It was a typical March afternoon at Stamford Bridge as the Blues hosted one of this season’s surprise packages and the visitors knew that victory could take them into the top four.
Chelsea started poorly against West Ham, as they wrung the changes with John Terry returning to the defence. The return of the skipper allowed Azpilicueta to move to left-back and saw Kenedy play in a more natural left wing position. West Ham, on the other hand, played with Antonio at right-back and started off the game well.
It was a game that Chelsea fans were slightly concerned about and rightly so. Manuel Lanzini gave the Hammers the lead early in the second half as he scored a pearler from 25 yards, although Thibaut Courtois really should have done more to stop the ball going over him from such a distance. The form of the Belgian is still a significant concern and Petr Cech’s presence seems to have allowed him to relax too much.
The second half saw Chelsea’s defence look as shaky as it has done all season, but they looked to have a threat down the left as Kenedy caused problems with his direct running and powerful physique. Loic Remy unsurprisingly looked short of match fitness and West Ham limited Chelsea to very few meaningful chances. It was just before half-time when Chelsea drew level as Cesc Fabregas perfectly placed a free-kick into the top left hand corner to give the Blues an undeserving sense of security at the interval.
Kenedy was replaced by the inconsistent Pedro at the break, which is unsurprising considering the number of minutes the Brazilian has had of late.
The arrival of Andy Carroll on the hour mark gave Chelsea a different challenge, with John Terry drooling at the prospect of endless aerial duels. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be quite like that. Chelsea were caught out defensively once more and the Blues left a gaping hole down the inside-left channel for the pony-tailed target man to fire in at the near post. Petr Cech will have been wondering how he lost his place to Courtois, as the Belgian made another howler to let a relatively gentle shot in at the near post. Begovic, too, must be knocking on Hiddink’s door asking for a few minutes.
The Irons’ top four charge will be strong if they can continue to face sides who have such a lacklustre defensive approach as Chelsea.
One positive for the Blues was the arrival of the in-form Bertrand Traore. Within minutes of coming on the forward had a shout for a handball – albeit as optimistic as you could imagine – and he looked lively from the minute he was brought on.
Once Chelsea had gone behind, it was a sit back and attack approach from West Ham. A sharp bicycle kick gave Adrian a scare but chances were by no means clear cut as the Blues dominated possession without creating a great deal. For the large part Chelsea looked toothless without the snarling Diego Costa and the Blues are a far cry from the side that cantered to the league title just under 12 months ago.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, or boy wonder as he is called by some adoring fans, changed it all late on. As he was brought on for a late cameo, the double barrelled talent was taken down for a penalty in the dying embers of normal time and Cesc Fabregas coolly slotted the ball into the corner before celebrating like a man who believed in a Manchester City-esque comeback.
A late free-kick for the Hammers threatened to provide a final twist, but the game finished in a draw that left neither side with much advantage in their respective European pushes.