Chelsea, for the first time under Maurizio Sarri, have blinked. Their pristine record was checked across the capital, the visitors running aground on West Ham United’s industry on a day when Eden Hazard’s flicks and darts did not quite come off, the drive through midfield came only in fits and starts, and when the centres lofted into the middle tended to find N’Golo Kanté, at 5ft 6in, rather than a towering Olivier Giroud. It all felt rather forced and awkward.
Maybe that delayed flight back from Thessaloniki, delayed until Friday afternoon, had left them jaded after Europa League exertions. Unquestionably they encountered a West Ham side who were effectively and efficiently organised by Declan Rice, the teenager who had spent seven years at Chelsea’s youth academy, sitting in front of a rugged back four with tenacious teammates contributing at his side. Manuel Pellegrini’s hosts should take huge heart from making life so uncomfortable for perceived title contenders.
They might even have claimed more than a point given that the better chances, while they were rare, were prised out by the home team. None was more appealing than that 13 minutes from time as the substitute Robert Snodgrass swung over a cross from the left that found Andriy Yarmolenko, free beyond a distracted Marcos Alonso at the back post. The winger, summoning his best Mamadou Sakho impression, somehow headed wide to the disbelief of the majority in this arena. That the Ukrainian was later awarded the sponsors’ man of the match award felt rather ironic.
In that context, Chelsea’s point might actually be considered a bonus. Perhaps this will serve as justification for Sarri’s consistently downbeat assessment of his team’s chances this term. It only takes Chelsea to be slightly off colour to leave them looking flawed: if Hazard is not at his spritely best, or is well shackled, they appear diminished. They monopolised possession here, as illustrated by Jorginho’s club-record pass completion tally in midfield, but only ever threatened in sporadically.
The substitutes did inject some urgency, with Ross Barkley forcing Lukasz Fabianski into a fine low save in stoppage time. Álvaro Morata, on for the ineffective Giroud, had earlier pounced on David Luiz’s poor touch to poke a shot goalwards with the outside of his right foot only for the ball to cannon off Fabianski’s face and away to safety. Yet the sight of Kanté side-footing wide, or Willian squirting a shot out for a throw-in, rather summed up the whole occasion. Chelsea, as Sarri had warned, are a work in progress.
Not that West Ham will care. They had been shorn of the injured Marko Arnautovic, who cut a glum figure zipped up in his trenchcoat up in the stands, and understandably took time to conjure any kind of threat. Yet, with Chelsea’s defence still adjusting to the demands of Sarri-ball, their opportunities also came in flurries. Yarmolenko’s header was their best, but others had been coaxed out by Felipe Anderson, ever eager to glide into space down the hosts’ left, his touch classy and instincts forward-thinking.
It was the Brazilian’s turn away from César Azpilicueta and slipped pass beyond a backtracking Antonio Rüdiger that sent Michail Antonio through just before the half-hour, the stand-in forward clipping the angle of post and bar with his shot. More presentable still was the opportunity that fell the striker’s way moments later. Rice had exploited Alonso’s desire to push upfield to clip a pass into the space vacated by the Spaniard, on to which Yarmolenko tore. The Ukrainian drove at David Luiz with the ball eventually running through to Antonio, in the six-yard box, only for Kepa to block his shot from point-blank range. The locals cursed the miss though, in the end, they could celebrate the point.
Source: The Guardian