The squad has issues which need to be addressed in January but the process of short term managers and an owner seemingly involved in the acquisition policy of the club is only going to sustain the uncertainty and structural imbalance.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.