Chelsea’s already faint hopes of finishing in the top four were dashed at Stamford Bridge as a goal from West Ham substitute Chicharito cancelled out Cesar Azpilicueta’s opener in a match which the home side dominated but nevertheless failed to win, a scenario which has become all too familiar this season.
On a day when fans in west London paid an emotional tribute to club legend Ray Wilkins, who died last week aged just 61, it was a hugely disappointing ending.
The hard facts are that this result leaves Chelsea 10 points behind Tottenham in fifth place in the Premier League with only six games to go, and with a vastly inferior goal difference adding to the chasm. A clearly angry and frustrated Conte seemed to suggest, too, that his players are not capable of bridging that gap.
He said: “We must be realistic. If we are not able to win this type of game, we are talking about what? About what?
“I’d like to continue to say ‘we need to continue to work and improve’, but you must win this game if you want to reach a target. In this case, if we wanted to reach a place in the Champions League. Because the other teams are clinical. They create chances, they are ready to suffer and win the game. This game describes our whole season.”
Conte was understandably frustrated at the way his side not only missed chances but also took their eye off the ball in the second half against a West Ham team who had looked pretty uninspired for the opening hour in which Eden Hazard, Willian and Alvaro Morata (who had two goals disallowed for offside) were wasteful.
Chelsea were booed off at the final whistle and the Italian coach had no complaints, adding: “I think this is normal. Because we must be disappointed with the final result. We are paying a lot this season for this type of situation. When this happens with regularity, it means you have a problem. I’m very frustrated and I hope my players go home and stay frustrated because, in this way, we have the right mentality. Otherwise, if we accept this result and say we were unlucky today, we are not building anything positive for the future.”
Chelsea did go ahead in the first half through Azpilicueta, who stabbed home after West Ham defended a short corner poorly. But Chicharito levelled within three minutes of arriving onto the pitch in the 70th minute, sweeping home from a Marko Arnautovic pass as Gary Cahill slept.
It was an important moment for West Ham manager David Moyes, whose team now face a vital relegation clash against Stoke at the London Stadium next Monday.
It could have been even better if referee Kevin Friend had given a penalty when N’Golo Kante made a last-gasp tackle on Arnautovic which was touch and go, the Frenchman’s foot connecting with ball and man at the same time.
Moyes said: “Whether it was a penalty or not it wasn’t given and I would rather talk about how well the team performed. ”
West Ham also had reason to be thankful to goalkeeper Joe Hart, who made a string of fine saves, including a spectacular tip-over from a long-range Marcos Alonso effort right at the end.
But most of the focus will be on Chelsea, a team which won the league last season but which now looks a shadow of its former self. There is still an FA Cup semi-final to come, against Southampton at Wembley, so Conte’s season is not over yet – but this weekend’s Premier League trip to the Saints is one which not many Blues fans will look forward to given their team’s current form which includes only three wins in 2018.
Courtois 6; Rudiger 7, Cahill 6, Azpilicueta 7; Alonso 6, Fabregas 6, Kante 6, Moses 6 (Pedro 78; 6); Hazard 7, Morata 7, (Giroud 78; 6) Willian 7. Subs not used: Cabellero, Drinkwater, Bakayoko, Christensen, Emerson.
Hart 8; Cresswell 6 (Evra 6; 6), Ogbonna 5, Rice 7; Masuaku 6, Noble 6, Kouyate 6, Zabaleta 6; Mario 6 (Cullen 85; 6), Arnautovic 6, Fernandes 5 (Chicharito 70; 7). Subs not used: Adrian, Hugill, Cullen, Pask, Diangana.