Tuesday 12 December 2017

Ruthless Chelsea snuff out any hope for chasing pack

West Ham 1-2 Chelsea

Diego Costa celebrates scoring the second goal for Chelsea Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Diego Costa celebrates scoring the second goal for Chelsea Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

Jack Pitt-Brooke

This was a victory delivered with the same inevitability by which is seems Chelsea are going to win the Premier League title.

Monday night matches away to London rivals are supposed to be the sort of games in which the mettle of champions are tested but, in reality, Antonio Conte's men were never under threat.

Diego Costa puts away the second goal for Chelsea Photo: Reuters / Tony O'Brien
Diego Costa puts away the second goal for Chelsea Photo: Reuters / Tony O'Brien

There are no prizes in football for complexity and West Ham made clear from the very start what they wanted to do to Chelsea. West Ham beat the champions-elect here in the League Cup in October and this time they had Andy Carroll, the man who transforms how they can play.

If there is any weakness in this Chelsea side it is in the air and so West Ham did exactly what you would expect, flinging the ball into the box whenever they could.

The first damage Carroll did, though, was to himself, cutting his face when he jumped with Victor Moses. Slaven Bilic's men continued to get crosses in, Carroll targeting Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta at every opportunity.

Deadly

Chelsea's Marcos Alonso attempts to bypass West Ham United's Jose Fonte Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire
Chelsea's Marcos Alonso attempts to bypass West Ham United's Jose Fonte Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

Chelsea did not get into the game but it did not matter. This is a deadly counter-attacking team and it only took one break for them to take the lead. West Ham sent too many men forward for a free-kick and when it came back to Mark Noble he lazily passed straight to N'Golo Kante instead of Robert Snodgrass.

Chelsea exploded up the pitch: Kante found Hazard, breaking through the middle. He passed to Pedro, who first-timed the ball back into Hazard's path. His first touch brilliantly took him around Darren Randolph, then he slotted the ball into the empty net.

It was Chelsea's first real attack but that was all they needed. They nearly scored with their second attack too, another Hazard break. His pass was just behind Diego Costa, and it took Aaron Cresswell to block from Moses and Randolph to save from Pedro.

What West Ham needed in the second half was control and focus. What they got was sloppiness that gifted Chelsea a second goal. They gave away a corner which Cesc Fabregas clipped into the box. Pedro Obiang touched the ball on at the near post and it flew across goal to Costa, inexplicably unmarked, drifting away from Winston Reid. He just had to cushion the ball into the goal off his thigh before Reid and Robert Snodgrass, on the line, realised what was happening.

With twice as much to do, West Ham continued with their aerial assault. Snodgrass headed one just over from Reid's pull-back and then Bilic, knowing that things had to change, turned to his bench, bringing on Sam Byram and Andre Ayew. The Ghanaian can be a dangerous player so Conte brought on Nemanja Matic for Pedro, switching to a 5-3-2 formation to smother the hosts' impetus.

As the seats emptied by the thousands, with them went West Ham's hopes of a comeback - Manuel Lanzini's consolation came in the last minute of stoppage-time. They had accepted their fate in not being good enough. The rest of the league may soon feel the same.

Irish Independent

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