Sunday 23 July 2017

Torres finally on target to keep Blues' hopes alive

Chelsea 3 West Ham 0

Chelsea's late-season surge continues and despite Manchester United still leading them by six points, part of the message from Carlo Ancelotti's side now is that Fernando Torres has finally scored, and may continue to do so until the title is decided.

Entering after 77 minutes, the Spaniard registered his first goal since the £50m move from Liverpool in January which suggested his sharpness has returned: on the rain-soaked Stamford Bridge turf the ball held up behind the striker but he was able to nonchalantly pirouette before delivering the sweetest of finishes with his left foot.

West Ham had begun this game rooted to the bottom, three points from safety, which for any player in the relegation dogfight at this juncture of the season can appear a yawning margin.

Avram Grant lined his side up in a 4-3-3 that matched Carlo Ancelotti's formation, and it was Chelsea who had the best of the chances during a first half that would frustrate the Italian yet end in the most positive way.

Throughout the opening period Ancelotti had been waving at his side to slide balls in behind Lars Jacobsen, the visiting right-back: after 43 minutes Chelsea finally received the message and they had the lead.

Didier Drogba, who had been the focus of most of Ancelotti's glowering, twisted a pass that released Ashley Cole into a gallop that had the visiting rearguard turned and desperate to regain ground. Before they could manage any damage limitation, the England left-back zipped over a cross that allowed Frank Lampard to bury a finish beyond Robert Green for a lead that had been coming.

First up, Florent Malouda had raced down the inside right channel but unloaded a shot that Green parried with his body. Now Chelsea began proving that they are able to switch tempo when required, which has not always been evident this campaign.

When Freddie Sears hacked a clearance away from the touchline the ball went straight to Malouda. He ambled a couple of steps then smacked a pass into Drogba's feet. An instant turn and the Ivorian blazed a shot at Green that skidded across the sodden surface before the 'keeper collected.

Chelsea again tip-toed through West Ham's defence when Salomon Kalou laid possession off to Drogba before swivelling into the area where he found the ball returned by the striker only marginally too heavy for him.

At this point West Ham appeared to have dug in for an attritional contest, yet from somewhere Grant's gang found their mojo. Sears sprinted from near halfway past Cole to halt in the home area with the ball at his feet. He sent over a cross for Jonathan Spector to produce a diving header that forced Petr Cech into his opening save. Then, from a Mark Noble corner, Sears backheeled from close range, but Ashley Cole stopped the ball on the line and Cech gathered.

Grant had reckoned before kick-off that nine points were required from the final 15 available. Yet if he informed his band at the break that an invaluable draw could be salvaged here, the sight of Kalou hitting Green's right post might have doused this hope.

For a frantic period before Torres' intervention the drenched pitch levelled the contest as initially Drogba and company hurtled forward before West Ham subsequently went close themselves.

Drogba played in Lampard but the midfielder could not finish, then the Ivorian striker appeared in West Ham's area but his chested control proved too heavy. Next up a David Luiz 20-yard drive crashed off Green's crossbar.

But this presaged West Ham moving into their opponents' territory. Demba Ba stung Cech's hands before Robbie Keane -- on for Mark Noble -- failed to finish.

While Malouda smashed home in added time, manager Grant could at least console himself that Scott Parker should return immediately, after the Football Writers' Player of the Year missed this one with an Achilles problem.

Observer

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