Chelsea pulled off another magnificent performance at Stamford Bridge to maintain their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League. First half goal from the captain John Terry put the Blues ahead with Diego Costa getting o n the scoresheet in the second to finish off Sam Allardyce’s men, but the scoreline did not reflect the full extent of Chelsea’s domination throughout the game.
The Blues have recovered well from the festive period and all the good food. They were in imperious form in the first half allowing the Hammers only three passes in the final third! The visitors weathered wave after wave of blue attacks and somehow managed to keep it at 1-0 after 45 minutes. Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic were running the midfield with Matic winning possession back still in the vHammers’ half almost every time the Blues had lost it to keep the pressure on the visitors. Meanwhile Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta erased Enner Valencia and Stewart Downing respectively. West Ham were better in the second half but didn’t create any clear cut chances until it was too late and they were 2-0 down. The hosts invited their East London rivals to attack them more but looked fully in control of the game. Their only regrets will be they did not make the scoreline more emphatic from the chances they created with credit going to Adrian for some wonderful saves to keep the Blues to two goals only.
It was the first game of Boxing Day and Chelsea have entered it sitting on top of the Premier League table. The past three times that had happened the Blues have gone on to win the title. Sam Allardyce’s men are producing some magic of their own and came to West London in fourth keeping behind teams like Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton. To much of Big Sam’s credit, he had turned things around spectacularly over summer at West Ham from the teams philosophy to their position in the league. In this fixture last season, the Hammers have kept Chelsea at bay and took a point for a goalless draw with their strongly defensive performance leading Mourinho to call it “19th Century football”. The fact remains that the West Ham manager got his tactics spot on that day and took the point. Today however, given the turnaround in West Ham’s philosophy, it was expected the visitors would focus less on defending and be more open at the back.
Chelsea were focused and played with determination from the first kick of the ball. The hosts could have been up as early as four minutes into the game. Ivanovic and Willian combined on the right side with the Brazilian sending in a cross from the edge of the box which flew past everyone straight into the path of Oscar who ghosted in at the far post from the second wave completely unnoticed. He controlled the bouncing ball with his first touch and with his second sent a left footed half volley over the bar from the six yard box. The Blues centre backs John Terry and Gary Cahill had more to do in the attacking third of the pitch than in their own defensive third and the pair combined to create the second chance. A corner was turned away by the visitors defense but the hosts gained possession again quickly. Willian found Terry just behind the box and the skipper sent a floating cross to the back post where his partner isolated Jenkinson and sent a towering header over the far post of Adrian’s goal.
Just a couple of minutes later, Oscar tricked his way in front of the Hammers’ box before passing to Hazard. The Belgian twisted and turned in his typical fashion through the legs of Reid and then went down after bumping into the New Zealander on the edge of the box but Michael Oliver denied any foul. After 20 minutes, Gary Cahill got his second chance of the game. Cesc Fabregas’ poor corner was cleared but only back to him. His pass found Cahill on the edge of the six yard box and he smashed a shot which was straight at Adrian who showed good reflex to beat it away.
After 27 minutes, Chelsea countered quickly with Fabregas finding Costa who laid off Oscar, the Brazilian returned the pass straight away and Costa was racing towards goal from the left and left Collins with no chance but to take him down just outside the box. Fabregas sent the resulting free kick too central and allowed Adrian to save comfortably.
On the half hour mark, Chelsea showed one of their best combinations when they got from the corner flag all the way to the six yard box through some one touch and two touch football from Ivanovic, Hazard, Willian and Oscar. Collins only just managed to clear for a corner just as Hazard was about to pull the trigger. But the Blues got their well deserved breakthrough from the resulting corner. Cesc Fabregas whipped in an inswinging corner which was met by the head of Costa who sent the ball to the far post where John Terry was waiting to tap in and send the Bridge over the moon. After finding the back of the net for the first time in over a year on Monday, the skipper scored his second in just five days.
If someone thought the breakthrough would stop Chelsea’s offense they were mistaken. Just three minutes later Matic could have made it two with a perfect curling shot that didn’t find the back of the net only thanks to a wonderful save from the stretching Adrian. The waves of attacks continued when couple of minutes later, Costa showed remarkable feet for his built to escape two Hammers and send a shot at goal which was deflected for a corner. Three minutes from halftime, another Chelsea combination saw Hazard free Ivanovic on the right who sent a low cross to the penalty spot for Costa who sent his volley over the bar. The last action of the first half was Ivanovic hitting the deck rather easily after slight contact from Caroll, which resulted in some pushing around from the unhappy West Ham players.
After a performance worthy of champions in the first half from Chelsea and a disappointing display from West Ham, the Blues had little reason for worries. The visitors started the second half more actively than they were in the whole of the first, but the hosts were still in control of the game and continued creating chances. Willian lead the first one of the second half as he charged down the centre of the pitch, he found Hazard on the left wing. The Belgian winger took a couple of touches before smashing a shot from the edge of the box right into the centre of goal and Adrian was equal to the effort and parried it with a good save.
Chelsea doubled their lead with their next big chance. Matic did what he does ever so well and halted a West Ham counter attack lead by Kouyate before he could get past the halfway line, the ball fell to Hazard and within a second it was travelling down the other way of the pitch towards the Hammers defense. Hazard passed the ball to Costa who sent three defenders the wrong way with one touch and finished a left footed shot into the bottom corner of the far post with his second. This goal put the game very much out of the reach of the visitors and the attacks kept coming. Costa could have doubled his tally three minutes later as Ivanovic found him with an inch perfect cross at the far post but the Spaniard didn’t get the contact he wanted with the ball and instead sent it far off target.
Just two minutes later, Oscar’s free kick from 25 yards was just about to dip under the bar and into the top corner if it wasn’t for another top save by Adrian who produced a one handed save to push the shot onto the cross bar and over the goal. In the 69th minute, Hazard teed up Fabregas and his shot curled just too wide of the far post.
It took West Ham 86 minutes to get their first good chance of the game when the substitute Amalfitano headed just wide of Courtois’ right post after he was left alone at the penalty spot. The same player almost scored just one minute later when he latched onto a long ball into the Chelsea box from Song ahead of Cahill. He then wrong footed Terry and managed to squeeze a shot past Courtois who fell to his feet but only hit the post with his effort before Terry cleared. At this point Chelsea were just seeing the game out, regretting their chances did not lead to more goals.
The result was important for Chelsea to maintain their three point lead ahead of Manchester City who won 3-1 at the Hawthorns. West Ham on the other hand left over the fourth place to Southampton, who will be the next team to face the Blues in two days. Today Chelsea have shown why they are currently the best team in England. They were direct, balanced and dominant. Jose Mourinho said after the game that “There’s no perfection but we played very well against a difficult team.” He will be pleased with today’s performance and the fact he did not make any changes in over 75 minutes with a game in two days speaks for itself.
At the start of the game there was a difference of “only” 11 points and three positions in the table between the two teams, but on the pitch the difference in class was much bigger. The Blues completed more than twice as many passes as the visitors and almost a staggering 200 in the final third. Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas had a harmony about them that could lead Chelsea to the title and on the evidence of this performance, it will be very very difficult to stop them.