Chelsea go 10 points clear after derby win

Premier League

Chelsea go 10 points clear after derby win

The impeccable Eden Hazard and the irrepressible Diego Costa were the goalscorers but this was a team performance that will have thrilled their manager, where barely a Chelsea boot was out of place, until the 92nd minute West Ham consolation, and his team offered no glimmer of hope to the chasing pack.

After draws on their last two away games, at Liverpool and Burnley, here was a potential banana skin for Chelsea, reason for Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola to dream of a dramatic, late-season charge to the top.

Instead, a lead of 10 points leaves Chelsea’s rivals effectively needing to pick up a point on the leaders over every one of the 11 games that remain in the campaign.

Conte said: “It was a good game. Great concentration, great commitment, a great will to win. We gave away a clean sheet and we must improve in this situation. But I am pleased.”

The opening goal summed up so much of what Conte’s Chelsea are about as the visitors ended a spell of 25 minutes of soaking up West Ham pressure to launch a devastating, and unstoppable, counter-attack.

It took a solitary mistake, from West Ham captain Mark Noble who tried to play an ambitious pass after his team had seen a free-kick shot blocked, to set the wheels in motion.

Chelsea’s attack, which had barely been out of first gear to that point, suddenly burst into life, N’Golo Kante intercepting, moving the ball onto Hazard who exchanged sharp passes with Pedro on his way into the area.

Hazard still had plenty to do, and did it convincingly, accelerating square past the advancing Darren Randolph and rolling the ball into the open goal.

Conte, who had been in constant motion in his technical area on the touchline to that point, reacted as Conte does, punching the air as his team celebrated a goal that seemed to carry with it far more significance than simply another three points for his club.

It was hard not to view the fixture as something of a potential pivotal point in the season.

After all, Chelsea have lost just four times in all competitions this season with every defeat coming in London, including one at this stadium in the League Cup.

After Manchester City and Tottenham both maintained their impressive recent form, eating into Chelsea’s lead at the top, 24 hours earlier, there was a feeling that this was now or never in their hopes of overtaking Conte.

And those hopes lay with a West Ham side that has struggled for consistency this season.

It was probably no surprise to their rivals, therefore, that Chelsea needed just five minutes of the second half to wrap up the points with a counter-attack again, indirectly, leading to the goal — one which featured an extraodinary touch by Hazard who twisted in mid-air and used his back to steer the ball to a team mate.

That move ended in a corner from which Hazard’s near-post cross came off the head of Pedro Obiang and the unmarked Costa was able to guide the ball into the goal from close range using his knee.

It was the perfect performance and manner for Chelsea to handle a West Ham team buoyed, on and off the field, by the return of Andy Carroll.

There was a physicality Conte had expected as soon as he saw Carroll’s name on West Ham team sheet and the hosts did not disappoint as they peppered the Chelsea area with high balls with Robert Snodgrass foraging down the left and a potentially menacing supply line.

Consecutive Hammers corners also raised the atmosphere with the second of them forcing Thibaut Courtois into a punch as Winston Reid shaped to connect with Snodgrass’s cross.

Chelsea were doing a solid job of coping with the Carroll threat without looking remotely threatening in the other half of the field although, true to type, the first time they had even a glimpse of a counter-attack, it led to Hazard opening the scoring.

Manuel Lanzini wasted West Ham’s first real sight of goal with an 18-yard shot, a miss which should have been punished before the interval when Hazard broke down the left, crossed slightly behind Costa for Moses and Pedro to produce powerful shots which were blocked by Aaron Cresswell and Randolph, respectively.

The early second half goal led to an open final 40 minutes with Marco Alonso’s skilful run soon ending in a shot just wide.

A Snodgrass cross gave the home supporters hope just after the hour as the ball was mis-kicked by Jose Fonte and Feghouli’s follow-up attempt had to be cleared off the line by Moses.

Chelsea still looked keen to add to their tally on the counter with Hazard and Costa linking menacingly, as the latter turned superbly and saw his shot turned around the post by Randolph’s impressive dive, and Cesc Fabregas clearing the bar with a disappointing strike.

The only remote weakness in the Chelsea performance came deep in injury-time when Lanzini struck a superb low finish from 15 yards after Andre Ayew pounced on a Fabregas mistake.

West Ham (4-2-3-1):

Randolph 7; Kouyate 7, Fonte 6, Reid 5 (Byram 64, 6), Cresswell 5; Noble 5 (Fernandes 77, 6), Obiang 6; Feghouli 6 (Ayew 64, 6), Lanzini 6, Snodgrass 7; Carroll 7. Subs (not used) Adrian, Collins, Masuaka, Calleri, Fernandes.

Chelsea (3-4-3):

Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 6, Luiz 7, Cahill 7; Moses 8 (Zouma 76, 6), Fabregas 7, Kante 8, Alonso 7; Pedro 7 (Matic 64, 6), Costa 7, Hazard 9 (Willian 74, 6). Subs (not used) Begovic, Loftus-Cheek, Batshuayi, Terry.


A Marriner 7

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