The Blues were pegged back by West Ham after Cesar Azpilicueta had opened the scoring on an emotional afternoon at Stamford Bridge.
The defender’s first-half goal was cancelled out by Chicharito midway through the second period as we lost further ground in the race for a top-four finish.
Before kick-off the late, great Ray Wilkins was celebrated at the ground where he made his name. Unfortunately, we could not get the victory our dominance merited as we left Stamford Bridge frustrated again, having not taken more than one of the many opportunities we created.
Conte was able to welcome Thibaut Courtois back after injury and captain Gary Cahill was restored to the centre of defence. Andreas Christensen dropped to the bench where he was joined by the returning Pedro.
Our central midfield pair of N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas had different centuries to celebrate. This was the Frenchman’s 100th Premier League appearance, 63 of them for us, and the Spaniard’s 100th Premier League start in Chelsea blue.
David Moyes was forced into a single change to his team that had beaten Southampton so comfortably last weekend, the injured Michael Antonio making way for Edimilson Fernandes.
Before the game, Chelsea supporters placed their own tributes at a special memorial to Ray Wilkins by the Shed Wall, and left messages of condolence inside the club museum. Butch’s life was then celebrated inside the ground. All four sides sang ‘There’s only one Ray Wilkins’ to prolonged applause as a video played on the big screens. Banners were also held aloft with pride at both the Matthew Harding and Shed Ends.
In the eighth minute, the whole ground rose to their feet once more in memory of one of Chelsea and England’s greatest ever number eights. How he would have loved watching his beloved Blues take on our east London rivals.
By that early point in the game, Eden Hazard had fired a whisker wide after dribbling at the heart of the Hammers’ backline. After it, Marko Arnautovic, leading the line for the visitors, found Cahill in his way having carefully controlled a long diagonal pass in the 14th minute.
Then Willian, as lively as ever in the early stages, intercepted a poor Fernandes ball and almost set up Alvaro Morata; he then watched on as his left-footed strike took a hefty deflection off Declan Rice and looped wide. Azpilicueta headed the resulting corner over. His time would come.
Shortly before the half-hour, Hazard and Fabregas combined to great effect and Morata impudently flicked the former’s cross agonisingly past the post. We wouldn’t have to wait much longer to break the deadlock.
It looked like it would be Willian who found the net at the end of a delicious Chelsea move including first-time passes from Fabregas, Hazard and Morata, but Joe Hart diverted the Brazilian’s effort over with an outstretched foot.
It was as good a move as any in the first half, and it needed to be to open up a sizeable West Ham rearguard happy to play behind the ball.
Though it didn’t get the finish it deserved, the resulting corner did bring about a Chelsea goal. Worked short to Victor Moses, he crossed deep to Morata who climbed above two claret shirts and headed across goal. Azpilicueta was in the right place at the right time, bringing the ball under his control with his first touch and poking it past the flat-footed Hart with his second.
His third goal of the season means it is his most profitable yet, and it also ensured we went into the break with a deserved lead.
Willian nearly doubled it within 90 seconds after Hazard had backheeled into his path. Hazard had moments earlier been cynically tugged back by Mark Noble who was booked.
His next involvement was to set Alonso racing away down the left. His low centre evaded Willian but not Morata, who laid the ball into Moses’s path. He thrashed over.
We didn’t let up, attacking with pace and gusto in search of the second goal that would likely secure the three points. An unmarked Morata might have done better than head over Willian’s corner on 54 minutes. The striker had the ball in the net soon after but for the second time this afternoon, the offside flag denied him a goal.
Midway through the second period, Moses curled narrowly wide on his left, and five minutes after that we were hit with a sucker-punch. A long ball was collected by Arnautovic in the box and played back to substitute Chicharito, who had only been on the pitch a couple of minutes. He confidently swept past Courtois with West Ham’s first real shot of note. 1-1.
Conte reacted by sending on Pedro and Olivier Giroud for Moses and Morata respectively. It nearly reaped instant rewards as the French striker dummied allowing Alonso to draw a magnificent fingertop save from Hart.
It was starting to feel like one of those days. As the game opened up, Hazard twice had efforts blocked from inside the box, and down the other end Arnautovic’s claims for a penalty were ignored after Kante pressured him.
With three minutes of normal time remaining, Giroud’s downward header was tipped on to the post and behind by Hart.
The keeper had a more simple stop to make from Cahill in one of the five added minutes signalled, but there was to be no way through.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill (c), Rudiger; Moses (Pedro 78), Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Morata (Giroud 78), Hazard.
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Emerson, Bakayoko, Drinkwater.
Scorer Azpilicueta 36
West Ham United (3-4-2-1): Hart; Rice, Ogbonna, Cresswell (Evra 64); Zabaleta, Kouyate, Noble (c), Masuaku; Fernandes (Chicharito 70), Mario (Cullen 85); Arnautovic.
Unused subs Adrian, Pask, Diangana, Hugill.
Scorer Chicharito 73
Booked Noble 46
Referee Kevin Friend