A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s home draw against London rivals West Ham United.
Sunday saw everyone linked with Chelsea Football Club say a fond farewell to their ex captain and former coach Ray Wilkins. Butch had been a great servant to the club he adored, becoming captain at just 18 years old and he was Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant manager when The Blues won their only league and cup double in 2010.
Sadly, as the resounding minute’s applause died down and the multiple tribute banners were being rolled back up, Chelsea then took on their London rivals West Ham in a Premier League clash. What transpired was a much trodden path this season, in which The Blues were incapable of converting their dominance into a winning score line.
Antonio Conte only made 2 changes to his starting line up following their loss to Tottenham Hotspur, with Thibaut Courtois and Gary Cahill replacing Willy Caballero and Andreas Christensen. Pedro was included as a substitute but there was no place for Ross Barkley.
Meanwhile David Moyes made just the one enforced change following their thumping victory over Southampton, with Edimilson Fernandes replacing the injured Michail Antonio. Sadly for The Blues, a regular thorn in their side, Javier Hernandez was included on the visitor’s bench.
During the early stages, play was relatively even with neither side making a significant breakthrough. But steadily, the home side started to take control with their front 3 looking lively and hungry for success. And with their back 3 remaining focused and resolute in preventing all attacks from a hard working West Ham side.
From a Chelsea point of view, things were looking on the up. After only 6 victories in 19 matches so far in 2018, it has been an indifferent period for the defending champions. Performances have at times been very good but there has not been enough of a cutting edge that can turn their dominance into positive results. Even worse has been the capitulation as they lose leads in the biggest matches as the players have struggled to keep control on the whole match and the team has looked lacking of a strong enough spine.
However, this was turning into a strong showing, with Eden Hazard regularly involved and even shooting at goal, Willian buzzing around trying to create chances and Morata looking more confident, it seemed just a matter of time before The Blues started to build a lead.
But, similarly to many other previous Chelsea performances, their dominance wasn’t turned into a winning position. Morata had 2 goals correctly ruled out for offside and Joe Hart had a rare inspired match in goal for the visitors. So it was Cesar Azpilicueta’s predatory close range finish which gave The Blues the narrowest of leads.
Too regularly Morata’s link up play couldn’t find a teammate, while Hazard and especially Willian kept on trying clever flicks and back heels without looking and their build up play broke down. Victor Moses still seems incapable of getting past his marker with the ball or put in accurate crosses to a teammate. Marcos Alonso links up well on the left flank and regularly gets into the penalty box, but also struggles to create chances for others. Cesc Fabregas was unable to provide defence splitting passes and N’Golo Kante was concentrating on his impeccable skills of mopping up any West Ham counter attack opportunities.
And so with the score at a fragile 1-0, David Moyes used his ace up his sleeve. On the 70 minute mark Javier Hernandez entered the field of play and within 3 minutes he managed to do what he does best at Stamford Bridge. This was his 4th appearance at Chelsea’s home as a substitute and he has now scored on all 4 occasions. His strike was only the visitor’s third touch of the ball inside the home side’s penalty box but that was all it took to level up after an hour of utter dominance from The Blues.
To add to the home supporter’s frustrations, Antonio Conte once again seemed to take too long to come up with a plan b. At least this time it was only 5 minutes til he shuffled his pack, but I’m sure most would have expected a spell of both Morata and Olivier Giroud in attack. A home victory would have meant so much and, in the end, a limp home draw against a team struggling for points led by a manager who seems incapable of leading a side to victory at The Bridge, seems more like a defeat than a point gained for The Blues.
In the end, this was another step towards Chelsea’s league campaign fizzling out into a mediocre Europa League qualification. If it wasn’t for an FA Cup semi final coming up in a couple of weeks, a season filled with hope and belief as defending champions has now become a “please can we finish it soon?”.
With Champions League qualification effectively out of their reach, the last 6 league matches are now more about pride for The Blues and also potentially an opportunity to see other alternatives to Conte’s first choice line up. After all they couldn’t put lowly West Ham to the sword.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue