An early first-half goal from Cesar Azpilicueta put the hosts in front in a game very much set out as attack versus defence. However, Antonio Conte’s side failure to capitalise on such a dominant first forty-five was always asking for trouble; Javier Hernandez’s equaliser inside the final fifteen minutes ensured pressure remains on everyone associated with Chelsea as the prospect of not finishing inside the top-four seems all the more likely.
One lapse in an otherwise organised defensive display by The Hammers
West Ham’s game plan was clear from the off; set up to frustrate Chelsea with a low-block defence, Moyes’ side were hopeful of closing down any space between the lines for Eden Hazard and Fabregas to roam. It was largely successful in the first thirty minutes too as Joe Hart got down well to deny Willian’s left-footed shot.
Yet, Chelsea got their just rewards, piling on the pressure and capitalising on a woeful lapse in concentration from The Hammers. A lovely weighted corner was headed back across goal by Alvaro Morata, where Azpilicueta showed great reaction to get in ahead of his marker and prod the ball home from close range. The goal means the duo have now combined for seven goals in the Premier League this season – joint highest with Salah-Firmino and Salah-Mane.
From a West Ham perspective, it was a wholly avoidable goal to concede. Players were caught napping, rooted to the spot as Azpilicueta was able to coast in and convert under no pressure, thus undoing all the previously positive defensive work from Moyes’ side.
Chelsea make potentially fatal stutter in top-four race
Moyes’ abysmal record at Stamford Bridge seemed on course to continue given Chelsea’s first-half dominance, with the hosts retaining their momentum after the interval. However, despite registering 23 shots on goal, a combination of poor finishing and some stunning goalkeeping from Joe Hart ensured West Ham remained in the game late on.
Fitting then, that they found a late equaliser via substitute Javier Hernandez. Arnautovic was very much the talisman for The Hammers, holding up the ball well and tracking back with some astute defensive work in his own third. Capitalising on a poor header from Gary Cahill, the Austrian drilled the ball back into the danger area where Chicharito was on hand to calmly slot past Courtois.
The goal means Chelsea are ten points behind third placed Liverpool and Spurs, with one game in hand on the former. Then there’s Arsenal, who now have a real shot at finishing above Conte’s side despite a worryingly poor patch of form themselves. Thus, Sunday’s result may very well have been the fatal blow to Chelsea’s top-four chances. Liverpool need just three more wins to guarantee another season of Champions League football while Spurs’ form pits them as favourites to secure a high finish.
Questions will continue to loom over the long-term future of Conte and with results like this you can’t help wonder if time is running out for the manager.
Joe Hart puts in a big case for England spot
Hernandez may have made a telling impact from the bench with his equaliser, but there can be no disagreeing with Joe Hart’s man-of-the-match display. The goalkeeper will be looking to stake a claim for a place on Gareth Southgate’s plane for the world-cup come summer and performances like this will do absolutely no harm to his chances. Firstly, a brilliant save denied Willian from the centre of the area before some late pressure saw Hart tip Giroud’s goal-bound header onto the post and out for a corner. Given West Ham can ill-afford many more slip-ups in the league, Hart picked a brilliant time to bring out one of his best displays for the London club.
The result sees West Ham six points clear of the relegation zone, with a pivotal tie against Stoke City next on the horizon. Here’s to hoping Arnautovic and Hart can inspire another three points for The Hammers.