Chelsea returned to winning ways in the last Premier League game before Christmas courtesy of Thiago Silva’s early header and two predatory finishes from Tammy Abraham late on.
The result and clean sheet proved the perfect riposte to the losses at Goodison Park and Molineux, and although our performance didn’t always hit the heights of recent home games, the Blues showed defensive determination to keep a lively West Ham side at bay before applying the killer touches in the final quarter-of-an-hour.
It was Thiago Silva who gave us a 10th-minute lead with a thumping header as we again made the most of a set-piece. The Hammers fought their way back into the contest and while they did look the more threatening side for good spells of both halves, Edouard Mendy did not have a shot to save all evening.
Still, it was a relief when Abraham doubled our lead in the 78th minute, cleverly converting a Timo Werner shot, and the striker made it five league goals for the campaign with another close-range effort barely 100 seconds later. It is the striker's first brace since his treble at Wolves last season.
The only blot was an injury to Ben Chilwell early on, which Frank Lampard will be hoping is not too serious. The Blues move up to fifth in the table ahead of a game at Arsenal on Saturday.
After consecutive defeats on the road, Lampard opted to make a single change to his defence, midfield and attack. With Reece James unavailable through injury, Cesar Azpilicueta featured in a league game for the first time since 24 October.
Jorginho replaced Kai Havertz with N’Golo Kante moving to a more advanced midfield role, while Abraham was preferred to Olivier Giroud up front. That proved an inspired decision!
An expanded nine-man bench, which included fit-again Callum Hudson-Odoi, was called upon inside the opening 10 minutes.
Asserting authority despite injury blow
Chilwell turned 24 today but his birthday game couldn’t have got off to a much worse start. The full-back rolled his right ankle after making a challenge and despite his best efforts, couldn’t run it off. Emerson was the natural replacement and his first involvement was to join in the celebrations as we opened the scoring.
But before that, between the challenge and the substitution, Declan Rice had found the net for the visitors. Thankfully the offside flag was rightly raised as Rice was a fraction too quick in latching on to a short free-kick prior to rounding Mendy and finishing from a tight angle.
There was no doubt about our goal. Mason Mount, playing his 50th Premier League game, whipped in a corner that the unmarked Thiago Silva emphatically headed into the Shed End net. It bore plenty of similarities to Kurt Zouma’s goal against another claret-and-blue side, Burnley, in late October.
It was the first set-piece goal the Hammers had conceded this season, and the ninth we had scored from, more than any other top-flight side.
In an attempt to quickly double our advantage, the ball ran out of play as Azpilicueta crossed, rendering Abraham’s tap-in from Christian Pulisic’s subsequent pass academic. That was not long after a Mount centre had just evaded Timo Werner.
Hammers hold the initiative
Around the midway point of a half we had until that point thoroughly dominated, the momentum swung in West Ham’s favour.
It started with a Kante slip on halfway that momentarily allowed Sebastien Haller a run at goal; the World Cup winner was grateful to Azpilicueta for some superb defensive cover. The skipper then allowed the ball to roll under his foot, giving last season's matchwinner Aaron Cresswell a shooting chance which he fired wide.
Shortly afterwards, Haller scooped a shot over his head with Zouma in the right place to clear. As West Ham kept the pressure up, he was grateful to his centre-back partner Thiago Silva for bravely blocking a fierce Tomas Soucek strike in the stomach.
As the half drew to a close, we regained some of the initiative and could have easily extended our lead with the second on-target attempt of the match. Pulisic led a break from halfway and slipped in Werner, whose shot was too close to Fabianski.
There was no let-up in the goalmouth action when play resumed. Haller headed a Cresswell cross wide, and Werner was inches away from converting Abraham’s inviting right-wing cross. A set-piece, or making good use of the pace of Werner, Abraham and Pulisic on the break, felt like our best chance of a second goal.
On the hour, Azpilicueta got down low to prevent Pablo Fornals’ shot testing Mendy. For all of West Ham’s pressure in the final third, our keeper hadn’t had much to do.
Mateo Kovacic for Jorginho was our second sub midway through the half as the rain started to teem down in west London. A period of relative calm ensued, with the Blues happy to sit deep, soak up pressure and try and break when the opportunity arose.
Victory secured in style
That strategy paid off with 12 minutes remaining. We worked the ball wide left to Werner, who cut inside and went for goal from the edge of the box. It wasn’t the cleanest strike, but Abraham gambled and darted between backline and keeper to cutely touch it past Fabianski.
The Blues breathed a collective sigh of relief, and the feeling the shackles had been loosened only increased when Abraham notched his second in three minutes at the end of Chelsea’s best move of the match.
Pulisic exchanged flicks with Abraham right in front of the dugouts before dribbling diagonally forwards. He helped the ball on to Mount, this time perched wide left, and only a brave Fabianski block prevented Pulisic completing consecutive one-twos with a headed goal from the midfielder's teasing cross. The ball only ran free to the predatory Abraham, however, and he slammed it into the unguarded net.
The final chance of the game fell Werner’s way as he collected Kante’s pass and smashed an effort off the top of the crossbar. It wasn’t to be his night in front of goal, but it was certainly Chelsea who took the local bragging rights, something we will hope to replicate at the Emirates on Boxing Day.
Happy Christmas Blues fans!
Restored to the side at the expense of in-form Giroud, it was not just Abraham's finishing that stood out but his involvement in the build-up to both his goals. For his first, he chested a long Mendy kick into Mount's path before being in the right place at the right time to make the most of Werner's underhit effort, and for the second it was his flick that provided Pulisic with space to drive into. Again Tammy showcased his happy knack of feeding off scraps in the six-yard box to slam the ball into the net.
Two goals was just reward for an excellent all-round performance on his return to the side.
It's another London derby next with the Blues visiting Arsenal on Saturday. We host Aston Villa at the Bridge just 48 hours later.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Mendy; Azpilicueta (c), Zouma, Thiago Silva, Chilwell (Emerson 9); Kante, Jorginho (Kovacic 66), Mount; Pulisic (Havertz 84), Abraham, Werner.
Unused subs Kepa, Rudiger, Christensen, Gilmour, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud.
Scorers Thiago Silva 10, Abraham 78, 80
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Coufal, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Bowen (Fredericks 90), Noble (c), Fornals (Benrahma 66); Haller.
Unused subs Martin, Randolph, Dawson, Diop, Johnson, Snodgrass, Yarmolenko.
Referee Chris Kavanagh.