Chelsea consolidated our fourth place in the Premier League table with victory over our closest challengers for that position in Saturday’s London derby.
Timo Werner scored his first goal since mid-February to take the three points back to the west of town, his valuable strike hitting the net from close range shortly before half-time from the best move of the game.
Werner, whose movement was good throughout, did miss a good opportunity for a second goal early in the second half, and was also denied by West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, as was Mason Mount whose shooting strength in this game deserved a goal.
One was enough for Chelsea however as we defended well against a West Ham side who were missing Michail Antonio from their attack, and missing a man for the final 10 minutes after Fabian Balbuena was sent-off for following through on Ben Chilwell.
Jesse Lingard went close for the Hammers in the second half but Edouard Mendy was rarely troubled in keeping another clean sheet, the 16th for the team overall in 21 games under Thomas Tuchel, which added to today’s win means confidence should be high ahead of our massive Champions League game midweek.
Cockneys overcome, boosting Blues hopes
This felt a well-overdue good day out in this part of the capital city as West Ham had won three of their previous five home Premier League games against Chelsea, and very much enjoyed doing so.
Our last win here had come four years ago, on the way to winning the title. That prize is out of reach this time but the reward of a top-four finish remains in our hands with this victory against a Hammers side that had started the day on the same points as us in fifth. Liverpool’s draw against Newcastle earlier in the day means they are now four points behind us in sixth.
From the side that dropped two home points against Brighton midweek there were six changes, with Werner replacing Kai Havertz as the focal point of the attack. Cesar Azpilicueta came in but instead of re-joining the back-three, the captain was at right wing-back and there was a switch on the left too with Ben Chilwell returning. At the back there was a place for Thiago Silva in place of Kurt Zouma, and N’Golo Kante was restored to the midfield.
This was the 50th Premier League meeting between these two big London rivals and was being played out in a stadium where West Ham have been strong this season, with the second-best home record in the division coming into this game. Chelsea however have been good away from home of late so something seemed likely to give, although it took most of the opening half to happen.
Blues deal with Hammers strengths
For the second time in a week Chelsea were facing a side lined up in a similar formation to our own and as against Brighton, it led to a tight encounter over most of the pitch.
Tuchel before the game had warned against West Ham’s threat from set-pieces (they have scored more goals that way than anyone in the Premier League this season) and he selected a tall back-three as a consequence with Azpilicueta moved to the wing, but on the occasions the home side did get crosses or corners in during the first half, Mendy and Christensen dealt with them.
West Ham are also renowned for their counter-attacking threat this season but they did not make the most of two breaks early on after the Blues had lost possession inside our own half, and our head coach must have been pleased with how we were largely nullifying our opponents strengths.
At the other end of the pitch, it was Mount who forced the first save of the game, with a trick and low shot that did not have enough power to properly test Fabianski. Pulisic from closer in struck a Werner pull-back straight at the keeper and Werner had a shot deflected wide midway through the first half as the Blues looked the brighter team in attack.
Blues moves bear fruit
On 30 minutes, Chelsea moved the ball as quickly as we had all game to that point when Azpilicueta found Mount whose control was spot on, allowing him to find Werner with back to goal. The spin was sharp but the shot off-target.
With 10 minutes to go before the interval, West Ham did cause problems for the Blues from the aerial route but when Soucek hooked a dropping ball towards goal, Azpi diverted it wide via chest first then arm, and survived a VAR check for hand-ball.
Chelsea’s goal arrived with two minutes to go before the break and the move was one worth waiting for. Werner deserves credit for more than just the finish, showing strength under pressure to hold off a challenge before moving the ball wide. Pulisic fed Chilwell who sent his pass through the eye of a needle to miss out the West Ham defenders and reach Werner, who had a relatively simple task in turning the ball in.
Seeing it through in the second period
Ten minutes into the second half, Werner should have had his second goal after Fabianski had done well to keep out a sweetly struck Mount shot, but when Timo reached the loose ball first, his attempt to tap it past the keeper and into the far side of the net tapped it the wrong side of the post too.
Mendy at last made his first save of the game from Fornals before Lingard missed by inches with a dig from the edge of the area. That was the home side’s best attempt and the closest they came.
Mount, from 35 yards out, had the West Ham keeper at full-stretch again to claw out a shot heading for the top corner with just over an hour played, and soon after the Polish international was blocking one from Werner down at the foot of that post.
Irons see red
There were 10 minutes to go when West Ham’s task in getting back into this game was made all the harder when they lost a man to a red card. Balbuena had cleared the ball first but his follow-through ended with his studs into the lower leg of Chilwell, painfully so, and the referee dismissed the defender after viewing the incident again under the instruction of VAR.
There could have been more comfortable closing minutes had Werner not turned into trouble when racing towards goal after a West Ham mistake, and in the final seconds substitute Tammy Abraham, playing for the first time in two months, stretched to reach a Mount cross but sent it over, but by that stage, we knew our one goal would be enough.
It's a quick turnaround for the players as they fly to Spain on Monday for Tuesday's first leg of our big Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid. That's an 8pm kick-off (UK time). Then it is another London derby in the Premier League next Saturday when we host Fulham.
Chelsea Mendy; Christensen, Thiago Silva, Rudiger; Azpilicueta (c) (James 86), Kante, Jorginho, Chilwell; Mount, Werner (Abraham 87), Pulisic (Ziyech 74).
Unused subs Kepa, Alonso, Zouma, Gilmour, Havertz, Hudson-Odoi.
Scorer Werner 43
Booked Werner 35, Christensen 42, Rudiger 90+3, Kante 90+5
West Ham Fabianski; Balbuena, Ogbonna, Diop; Coufal, Noble (c) (Lanzini 69), Soucek, Fredericks (Johnson 83); Fornals (Benrahma 69); Bowen, Lingard.
Unused subs Randolph, Trott, Alves, Odubeko, Coventry, Yarmolenko,
Sent-off Balbuena 81
Referee Chris Kavanagh