A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s trip to East London and their match at The London Stadium.
This Sunday saw Chelsea head across London for their Premier League match away to West Ham United. After a winning start to the season, The Blues would have traveled in a fairly confident mood.
Add to that the fact The Hammers had lost their 2 home league matches so far this season and surely the West Londoners would be getting revenge for their unexpected loss here last season.
However, Maurizio Sarri’s side had had a relatively short turn around after their Europa League tie away to PAOK in Greece on Thursday evening. Despite this the manager picked as strong a starting line up as possible with only 1 change since their previous Premier League match. Pedro had gained a shoulder injury during the win in Greece which meant he missed out with Willian returning.
Michail Antonio for Marko Arnautovic, who also sustained an injury last time out, was the only change for West Ham. The home side will have been buoyed by their unexpected victory away at Everton last Sunday and so this match was always going to be a tough one to win. After all there are few dates in the West Ham calendar that gets their players and supporters more fired up and ready for the contest.
The Blues took little time to settle into their now new familiar style. With Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante stifling the home side’s midfield, Chelsea kept possession while passing the ball around with relative ease.
However, their attacks were very one dimensional. With Hazard and Willian persistently moving infield, while Alonso and Azpilicueta were less reluctant to maraud forward than in recent matches. The end result was an alarming lack of width to all Chelsea’s attacks. This played far too well into West Ham’s defensive set up. Their narrow back 4, with a compact 5 man midfield in front of them were able to smother most of the away side’s attacking prowess.
This meant that despite plenty of possession and constant forward play, Chelsea struggled for quality chances at goal. As time wore on, the home side’s counter attacks became more purposeful and by half time, it was West Ham who were probably more disappointed to have not scored.
If anything, Chelsea increased their possession in the second half as their pressing game became more and more effective, stifling West Ham’s counter attacking. However, goal scoring opportunities were still at a premium. As Sarri started to make his changes with his substitutions, Ross Barkley’s appearance made the biggest difference. His quickly struck shot from the edge of the penalty box brought about Fabianski’s best save of the match.
As Alonso progressed forward more regularly, there was more width to Chelsea’s attacks. However, in truth this was a match that highlighted Chelsea’s overall lack of prolific goal scorers. With Eden Hazard rarely being involved at the latter stage of their attacks, The Blues were unable to turn their dominance into goals. Even late on, as the home defence finally started to tire, poor decisions and poor finishing emphasised the situation.
So what ought to have been a 6th league win out of 6 ended in stalemate. However, I doubt Maurizio Sarri is not too troubled by that fact. After all, we are still only 7 matches into his tenure as manager and this draw is the only small blemish on his otherwise impressive record in that time.
Chelsea had scored 14 goals in their previous 5 Premier League matches – almost 3 goals a match. The Blues had only registered 1 goalless draw away from home in their previous 47 league matches. So it’s no as though this is a regular occurrence.
Sarri admitted that his side should be playing better and needed to move the ball faster in order to help break down such solid defences. But credit must be given to Manuel Pellegrini and the home side. Tactically the manager had organised his team very well to nullify the visitors, especially Hazard himself and his players followed their manager’s directions perfectly.
However, Chelsea remain unbeaten and lie in 3rd place. Both of which are a huge indictment on how well the players are adjusting to their new manager and his footballing style.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue