Chelsea, it is clear, are in better shape than Internazionale ahead of Jose Mourinho's return here on Tuesday. After the Serie A leaders had crumbled in Sicily on Friday night, Carlo Ancelotti's team recovered from a brief and unexpected stumble against their rivals from along the District Line; a route which, like West Ham's back-line, was not operational yesterday. In doing so they regained the League leadership, having played the same number of games as Manchester United, who will be expected to beat Fulham this afternoon to keep the pot boiling nicely.
Fielding a third-choice goalkeeper in Ross Turnbull mattered not a jot, so rarely did the visitors test him, even if they should have taken the lead early on and later managed to draw level for almost half an hour.
A team that have scored 12 goals in 15 away games and not won one since the opening day of the season could hardly afford to spurn a gift like the one offered to Araujo Ilan, a striker preferred to Carlton Cole, along with the Premier League's cheapest footballer, the £1,000-a-week Mido.
One former Chelsea player, Scott Parker, did play from the start and was outstanding. Even he had to cede the game's individual honours, however, to the home team's Florent Malouda, whose form this season has been a revelation, as well as having the incidental effect of damaging Joe Cole's World Cup prospects. Cole was given the last 25 minutes at Nicolas Anelka's expense but can hardly expect to start on Tuesday. By that stage of the game, Ancelotti was already thinking of conserving some players' energy with substitutions and offering those like Cole and Salomon Kalou a trot. "We played a good match," said Chelsea's manager, who met talk of the special one's return to his former kingdom with a typically down-to-earth dismissal: "I am a normal man. This is Roman Abramovich's kingdom."
Mourinho will need to do better than another local hero, Gianfranco Zola, who hoped to surprise Chelsea with speedy counter-attacks. When Ilan, a Brazilian striker on loan from St Etienne, passed up a glorious chance in the 11th minute, it seemed unlikely that the visitors would be blessed with a better one all afternoon and so it proved. Mido's aggressive persistence at the byline forced the opportunity, hustling Paulo Ferreira off the ball, which he then laid back for Ilan, who hoofed it high over the bar.
Chelsea had already threatened from a series of corners and duly took the lead within four more minutes. John Terry, ritually abused by his fellow Eastenders in the West Ham section, laid a pass to Malouda, whose cross was headed in by the unmarked Alex. It was therefore all the more unexpected that the visitors were next to score. Kieron Dyer – yes, him – took a throw-in that eluded John Obi Mikel, enabling Parker to chest it down and sent a spectacular volley dipping over the helpless Turnbull.
Robert Green kept them level until 10 minutes into the second half with saves from Frank Lampard and Ferreira, but was then betrayed by his defence again. They failed to stop Terry leading a charge, allowing Didier Drogba to set up Malouda for another perfect cross that the Ivorian headed in from a yard out under no challenge.
Malouda deserved a goal himself and was appropriately rewarded with quarter of an hour to play, turning inside a defender on to his favoured left foot after Drogba headed down to him. Lampard hit a post, Green made one fine save from another Alex header, then failed to hold Lampard's low shot, Drogba following up for a tap-in.
West Ham, after a couple of wins had propelled them to the heights of 13th place, have now lost three in a row and go to Arsenal next. The weakness at both ends of the pitch is alarming, the only consolation being how many other poor teams are down there with them. Zola was happy to talk about Chelsea instead, suggesting: "I think they have an advantage on Inter. They have to score only one goal. It will be tough but I'd give a slight advantage to Chelsea."
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Malouda
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content