Chelsea beat West Ham where it mattered: not by gaming the system but by outclassing them on the pitch.
Thomas Tuchel’s side have no need for a European Super League. This polished performance showed that they are strong enough to dominate without stacking the odds in their favour.
Timo Werner’s third goal in his last 32 appearances was enough for Chelsea, who kept plenty in reserve before their Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, to take control of the top-four race. It was a composed display and a crucial win, lifting them three points above West Ham and four above Liverpool with five games left.
David Moyes could not complain about an unjust result, even though West Ham were aggrieved to lose Fabián Balbuena to an absurd red card during the dying stages.
VAR struck again when Chris Kavanagh, the referee, was sent to the pitchside monitor after the West Ham centre-back accidentally caught Ben Chilwell with his studs as he completed a routine clearance.
Apparently Balbuena was supposed to remove his own leg after committing the unforgivable crime of kicking the ball. “It’s a rank decision,” Moyes said.“After rolling around Chilwell got up and crossed the ball.”
Still, it was a relief to moan about VAR instead of a privileged few wrecking football. The travesty of the Super League is that it would have rendered fixtures such as these irrelevant.
Never mind fading and dying, West Ham’s bubbles never would have reached the sky in the first place if the project had gone ahead and it should not have been lost on Chelsea’s chairman, Bruce Buck, that this game mattered because there was so much riding on it.
Watching from the directors’ box, Buck saw a sense of jeopardy bring the best out of Chelsea from the start. A distracted, fretful bunch when they drew with Brighton on Tuesday, back when it seemed that the world was about to cave in, Tuchel’s players were in the zone this time.
Chelsea’s nimble front three were soon toying with West Ham’s defence. Werner threatened in the fourth minute, turning Mason Mount’s cross over. Mount, such a livewire, brilliantly swivelled into space before shooting on target.
Christian Pulisic wasted a glaring chance, shooting straight at Lukasz Fabianski from 12 yards.
This felt like a game too far for West Ham’s thin squad. Moyes’s side lacked energy with Mark Noble in midfield instead of Declan Rice and their attack failed to function without Michail Antonio. Jarrod Bowen toiled as a makeshift striker and most of West Ham’s counterattacks were stopped at source by Chelsea’s midfielders, Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté.
The only moment of concern for the visitors came when Tomas Soucek had a goalbound shot blocked by César Azpilicueta, who avoided conceding a penalty for handball. Otherwise it was tame from West Ham, who also had to adjust in defence with Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson and Arthur Masuaku missing.
Chelsea, so difficult to break down, deservedly broke through after 43 minutes. Werner sparked the move, holding off Angelo Ogbonna before finding Pulisic, who released Chilwell on the left.
West Ham were pulled apart and Chilwell, who is growing more assured at wing-back, teed up Werner to clip a low shot past Fabianski.
It felt like a breakthrough moment for Werner after his toils in front of goal. Based on the German’s astonishing miss in the 55th minute, though, the recovery process has some way to go. A goal looked certain when Fabianski repelled a long-range drive from Mount, but Werner scuffed the rebound wide.
“He needs to keep on scoring,” Tuchel said. “He is quite often involved in our goals. But nothing helps more than a decisive goal. He was strong today. He could have had a second one, for sure.”
The miss sparked some defiance from West Ham, who have lost four of their last eight games. Mount blocked a firm drive from Ryan Fredericks, before Jesse Lingard, who had a quiet game, looped a volley inches wide.
Yet West Ham, who lacked balance with Fredericks filling in for Masuaku at left wing-back, struggled to create clear chances. With Azpilicueta at right wing-back, Chelsea had an extra defensive bolt and gave Lingard no space.
Chelsea looked likelier to score for much of the second half. Mount and Werner, who makes up for his rough edges with non-stop hustle, both tested Fabianski before Tammy Abraham headed over after coming off the bench. Tuchel, unbeaten in his first 10 away games, could reflect on another smart plan.
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