Saturday 16 December 2017

Essien leaps to devour hapless Hammers

It must be an incalculably depressing experience to play against Michael Essien. Seemingly devoid of weakness, the Ghana midfielder consumes opponents relentlessly, then breaks into a grin. West Ham were the latest on the menu.

Having missed much of last season with a knee injury, his return has made an already powerful Chelsea side stronger and yesterday he was not content merely to dominate midfield but gave a passable impression of Les Ferdinand as he headed two goals as the champions eased past West Ham.

"I think he's better than before," Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti said. "We missed him last season because he's one of the top midfielders in the world. He came back and we're happy he can maintain this level of play. He's fit now. We have to pay attention because he's playing well, all the games at the start of the season."

This is now West Ham's worst start to a season and this game started as badly as it could, Upton Park a chorus of groans as Chelsea went ahead after less than two minutes. To cap it, Rob Green then produced an error that echoed his World Cup mistake, spilling a simple free kick which Matthew Upson promptly booted against Salomon Kalou and into his own net. Still, for West Ham there was improvement in defeat. They might now have conceded 12 goals in four games but there was fight in this performance and a first goal from open play, courtesy of Scott Parker. The West Ham captain has signed a new contract and there are signs -- the lively debut of Victor Obinna and the hunger of Parker and Noble in midfield -- that the club can put this abysmal start to the season behind them.

"I'm not happy, we lost the game," Avram Grant said. "We have zero points, and we've deserved more from our last two home games. The owners won't be happy either, but they know it's a long-term project."

It had looked ominous in the build-up and West Ham's resistance lasted all of 1 min 40 secs. In the absence of Lampard, Drogba took a Chelsea corner from the left, and Essien, who had got away from Herita Ilunga, leapt high and headed simply past Green.

Chelsea were actually quite flat after going ahead. The absence of Lampard was keenly felt; his replacement, the Brazil international Ramires, was making his full debut but, while tidy, failed to really impose himself. With Florent Malouda rested there really wasn't much subtlety in Chelsea's work in the last third.

That Chelsea went two up was down to West Ham's comic defending. Drogba's free kick lacked its usual vicious dip and swerve but Green failed to gather as the ball bounced in front of him. Upson then thumped his attempted clearance into Kalou and into the net. Kalou had the grace to look embarrassed.

Victor Obinna, erratic and lively, led an attempted fightback. With 27 minutes gone Carlton Cole chipped a pass over Branislav Ivanovic and Obinna volleyed left-footed and wide.

Four minutes later he skilfully tamed Tal Ben Haim's cross-field pass before driving at Paulo Ferreira, cutting inside the Chelsea right-back and whipping a shot wide of the far post. Carlton Cole had the ball in the net just before the break but was offside.

Chelsea, insulated by the scoreline, were playing within themselves and West Ham had plenty of the ball but struggled to create clear chances. John Terry was flawless, looking refreshed after resting his damaged hamstring over the international break.

Chelsea finally killed off any faint hopes of recovery with seven minutes to go. Ferreira sent in an excellent cross from the right and Essien, momentum in his favour, jumped above Ben Haim to head in his second. In spite of that, West Ham made a spirited finish of it. When Petr Cech punched out Mark Noble's corner, the ball dropped to Parker, who lobbed it back over the goalkeeper with a cushioned volley. Moments later they should have pulled back a second, Obinna's inswinging cross headed against the bar by substitute Frederic Piquionne despite being all of a yard out. Relief for him that the game was already lost.


Sunday Independent

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