A Tammy Abraham brace and a powerful header from Thiago Silva ensured Chelsea emerged from a losing streak with a solid win against West Ham United. While two defeats in a row is too few to term a rut, for a side with high standards, if maybe not a title push outright should we take Frank Lampard at face value, this was one of their more necessary wins so far this season.
At a time when English football debates over performances versus results, the 3-0 scoreline suggests Chelsea got the best of both. However, the gloss of the last two goals was added in as many minutes to take the clock to 80 in what was largely a scrappy encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Of course, for the true context of this result, you need to look to Chelsea’s defeats to Everton and Wolves which took them from third down to eighth prior to kick-off. That they will be fifth for their match away to Arsenal on Boxing Day represents a move back in the right direction and an opportunity to progress further against listless opponents. But that comfort is somewhat offset by a six-point gap between themselves and Liverpool at the top. There was also a blow when Ben Chilwell had to be substituted as early as the 10th minute after injuring himself while tackling Jarrod Bowen.
Conversely, West Ham may strip apart this game and reflect their performance was not as bad as the numbers or indeed the statistics suggest. Because for all that was good from them – and there was plenty, particular from Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek at the base of midfield – they failed to register a single shot on target.
This iteration of West Ham are as crafty as they are organised. They’ve also got that basic quality all David Moyes teams have of being pretty tall across the board. So it was particularly sobering to lose the first goal from a corner just 10 minutes into the game, Silva losing his marker and meeting Mason Mount’s cross with a reverberating thud. Then again, it was Chelsea’s eighth via this route, more than any other side in the league, which at least might have made the concession easier to bare.
It didn’t much put West Ham off their brief to box smart, and a quickly worked free-kick just seven minutes in was particularly clever. Unfortunately, Rice’s skip past Edouard Mendy and finish from a tight angle was ruled out for offside, robbing the visitors of the opener and us of some narrative of a Rice goal against the team that released him as a 14-year old.
Bowen also had a goal ruled out in more contentious fashion. In real-time his pressure on Silva seemed a foul, though replays gave a sense that perhaps the Brazilian exaggerated the contact. That it was a decision Moyes had no qualms with the decision indicated no great error had been made.
The slickest moves came from those in Blue, though converting flowing moves from one flank to the other, and back again, required a stamp neither side were able to apply. It was, yet again, Timo Werner who was most guilty of spurning one of the best chances created from open play on the night. Christian Pulisic’s drive and off-load meant the German just needed to a composed touch for a certain second, but the lack of the former led to an unconvincing toe-poke into the knees of Lukas Fabianski with so much of the goal to aim at.
Thus, the match constantly felt within West Ham’s grasp. And as Tomas Soucek had a shot blocked, Sebastian Haller’s attempt at another bicycle kick wafted wide, confidence grew and pressure was applied accordingly.
With each passing minute in the second-half, Lampard’s calm demeanour on the touchline felt nervier set alongside Moyes’ echoey encouragement. The substitutions on 66 minutes reflected as much: Mateo Kovacic on to facilitate some order, Said Benrahma on to bring the noise.
But as West Ham pushed, Chelsea began pushing back, and in a rare foray forward with men to spare, Werner’s fluffed shot – more sympathetically in the record books as an assist – was diverted beyond Fabianski by Abraham. The England striker’s second – and 25th since the start of last season – was just as opportunistic, hanging out at the back post to smash into an empty net after Pulisic’s close header was saved.
With the game won, all that were left were bonuses, and you could tell from the exuberant encouragement from the sidelines that continued into the dying moments that Lampard and his fellow Chelsea coaches were desperate for Werner to get one himself. Alas, aside from nearly taking the bar off its hinges with a rasping strike in the 89th minute, it would be a ninth consecutive club game without finding the net.