West Ham 0 Chelsea 1: Champagne celebrations on the Wembley turf on Sunday, hard graft at Upton Park three days later.
Chelsea already have one trophy in the cabinet this season and it is clear they are anxious for more.
This certainly wasn’t a victory achieved with the swagger of champions.
Handed a 22nd minute advantage thanks to Eden Hazard’s header, Jose Mourinho’s side were forced to battle their way to three points, helped in no small part by West Ham’s failure to make the most of a succession of chances.
Diafra Sakho was guilty of spurning a number of opportunities that would have given the home side a deserved point. And Sam Allardyce’s side had cause to be frustrated when Chelsea skipper John Terry went unpunished for a second half bodycheck on Cheikhou Kouyate having been booked earlier in the game.
Had Terry — man of the match in the Capital One cup final victory over Tottenham — been dismissed, West Ham might have gained the momentum they needed to claw their way back into the game.
As it was, Mourinho’s side stood firm to ensure they maintained their five-point lead over Manchester City, having played a game less.
Terry marked the Wembley win over Spurs by declaring the victory could prove to be a springboard for Jose Mourinho’s side and usher in a new era of dominance for the club.
Manchester City’s failure to beat Liverpool on Sunday had certainly given the Stamford Bridge side a boost and having been handed a clear advantage in the title race, it was clear Mourinho was intent on ensuring the gains of the weekend were not quickly lost.
The manager had talked of making changes to his Wembley line-up, but as it was, he restricted himself to replacing keeper Petr Cech with Thibaut Courtois and bringing in Oscar for Willian. Hardly the kind of changes to give West Ham a motivational boost.
That meant Kurt Zouma once again deputised for Nemanja Matic who was absent while he completed his two-match suspension following his dismissal against Burnley. The defender drew praise for his performance in an unfamiliar role on Sunday and Mourinho’s decision to repeat the experiment — Matic’s natural replacement John Mikel Obi is out for a month with a knee problem — was a huge vote of confidence in the youngster.
As it turned out, Zouma was destined to receive a crash course in his new position with Cheikhou Kouyate and James Collins both cautioned for robust first half challenges on the 20-year-old.
But while West Ham showed they were prepared to match Chelsea in a clash that grew increasingly testy as the game wore on, they lacked ruthlessness in front of goal.
Chelsea were never likely to be so wasteful and the way they went ahead spoke volumes about their attacking strengths that have undone so many of opponents this season.
Almost inevitably, Cesc Fabregas was involved, receiving Hazard’s pass and moving the ball onto Ramires. And while there was a debate about whether the Belgian had drifted offside when met the Brazilian’s right wing cross, there was no doubt about the quality of Hazard’s 22nd minute headed finish.
That was hard on a West Ham side battling to halt a frustrating run but it would have been much worse in the 35th minute had Carl Jenkinson not produced a superb recovering tackle to halt Diego Costa as the striker advanced on Adrian’s goal.
It was to the home side’s credit that responded so positively against the league leaders and they would have been quickly level had Sakho not been enduring a night to forget.
Within a minute of Jenkinson’s tackle, the forward headed wastefully at Courtois when unmarked six yards out. Then as the game opened up during an absorbing second period, Sakho went on to miss three more good opportunities.
It didn’t help that Courtois was in inspired form, never more so than when the keeper stretched out an arm to turn away Sakho’s close range shot. And when the Belgian did slip up and fail to hold Enner Valencia’s powerful shot, Sakho was denied by Gary Cahill’s superb block.
Chelsea responded in kind with Ramires unfortunate to hit the post in the 56th minute but this was a performance that ultimately spoke more about the resilience of Mourinho’s side.
WEST HAM (4-1-4-1): Adrian 7; Jenkinson 7, Tomkins 6, Reid 6 (Collins 7, 6), Cresswell 7; Noble 7; Downing 6, Nolan 6, Kouyate 8 (Nene 87, 6), Valencia 6; Sakho 6.
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Courtois 8; Ivanovic 7, Cahill 7, Terry 7, Azpilicueta 6; Fabregas 7, Zouma 6; Ramires 7, Oscar 6 (Willian 74, 6), Hazard 9 (Remy 90, 6); Costa 6 (Drogba 90, 6).
Referee: Andre Marriner.
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