This time, no close shave. A crew- cut Jose Mourinho may have said on Friday that it’s “not good to compare” this current Chelsea team with his old one, but they are increasingly illustrating many of the same fine qualities.
Just at the point when a poor run of results looked set to become a problem, they showed a remarkable capacity to claim the kind of win that levels everything out again. Between 2004 and 2006, his title-winning teams never went three successive league games without a victory and that is still the case.
Chelsea responded to the dropped points and poor performances against Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion with a commanding victory. Frank Lampard, meanwhile, responded to a 10-game drought to score twice against his old club.
For all that Mourinho will have wanted to quickly inject an intensity into his team again, Chelsea were not immediately imposing. There was still a slight reticence about their play with only Hazard on the left offering any sense of liveliness.
West Ham were comfortable, and even had the better of the early chances, which will make it all the more galling for Sam Allardyce, their manager, that they gifted the away side the opening goal in such a calamitous way. After 20 minutes, Guy Demel, the defender, tried to play a relatively aimless Chelsea cross back to Jussi Jaaskelainen in the West Ham goal, only to misjudge and meekly hit the ball with his thigh. That allowed Oscar to nip in ahead of the goalkeeper, draw the approach and go over under the challenge. Even if there was an element of innovation about the way the Brazilian went down, a collision was inevitable and referee Chris Foy couldn’t but award the penalty that Lampard smashed into the roof of the net.
The real grievance for Allardyce was not to go behind to such a good team but to lose that first goal so cheaply when Chelsea were then playing so limply. The game was transformed. Still without a striker in the absence of Andy Carroll, West Ham’s entire attempt at containment and countering was rendered irrelevant.
On 34 minutes, Chelsea’s two star attackers rendered their defenders irrelevant too. Receiving the ball just inside the opposition half, Hazard flicked on to Oscar before peeling off to the right. That opened up even more space in front of the West Ham backline, which the latter duly maximised. Oscar surged forward with the ball before beautifully slipping it into the bottom corner. Two goals down, Allardyce evidently felt he had no choice but to make two significant switches before half-time with Joe Cole and Jack Collison hauled off for Mohamed Diamé and Modibo Maiga.
It almost paid off as, after 65 minutes as Maiga was presented with a chance to pull one back.
After much better footwork from the surging Demel on the flank, the right-back squared for Maiga to finish from just yards out but he could only pull it wide.
In truth, it would have pushed West Ham’s luck too. Chelsea could have been out of sight by then, with Gary Cahill having a header cleared off the line by Mark Noble and Oscar powering wide after a flowing move. Amidst all this, Samuel Eto’o was displaying some sublime touches.
West Ham were at least then displaying greater fight too, with the use of an actual forward clearly helping, even if he hadn’t helped himself with his finishing. Minutes from the end, though, Lampard showed him how. After a Branislav Ivanovic cross found its way to the edge of the box, the England midfielder found the bottom corner with a drive. Chelsea were simply a cut above.
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Collins, Tomkins, O’Brien; Collison (Maiga, 40), Noble; J Cole (Diamé, 40), Morrison, Downing; Nolan (Jarvis, 76).
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Mikel, Lampard; Ramires, Oscar (Schürrle, 83), Hazard (Essien, 84); Eto’o (Ba, 79).
Referee: Chris Foy.
Man of the match: Lampard (Chelsea)
Match rating: 7/10