West Ham United 1-1 Chelsea
Saturday, 11th February 2023
by Chris Wilkerson
It was another hard-fought point for West Ham this Saturday lunchtime, the points shared as Chelsea visited the London Stadium and earned a 1-1 draw.In a tight game with little in the way of chances, a Chelsea goal inside the first twenty minutes was cancelled out 20 minutes later as Emerson bundled home his first Premier League goal for the club, against his former side.
But the major talking point of the game again came thanks to a late refereeing decision, this time falling in West Ham?EUR(TM)s favour after Tomas Soucek blocked a Gallagher shot with his hand inside the area. Considering the decision at Stamford Bridge in the reverse fixture that ruled out Cornet?EUR(TM)s goal, this will make the point even sweeter for many Hammers.
Chelsea started well, controlling the ball and pinning West Ham back. With an unchanged side from the draw at St. James?EUR(TM)s Park last weekend, that back three quickly became a back five, and with two holding midfielders defending ahead of them and the wingers almost playing as auxiliary wing-backs.
Having fallen out of the traps last week against Newcastle, it is some concern that Moyes?EUR(TM)s side were once more so poor in the opening exchanges. The lively Joao Felix soon had a goal ruled out for offside, and with West Ham struggling to gain any meaningful possession, they soon lost Lucas Paquet?? to injury with 14 minutes on the clock.
At that stage, it looked set to be a long afternoon. On came Soucek, and his presence added a touch more steel to the centre of the West Ham side.
With that said, it was only three minutes after the change that Chelsea took the lead.
West Ham, still pinned deep into their half, defended deep. Bowen looked to steal possession back on the edge of the box, but went down in pain as a Mudryk challenge took more man than ball, but was deemed to have got enough of the ball to have play waved on.
As Chelsea played down the line, they cut back to Enzo Fernandez on the edge of that box, where he stood in space, space created due to the figure of Bowen down hurt.
What cannot be questioned is the quality of the pass that he ??107m man played. The Argentine used that time and space to curl in a delicious pass, dipping between two centre backs and falling perfectly for Felix to cushion a passed volley into the bottom corner and give his side a deserved lead.
Just as the Irons could only settle once behind last week, it was true here, too. Whilst it wasn?EUR(TM)t any sort of flowing move, it took to the 20th minute to see West Ham hold any sustained possession, getting the ball into the box but creating nothing.
It was a little reminder that this Chelsea team are fragile. It was a single win in 12 before this fixture, Potter?EUR(TM)s Chelsea under pressure as they drift into midtable.
The Hammers were soon thankful again of the sharp eyes of the assistant referee as Mudryk cut inside from the left and thread a pass through the heart of the West Ham defence, finding Havertz as he drifted into the space in behind. His finish was sharp, but he had moved too early.
This is an evolving Chelsea side. So flush with expensive signings and potential, they?EUR(TM)re interesting to see in opposition. Graham Potter?EUR(TM)s Brighton seemed always to have a hex over West Ham, but whilst that side played with a fluidity and instinct that you can see forming in Potter?EUR(TM)s Chelsea side, that Brighton side were (and still are, under De Zerbi) also happy to do the hard parts, happy to earn their platform to play with hard work. His Chelsea side do not seem to have that same work ethic.
Mudryk and Madueke are clearly fabulous players, their quick feet making space to play in the West Ham half and forcing the whole side onto the back foot. But they are not running those hard yards enough, not making those covering runs that are mostly unnoticed when made with discipline, but easy to see when not made at all.
West Ham seemed to realise that same thing, and soon Coufal was happy to push beyond Mudryk and into space on the right flank. It made life easier for Bowen, who had the speed to get by Cucurella and cause issues.
It was in this spell, with West Ham tentatively making inroads further forward, that he got into the box with the ball at his feet, wide on the right side and played a sharp pass into Antonio. The striker did well to backheel the ball at goal, but right at Kepa from close range.
Kehrer threw himself at a corner, the ball dropping well wide, but when West Ham found their equaliser, the signs were not from big threats, but from that progression down the right side.
First to note is the pressing West Ham deployed on Chelsea, with Coufal high up on the right to really squeeze the space. With possession regained, the transition gave a chance.
Soucek and Coufal built slowly with the ball on the right flank, a little too slowly for a team looking to strike at a weakness in the Chelsea defence, but as the pass went back to Kehrer, Coufal was left in acres of space on the wing.
When the ball came back to him, no-one really moved to put any pressure on the Czech full back, so he took the ball on comfortably and lined up a cross into the box.
The cross itself wasn?EUR(TM)t great, but as it dropped onto Bowen?EUR(TM)s head at the corner of the Chelsea box, the winger was smart, angling a flick on that arrowed the ball low across the face of the goal.
Kepa scrambled across, but his urgency was not matched by his defence. Instead, as Antonio failed to get there, Emerson rushed in off the left flank and smothered the ball home from close range to put his former side to the sword and get his new side back on level terms.
It was a reward that all three men involved had deserved. Coufal was working tirelessly, and had exposed the space by being brave enough to get ahead of his man. Bowen had offered a threat, and the intelligence of his header should not be understated.
And for Emerson, who has sat on the sidelines for so long this season, his presence at wing back has seen a marked improvement for the team, and added to play on the left that was lacking with conservative full backs.
Chelsea would still threaten, those fast young players always able to shift the ball quickly and make something happen. Madueke showed that not long after the equaliser, making a yard of space in the box and firing in a low shot that Fabianski did well to save.
But where it was dominance in the opening, now it was moments. Chelsea were now countering rather than controlling, with one broken up by Rice in the West Ham box and another ending with a sharp freekick well saved by Fabianski.
Having started so slowly, it was a bit of a shock to go in level at half-time. But having got back into the game, Chelsea?EUR(TM)s fragility had shown, and West Ham are back in the mood where grinding out points is no longer an alien concept.
The second half was less entertaining, both sides tightening up a little and neither side really able to exploit the opportunities they were given.
Both had those moments where the right pass would have opened up huge chances, but there was a lack of quality when it was needed most.
For every swift counter, there was a failed final ball. For every turn into space, there seemed to be a bad decision that followed.
Each team was guilty of it, whether it be Antonio spinning Badiashile and then choosing to hold the ball with Benrahma in space wide of him, or Havertz getting across the front post to win a good header after a flowing Chelsea move, but Ogbonna forcing him too wide of the goal to make the opportunity easy to take.
Both Bowen and Coufal were guilty of a bad choice or poor execution ruining a promising move. With Bowen, it was almost unforgivable to see him pass right to the feet of the retreating Mudryk as Antonio ran beyond him. With Coufal, he either lacked the vision or ambition to curl a pass behind the defence with runners ready to pounce.
Moyes, as he is likely to do, made the changes that he felt would halt any tempo Chelsea could build. With just over 20 minutes remaining, on came Downes and Ings, replacing Benrahma and Antonio, and pushing West Ham into a more conservative 3-5-2.
Whilst it appeared to be made to settle the side defensively, it didn?EUR(TM)t really turn the tide. Both teams remained in a similar rhythm, the game tense and tight, almost begging for one moment of quality or madness.
It should have come from Chilwell, who broke through on the left and darted into the box, bu seemed to wait for a ball to come to him that was there to be taken. With a little aggression, the full back would have walked into the West Ham box with time to shoot. Instead, it was a passive wait, and it allowed Aguerd to move across and smother it wide.
Down the other end, Bowen was soon floored by a boot and an elbow from Reece James inside the Chelea box. It was hard to ascertain whether that Chelsea defender had made any contact with the ball, but he had definitely made contact first with the foot of Bowen, and then with his face. You won?EUR(TM)t see replays of that in complaints this weekend, although you certainly would have had that been Mount and Coufal at the other end.
It was that kind of game in the second half, nearly creative but almost always without threat. Mount drilled a low cross between goalkeeper and defence after a smart run into the box, but Fabianski was out quickly to get his foot out and clear.
With 10 minutes remaining, Nayef Aguerd was forced out with what appeared a groin injury, ratcheting up the anxiety. It had looked a tough slog to withstand the coming pressure with the impressive Moroccan, let alone fears for how the season had gone before his return.
In his place came Johnson, who deserves credit for imposing himself in challenges quickly and settling into the game without it appearing he?EUR(TM)d ever been a spectator to it.
And then West Ham thought they?EUR(TM)d won it, and had a long wait to find out they hadn?EUR(TM)t. A freekick from the left was curled in by Emerson, the two wing backs truly sharing the honours as the outstanding players on the pitch, and Rice headed at goal.
Kepa was down to save, but could only parry to Soucek, who tapped in the rebound with glee and wheeled away, seeing no flag to ruin his moment.
What ruined it was a fairly easy call for VAR, who took two minutes to see Rice a yard offside. The only possible explanation for their deliberation seemed to be that James had shoved the West Ham captain into an offside position before the kick was taken, but given that Rice had run back and bounced into his marker before turning again to meet the cross, what they were discussing remains a mystery,
Time ticked away, but it was not forgotten that the last two fixtures have been settled by Chelsea goals after the 88th minute.
It looked like they may have had that chance once more, were it not for a generous decision by those in the VAR booth.
For all the hysteria in the post-match coverage and the rags of this country - of which newspapers I mean, you can decide yourself - this was not a clear and obvious error on the referee?EUR(TM)s part. When he had made his mind up, the video officials would have needed a lot more to overrule him.
This is, of course, the Tomas Soucek ?EUR~handball.?EUR(TM) It came from a Gallagher shot outside the area. For whatever reason, and I can give you no explanation for this one, Soucek was already on his way down before Gallagher had shot.
What happened next was frankly beautiful for those of us still not over Cornet?EUR(TM)s disallowed goal at Stamford Bridge earlier this season.
Whether to break his fall or not, the ball struck the falling hand of Soucek. The referee deemed it both accidental and natural, and the VAR would have struggled to prove him wrong on either account. As weird as it looked, Soucek was falling down, slowly as he was. It was also not really out of the frame of a natural position, even though neither was it against his body.
Had it been the other way, the cries of injustice would have been loud, although that in itself is no evidence. The laws support the decision of both the referee and the VAR, the two important ones being:
* the ball touches a player's hand/arm close to their body and has not made their silhouette unnaturally bigger.
* a player is falling and the ball touches their hand/arm when it is between their body and the ground (but not extended to make the body bigger).
Watching it back, it is hard to definitively argue against that, and certainly too hard for the VAR to look at the referee?EUR(TM)s decision, look at the incident and look at the rules and decide an injustice must be overturned.
Still, you cannot argue there wasn?EUR(TM)t more than a little luck that the VAR ignored that or that the referee had made a different decision. Had he blown for the penalty, there is no way VAR would have overruled him on that, either.
And, let it not be forgotten, that they absolutely deserved it. If only Tommy had winked after, maybe shook his sore hand, too.
It was the last gasp of the match, one that rightfully ended in another respectable draw for David Moyes and his side.
There will be some disappointment that a struggling Chelsea side were not put under more pressure, and more warranted concern that again West Ham started slow and needed to concede before they woke up.
But the raw facts are that West Ham have played seven games in 2023, lost only one, drawing three and winning three more. It might still be tight down there, it might still be tough old football, but it?EUR(TM)s undoubtedly better.
David Moyes 6/10
A touch harsh, maybe, but one dangerously slow start can be blamed on the players. Two in a row starts to lay at the manager's door. Very cautious, Moyes is good at changes to help his team defend, less so at finding ways to improve going the other way.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
No chance on the goal, a few good saves that were saved well, with firm hands and good space to let the ball rebound into.
Many, including on these pages, have questioned his suitability as a wing back. On this showing, he is owed apologies. Where he gets real credit is the bravery to step into spaces left behind by Mudryk and back himself to be able to get back and do his defensive work after. It was rewarded with the goal, and he showed more willingness to get forward after that. The system, as well as Kehrer?EUR(TM)s pace, help him do that, but his willingness to press deep in the Chelsea half were just as important as his cross. And a marked improvement in ball retention.
It's him or Coufal for man of the match. The run was a perfect example of what you need your opposite wing back to do when the other side is providing the cross. He ghosted in and gambled well, getting his reward. Good one-vs-one defending was also a welcome sight, as well as a wicked delivery for the offside goal.
His pace is an asset, there is no doubting that, whilst being calm on the ball helps him be a good support to Coufal on the right. No notable errors, a settled position in a role that suits him.
Hard to really find fault for anyone on the Felix goal, the pass is that good. Otherwise, Ogbonna was superb at the nuts and bolts of deep defending. A concern that pace through the middle does see us cut open, but Ogbonna is looking back to his best when needed.
Not quite as impressive today, possibly not quite suited to the work getting dragged a little wider and dealing with the electric feet of the likes of Madueke. But his loss will be felt if he misses any game time.
Playing through illness, Rice was not imperious, but he was solid, responsible and effective.
Remains to be seen how serious an injury it was, but West Ham defended better after he was withdrawn, granted he only played 13 minutes.
Whilst his influence on the game was not felt in the attacking third, Benrahma deserves great credit for the diligence and discipline within his defensive duties. It is something he is often criticised for, and he deserves credit for doing selfless work that he absolutely would be told he doesn't do by his critics. Me included.
Worked hard, offered a threat and gets an assist for a very smart header, but also gets marked down for a couple poor choices that broke down counter attacks.
Similarly, Antonio wasn't at his flowing best in attack, but made himself a one-man frontline when Bowen and Benrahma were very withdrawn. The Chelsea centre backs were not given a chance to settle in and enjoy their football.
(Replaced Paqueta 13') Had he been better with the ball, it would have been a good Soucek performance. He helped the team defend better, defended well himself, and then made that save at the end. But his use of the ball under limited pressure was terrible on too many occasions.
(Replaced Benrahma 66) Did his defensive work with little fuss and was effective at it.
(Replaced Antonio 66) Won a good freekick in a dangerous area and worked hard, but isn't the physical presence of Mic.
(Replaced Aguerd 79) In his limited time on the pitch, he looked very comfortable defending in the left centre-back slot, and it was good to see him doing that on the front foot and in the Chelsea half.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Emerson Palmieri, Thilo Kehrer, Angelo Ogbonna, Nayef Aguerd, Declan Rice, Lucas Paqueta, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Emerson Palmieri 28 .
Booked: Vladimir Coufal .
Sent off: None.
Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, James, Badiashile, Thiago Silva, Cucurella (Chilwell 67), Loftus-Cheek (Gallagher 79), Enzo, Madueke (Mount 67), Felix, Mudryk (Ziyech 67), Havertz.
Subs not used: Bettinelli, Chalobah, Azpilicueta, Chukwuemeka, D. Fofana.
Goals: Felix (16).
Booked: Badiashile .
Sent off: None.
Referee: Craig Pawson.
Man of the Match: Vladimir Coufal.