Premier League
Chelsea 1 West Ham United 0

Sunday, 24th April 2022
by Chris Wilkerson

It was bold from David Moyes, it was a brave performance, but in the end it was a 1-0 Chelsea win after a 90th-minute Pulisic goal eventually broke the West Ham resistance.

After making six changes ahead of the Europa League Semi-Final first leg on Thursday, West Ham were severely weakened in name, but not in character. They were disciplined, organised and diligent in their gameplan, only for a late sending off to throw things off balance and allow Chelsea to spring a late goal, even after Fabianski had saved a Jorginho penalty.


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Out went Rice, Bowen, Antonio, Lanzini, Vlasic and the injured Issa Diop, replaced by Noble, Yarmolenko, Benrahma, Fornals, Masuaku and Coufal. It was a defensive setup, a clear five at the back and Fornals the closest to leading the line, playing similarly to a false nine.

The excitement in the rotation was about as exciting as the afternoon got, right until the last few minutes of play. Chelsea were flat, taking a touch too many in nearly every attack, looking for the extra pass when a shot may have been on. That was to West Ham's credit too, so disciplined and organised were they that Chelsea's lack of confidence was often pounced on by smart defending. When they hesitated, West Ham adjusted and made the next pass harder, again and again.

The flat back five, which it became in defence, was ably supported by Soucek and Noble in front of them, with Yarmolenko, Benrahma and Fornals all working hard to cover their defensive duties and get on the ball when they could.

It did not make for an exciting game. Chelsea lacked confidence, West Ham lacked intent. The result was a stalemate. The closest anything came to happening was Benrahma winning loose balls off the Chelsea defenders, but failing to do anything with it.

That the half ended with neither team having a shot on target is a true indicator of what this half was. West Ham will have been happy with their discipline, and their performance as a whole looked more settled and composed with six changes than a Chelsea side close to full strength.

Any dangerous moments the home side did have were snuffed out by good defending. Dawson was brilliant, marshalling the defence well and always the man who appeared when West Ham needed a defender. There wasn't a player who looked out of place or not doing their job. Nothing special, nothing flash, but solid and consistent in their duties. Had Benrahma settled a little more after good pressure to win the ball in the Chelsea half, things could have been different.

As the half ended 0-0, both teams had got what they deserved. Chelsea had done nothing to earn a goal, West Ham had defended smartly to deny Chelsea any opportunity.


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Coming out for the second half, Chelsea looked to up the tempo. It worked for five to ten minutes, Dawson making an incredible block from a Werner volley in the area that likely saved a goal. But it died away, and that little burst soon dissipated as the pattern from the first half returned.

The only player who ever really found space was Kante, whose pace can leave midfielders flat-footed. The Frenchman lacked guile, but the space he kept getting gave him more and more chance to get it right. It was he who first truly threatened Fabianski's goal, a shot from the edge of the box deflected up by Johnson, but the goalkeeper reacted brilliantly to pop up and claim the ball that could have gone over him, as he had already started his dive.

At the other end, smart work down the right from Yarmolenko after a good Johnson pass was wasted, his lay back to Soucek hit softly and right at the defender.

As Chelsea grew more into it, Moyes made his first change. On came Rice for Noble, the armband swapping and the young midfielder getting 30 minutes to bring fresh energy into the middle.

But rather than settling for the result and going deeper, West Ham were starting to find the spaces left as Chelsea threw more forward. Yarmolenko came close from a tight angle, although the Ukrainian likely would have been given offside.

The flag stayed down and Chelsea countered at pace. Coming from the right, Mount was slipped the ball on the diagonal of the box and volleyed at the far corner, only for Dawson to again throw himself in front of the ball. Werner pounced, but a floored Craig Dawson doesn't stop defending. Werner's space to shoot was cut off by a wriggling Dawson, forcing the German wide to go round the man throwing himself about on the floor at his feet. When he did dig out a shot, it was wide.

Bowen came on, giving West Ham a bit more pace up front, yet the guile and experience of Yarmolenko went with him. West Ham were losing a bit of their control, and suddenly there were spaces where there hadn't been before. Chelsea were able to attack with dynamism, whereas before it had been slow.

Another big chance went wasted at the feet of Werner after an Alonso cross bounced down off Cresswell and into his path. On the spin, the German stretched a leg out to get a volley at goal, but it was too close to Fabianski, who held very well.


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Chelsea turned to the bench, throwing on Lukaku, Pulisic and Ziyech, ??200m stepping onto the pitch in one swoop.

It was having little impact on the game until one long ball forward from Mendy. It was flicked on by Thiago Silva and Lukaku smartly used his body to roll Dawson on the edge of the area. The defender tugged him, not much, tangled in arms, but as he pulled his arm away, it caught in Lukaku's and the big striker tumbled down. He had got into the box, and the referee awarded the penalty and showed a yellow card. But VAR popped up, and it showed Dawson as not having made a genuine attempt to win the ball. After a check on the screen, the referee inevitably agreed and showed Dawson a straight red card. So that's zero senior centre backs available for Arsenal next weekend, if you're keeping count. An inventive way to rest him.

It looked set to be a penalty to cruelly rob West Ham of their deserved point, but for the second week in a row, a little hop only made it harder to score. This time, Jorginho did his skip and Fabianski barely moved. In the end, the Italian rolled it weakly into Fabianski's arms.

With ten men, it was two minutes and stoppage time to survive.

Harsh though this criticism might be, Jarrod Bowen again failed to protect the ball well enough. On the byline, he was dispossessed and Chelsea flew forward. Alonso crossed low and hard down the left, it flicked off the inside of Coufal's leg to take it out of the reach of the defenders and perfectly into the path of Pulisic, who finished expertly low into the far corner to give his side three points they had not deserved.

It was cruel on West Ham, but fans will have been quickly buoyed by score at Turf Moor as Burnley beat Wolves 1-0 and West Ham's three-point cushion above their rivals for seventh place remained intact.

Goodness only knows what kind of team will play against Arsenal next weekend, but the big game is before that. Thursday, a Europa League Semi-Final. If you didn't know...


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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
Sharp performance today. The penalty save was just a reward for him standing up right and not falling for the games. A few sharp saves, ones you'd expect him to make but done well.


Vladimir Coufal
Good defensively, especially in a role that doesn't really suit him perfectly. Needed to be better on the ball, but it was game where quite a few of the forward passers struggled.


Aaron Cresswell
As ever, solid and dependable in this role. Will probably prefer that Masuaku isn't there on Thursday - Cresswell threw a few verbal volleys at his teammate for sloppy play - but he is an asset in this third centre back role.


Ben Johnson
Did really well in the role, a role that could really suit him. It's unclear whether he'll be there on Thursday, or part of a central pair, but he looked comfortable in a game where he was tested.


Craig Dawson
Easily man of the match until the red card, but it was a sloppy error and confounded by the pull. It would have been a big chance for Lukaku, but not bigger than the penalty and not worth leaving his side without a centre back for the last few minutes and next weekend.


Arthur Masuaku
The odd lackadaisical moment, which we've come to expect, but actually quite a sharp performance. For his lack of minutes, he looked good. Defended reasonably well, got forward in attack and sent in two lovely crosses in the first half.


Tomas Soucek
Unlucky not to get a rest, considering he covers so much ground. Worked tirelessly, and he steps up when Rice isn't there. You don't notice the gap because Soucek is a better defensive midfielder than he's ever given credit for.


Mark Noble
With tight spaces, no exposure of his lack of speed, Noble acquitted himself well. Solid, disciplined, calm.


Said Benrahma
Just sloppy moments after good moments, which is a shame. He worked really hard in the first half, dropped off in the second and should have been replaced sooner.


Pablo Fornals
Managed to play up front, on the wing, linking midfield to attack and defending deep too. He's a phenomenon of energy and intelligence on the football pitch.


Andriy Yarmolenko
The better attacking moments often involved him. Had the team had a striker there for him to play off, he could have been very dangerous.



Substitutes

Declan Rice
(Replaced Noble, 61) Didn't have much influence in midfield and then probably just not as aware to danger as Dawson would have been with that cross.


Jarrod Bowen
(Replaced Yarmolenko, 72) It's harsh to really criticise him for losing the ball on the touchline, he had held it for a little time but could have been smarter. The break was costly. He didn't get involved otherwise, one moment where he looked to have an opening that seemed to go.


Manuel Lanzini
(Replaced Benrahma, 77) Didn't get into it, didn't help the middle and the chaos then ruined any shape. Not sure he was the right call, it needed dynamism.


Alphonse Areola
Did not play.


Ryan Fredericks
Did not play.


Ajibola Alese
Did not play.


Alex Kral
Did not play.



Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Ben Johnson, Craig Dawson, Arthur Masuaku, Tomas Soucek, Mark Noble, Said Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, Andriy Yarmolenko.

Goals: None.

Booked: None.

Sent Off: Craig Dawson 86    .

Chelsea: Mendy, Chalobah, Silva, Azpilicueta, Loftus-Cheek (Ziyech 76), Kante, Jorginho, Alonso, Mount, Havertz (Lukaku 76), Werner (Pulisic 76).

Subs not used: Arrizabalaga, Sarr, Niguez, Kenedy, Barkley.

Goals: Pulisic (90).

Booked: Alonso (81).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Michael Oliver.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Lukasz Fabianski.