West Ham miss chance at top four after conceding late draw at Chelsea
LONDON -- Three quick thought's from Chelsea's 2-2 Premier League draw with West Ham at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
1. West Ham miss their chance at the top four
Cesc Fabregas denied West Ham United the chance to go into the top four with a controversial late penalty that salvaged a 2-2 draw for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. For long periods of the game, it looked as though the visiting side would leave with the points. Manuel Lanzini opened the scoring for West Ham after 17 minutes before Fabregas equalised on the stroke of half-time from a free kick.
Andy Carroll, on as a substitute, restored the lead after 62 minutes and although Chelsea pressed hard, it looked as though the visiting side had weathered the storm until Michail Antonio tripped Ruben Loftus-Cheek with time running out. The contact looked outside the box but referee Robert Madley pointed to the spot. Fabregas' assured penalty gave the home side a share of the points, but Slaven Bilic will be disappointed to draw a game his side should have won.
West Ham took the game to Chelsea from the start and were duly rewarded. Dimitri Payet and Lanzini caused the home defence problems, but sloppy play from Chelsea, rather than the excellence of West Ham's creative duo, set up the goal.
John Terry's defensive header sent the ball back across goal and dropped toward Diafra Sakho. John Obi Mikel tried to snuff out the danger with a sliding challenge but only succeeded in prodding the ball to Lanzini, whose exquisite curling shot gave Thibaut Courtois no chance.
The Hammers could have extended their lead before half-time. Cheikhou Kouyate went close from a corner, but they went in at the interval level despite creating a number of chances.
Chelsea has pushed forward without creating any convincing chances. There were loud appeals for a penalty when the ball hit the junction of Enner Valencia's shoulder and arm. Yet West Ham were always the more dangerous side. Lanzini flicked the ball to Aaron Cresswell and the subsequent shot deflected and fizzed across the face of the goal. It was another escape for Chelsea.
Then, unexpectedly, the hosts equalised. Oscar was brought down on the edge of the box and this time Fabregas stepped up. The West Ham defenders were upset about the referee's decision and his positioning of the wall. Fabregas waited until the complaints were over and directed a curling chip that had enough power to beat Adrian and level things up. Moments later the half-time whistle went and Bilic's team left the field looking pretty sorry for themselves.
Chelsea were better in the opening exchanges of the second half, but West Ham looked to have sealed the game after 62 minutes. Payet caught the Blues' back four square and rolled the ball to Carroll, who had slipped behind Branislav Ivanovic. The big striker had replaced Sakho two minutes earlier but was up to the pace of the game immediately. It was his first touch, but Carroll's assured shot left Courtois stranded.
There were chances at both ends as Chelsea piled forward. Cresswell rattled the hosts' bar and as time ran out it looked as though Bilic's side would be in the top four. Instead, Antonio tripped Lotus-Cheek and Fabregas placed the penalty into the corner after a stuttering run-up. There was time for a minor brawl and half chances at both ends, but West Ham will feel this was a chance missed rather than a point gained.
2. Hiddink's Chelsea lack attacking options
Set pieces always seemed the likeliest way for Chelsea to score. Without Diego Costa, they were toothless up front.
Interim manager Guus Hiddink did change things around, pushing Kenedy forward in a more natural position out wide, in front of Cesar Azpilicueta. Yet the 20-year-old was barely more effective than his outings at full-back. The Brazilian produced a couple of eye-catching dribbles but on each occasion over-egged the run and hit a blind alley. When West Ham had the ball, Kenedy looked bemused and unsure of his position.
His compatriot Willian was again the best player in a blue shirt. His passing range seems to grow with each week, and his effectiveness from the central areas is increasing.
He was particularly good in picking out the full-backs with diagonal ball, once putting a pass on Azpilicueta's chest in the box; had Costa been the recipient, West Ham would have been worried. In the second half, Willian twice found Ivanovic in enough space to send in dangerous crosses. One excellent cross went through to the back post, where Oscar lunged at the ball with his wrong foot. It seemed easier to score than miss, but the ball landed in the side netting anyway.
Willian considerably outshined his compatriot, whose miss came back to haunt Chelsea. Oscar struggled to make an impact on the game, and with Loic Remy unable to make much of an impact, Chelsea worried West Ham far less than Bilic might have expected. The striker briefly showed what he is capable of with a turn-and-shoot on the hour mark, but overall he was disappointing.
Fabregas again sat too deep.
West Ham played very open and it offered Chelsea room in the midfield. Fabregas was initially keen to take advantage. In the early exchanges he looked to drive into dangerous positions and was able to show the best of his game. The 28-year-old found Willian in the area with an exquisitely subtle ball, but Adrian was alert and blocked further danger.
As the game wore on, Fabregas reverted to his tendency this season to lurk in his own half. With the home side getting little penetration from their attack, they sorely needed the Spaniard to get into creative positions. Too often he did not.
The late introduction of Lofus-Cheek paid off, with the youngster giving Chelsea a dynamism they had lacked. He might have even won it at the end. However, it is clear that this is a side that needs a serious overhaul in the summer.
3. West Ham prove their mettle on the road
This is a different West Ham from their traditional image of talented lightweights. Not so long ago they would be expected to capitulate away from home.
They are no longer timid away from Upton Park. Right from the start, they ran at Chelsea. Lanzini drove at the Chelsea defence from the start and the linkups between the Argentinian and Payet always looked like unlocking the hosts' defence. The Frenchman has had most of the plaudits this season, but Lanzini is becoming increasingly influential.
His movement and touch left Chelsea bewildered at times, and West Ham should have been further ahead in the second half.
Creativity is only part of the equation, though. Bilic has instilled a stronger mentality in this team and they are capable of solid defending.
As Chelsea put the away side under siege in the final quarter of the game, Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna stood strong. Cresswell is one of the Premier Leagues better full-backs and he is as solid in his own area as he is dangerous going forward. Antonio is prone to mistakes, though, and so it proved with his rash tackle on Loftus-Cheek.
When James Collins limped off against Tottenham last month, there were concerns that the Hammers might struggle at the back. The rearguard action in the final minutes at Stamford Bridge almost paid off, but it is clear that Bilic has imbued a more robust approach to this West Ham side.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.