A third Premier League win in a row was secured courtesy of an Eden Hazard brace, his 18th and 19th goals of the campaign, as Chelsea moved above Arsenal and Tottenham in the battle for a top-four finish.
The Blues also secured back-to-back league clean sheets for the first time since the turn of the year and owed much to the efforts of their brilliant Belgian, whose wonder goal midway through the first period set us on the way in an entertaining London derby. It was classic Hazard, a remarkable run from the centre of the West Ham half that took four defenders out of the game, before he steadied to angle a finish into the bottom corner.
There were numerous opportunities to settle the nerves, particularly before the break, but the second goal proved elusive until the final minute when Hazard fired in from the right. We now sit third with five domestic games of the season remaining, albeit having played one more than those around us.
Maurizio Sarri had discussed beforehand the need to fully utilise the depth of his squad over the remaining seven weeks of the season and, with trips to Liverpool and Slavia Prague ahead in the coming week, he made two changes from our midweek win over Brighton.
Gonzalo Higuain and Antonio Rudiger were the returning duo, replacing Olivier Giroud and Andreas Christensen, who dropped to the bench. The London derby marked our annual Game for Equality – Chelsea FC’s celebration of our equality and diversity work through the Building Bridges initiative.
There was nothing to separate the sides when they met at the London Stadium back in September and it proved a similarly competitive start to proceedings under the lights at the Bridge. Emerson offered our first threat on goal with a free-kick curled wide of the near post in front of the Shed End, before Kante’s creative influence came to the fore.
The Frenchman fired over from 20 yards after a brilliant first touch to evade Angelo Ogbonna before a next exchange with Azpilicueta forced a crucial intervention on the stretch from Fabian Balbuena. However, the Blues didn’t have to wait much longer for the breakthrough goal, which arrived midway through the half courtesy of some Hazard magic.
Our number 10 has scored some impressive goals during his time in west London and this was right up there with the best of them. Collecting the ball in space 40 yards from goal, he set off on a shimmying run that took him beyond Mark Noble, into the box between the two central defenders and fashioned enough space to steer a left-footed strike into the bottom corner.
Stamford Bridge erupted to mark the Belgian’s 15th Premier League goal of the season and a lead that was fully deserved on the early balance of play. Only a fingertip save on to the post prevented our advantage being doubled moments later as Hazard turner provider, teeing up Higuain for a strike that the Hammers’ Polish keeper pushed against the woodwork.
The Chelsea threat was proving varied and effective, with the manager’s only likely frustration at the break being his side’s inability to add to their tally. Hudson-Odoi saw a shot blocked before the 18-year-old was denied by a flying Fabianski save following a blistering counter-attack from the hosts.
Higuain would have made it 2-0 in the minutes before half-time were it not for a significant block from Ryan Fredericks, the Hammersmith-born defender throwing himself in front of a volleyed effort from our Argentinian striker.
As in the first half, Chelsea remained on top after the restart and Hazard was at the heart of our attacking impetus, firing across the face of goal from the left after a driving run through the middle from Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The Hammers’ struggle to create chances before the break forced Manuel Pellegrini to swap Chicharito for Robert Snodgrass at the interval and the change quickly had an impact.
After spending almost an hour of the contest with little to do, Kepa was forced to make two saves in as many minutes. Manuel Lanzini was first denied with a smart parry before Felipe Anderson’s curling strike had our keeper grasping the ball down low to his left.
Coupled with a blast of rain sweeping across the stadium and an upturn in volume, the evening finally felt like a London derby and the game swung from end to end accordingly. Loftus-Cheek was just off-target when going for a carbon copy of his goal against the Seagulls five days previously, while Aaron Cresswell didn’t miss by much with a fizzing half-volley from the edge of the box.
The fact that only a solitary goal separated the teams gave encouragement to the visitors in the final 25 minutes. Rudiger’s block to deny Lanzini was celebrated like a goal by the German, while Marko Arnautovic headed against Emerson at the back post after a well-worked free-kick routine.
Chelsea substitutes also had opportunities to seal the points, with Ross Barkley just unable to stretch enough to turn in Hudson-Odoi’s low cross, before Olivier Giroud squeezed a shot underneath Fabianski but could only watch as the ball looped up on to the roof of the net.
The Blues could only settle on the points being safe in the final minute of normal time when Hazard struck his 19th goal of the season, a rasping drive arrowed across Fabianski’s goal and into the corner from Barkley's fine pass. The victory keeps our winning run going at the start of the week that will now take in a quarter-final in Prague and a trip to Anfield.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, David Luiz, Emerson; Kante, Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek (Barkley 70); Hudson-Odoi (Pedro 85), Higuain (Giroud 76), Hazard
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Kovacic, Willian
Scorer Hazard 24, 90
Booked Azpilicueta 82, Kepa 84
West Ham (4-2-3-1) Fabianski; Fredericks, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Noble (c) (Obiang 70); Arnautovic, Anderson, Lanzini; Chicharito (Snodgrass h-t)
Unused subs Adrian, Diop, Masuaku, Nasri, Perez
Booked Ogbonna 11
Referee Christopher Kavanagh