West Ham vs Chelsea match report: Eden Hazard scores only goal in tight contest as Chelsea continue march towards the title

West Ham 0 Chelsea 1

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The Independent Football

Eleven games left in the league season, a lead of five points, and while Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team are still a long way from securing the club’s fifth league championship it is victories like these that make you wonder whether there is anyone who can stop them.

Eden Hazard’s goal midway through the first half was only half the story, and there was much of this game that did not go the way of Chelsea, but that is what it can be like in the dog days of a title race. Were it not for Diafra Sakho’s shaky finishing, had an offside decision gone West Ham’s way then it might so easily have been different. The truth is, however, that only very good teams win games like these.

That was not to say Mourinho’s team were always at their best and, tired from Sunday’s Wembley triumph, they found themselves attacked relentlessly by West Ham in the second half when the game truly came to life. The home side created chance after chance for Sakho: sometimes he missed them and more often than not the hands of Thibaut Courtois, back in the Chelsea team, intervened.

Without a win in the league since 18 January, Sam Allardyce’s side showed the bloody-mindedness required to give Chelsea a game, they just did not have the goals in this team to get a result.  In defence, John Terry and Gary Cahill were excellent once again. A goal against them in this form is hard-won to say the least. This Chelsea defence, and their goalkeeper, lays everything on the line and West Ham did not quite have the quality to overcome that resistance.

At the end of the game the four Chelsea defenders and Courtois converged to embrace, and Petr Cech, left out the side this time, joined them on the pitch. This spirit is a major part of what is carrying Chelsea forward to the title.

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Eden Hazard puts Chelsea ahead

 

It had been strangely bloodless for a meeting of these two teams until the final few minutes of the first half when the usual suspects started dishing out some of the punishment which the two sets of supporters expect. First James Collins left Kurt Zouma needing a long period of treatment with a tackle that connected with his ankle, then Diego Costa tried to leave something on Aaron Cresswell.

As Zouma hopped and stumbled off the pitch, his right foot dragging, the West Ham fans began to sing “You won’t let him on the train” to their Chelsea counterparts. It was pretty crude stuff but stop for a moment to wonder that these two clubs, with a very chequered history as far as racism is concerned, would seek to take the moral high ground on the issue.

Before then, the Boleyn Ground had been becalmed as some early promise in attacking the league leaders faded and, let off the hook by the poor finishing of Cheikhou Kouyate and Sakho, Chelsea struck.

 

If they saw anything of Sunday’s Capital One Cup final, West Ham will have known that against Chelsea one has no option but to make hay while the sun shines. Fail to take chances against Mourinho’s team and you can be sure they will not make the same mistake when their opportunity comes.

So it was that Chelsea picked the home team apart on the counter-attack. It was not one of their high-speed chases from end to end, more a careful stretching and probing of the West Ham defence that saw the final passes go from Cesc Fabregas to Ramires out on the right wing who crossed for Hazard to head the ball in from close range.

The instinct was that the cross found Hazard in an offside position and the replays suggested as much. Nevertheless, Mourinho’s team had absorbed the best West Ham had to offer in those early stages – and West Ham had more chances in the first half than Tottenham Hotspur had in all Sunday’s final – and come out ahead. 

Sakho headed straight at Courtois from Carl Jenkinson’s cross on 36 minutes when the striker really should have done much better. The West Ham full-back had earlier sprinted after Costa when the striker was put through to Hazard and used his greater pace to block the shot as it came off the toe of the Chelsea man.

The mood at the end of the half, the tackles from Collins and Costa and a growing sense of injustice in the stands that referee Andre Marriner had dealt with West Ham unfairly, meant that it came quickly to the boil after the break. Allardyce’s team seemed to sense that Chelsea were not without their vulnerabilities and went after them.

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Kurt Zouma tries to make a challenge

 

They would have had more than one goal were it not for the finishing of Sakho and, more pertinently, the goalkeeping of Courtois. The West Ham striker found himself thwarted more than once by the Belgian who was outstanding – even in the moments when it looked like he must surely be beaten he was able to recover the situation.

He saved on 53 minutes when it looked like he was wrong-footed by Sakho’s shot and the ball was going to trickle past him. He saved again on the hour when Stewart Downing stole the ball away from Branislav Ivanovic and fed his striker. In Chelsea’s rockiest periods, their goalkeeper kept coming to the rescue and even when he dropped one – Enner Valencia’s shot – they survived.

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Cesc Fabregas in action

 

In that period Chelsea had chances of their own too. Ramires clipped the inside of goalkeeper Adrian’s post having stepped around the challenge of Collins. Then the West Ham goalkeeper saved brilliantly from Ramires’ header, dropped onto his forehead by Hazard’s delicate chip from the left.

There was one more Sakho miss, a header that went over before the substitute Willian had a shot cleared off the line. It will be regarded as another small step for Mourinho’s team towards the title but if you were at Upton Park, you saw another performance that suggested this team have the right stuff.

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