Chelsea were back at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, playing in SW6 for the first time in three weeks. The Blues were hosting another London derby, this time with the visitors from East London in the form of bitter rivals West Ham.
Following two underwhelming results against Manchester City and Valencia, Frank Lampard’s side needed a reaction to earn their first win since the 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace. With City dropping points earlier on Saturday and Leicester not playing until Sunday, Chelsea had a huge chance to move ahead of their top four rivals.
The reaction to Lampard’s team selection was mixed, with much scepticism and doubt over the manager’s starting eleven. N’Golo Kanté was dropped following his goalscoring heroics last Saturday, with captain César Azpilicueta and the injured Tammy Abraham also losing their places in the lineup.
In a controversial change of personnel, Olivier Giroud and Pedro came in to earn their first league starts since August and September respectively. Both players were yet to score in the league going into Saturday’s derby, with a combined tally of two goals in all competitions this season.
The game was very open in the first half, with both sides having chances. Chelsea seemed to be creating a few opportunities but not having the cutting edge to capitalise, while West Ham were denied an opener thanks to a fantastic save from Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea had a huge chance to go ahead before the break, when Mateo Kovačić’s long range effort was smothered by David Martin. Giroud and Pedro pounced on the rebound and both had efforts on goal, but were poor in their finishing as they failed to score.
The Blues had had a mediocre opening 45 minutes, and knew that they had to pick up in the second half. Whatever game plan Lampard had went hurtling out of the window, as three minutes after the restart Aaron Cresswell cut in and curled it past Arrizabalaga to give West Ham a shock lead.
Chelsea were shell-shocked, looking lost and bewildered as to how they had allowed the Hammers to cut through so easily. They were lucky not to fall further behind, when VAR came to their rescue to disallow Michail Antonio’s close-range strike for handball.
With 48 minutes to salvage something from the game, Chelsea never looked like scoring. The lack of creativity and cutting edge continued to be evident, and moving Christian Pulisic up front in place of Giroud did the Blues no favours in increasing their urgency.
There were a few half chances for Lampard’s side but none that really concerned West Ham, whose game management deserves real credit. The visitors were in jubilation at the final whistle, earning their first victory at Stamford Bridge in 17 years and inflicting a painful yet thought-provoking defeat on Chelsea.
Saturday’s performance truly was one of the poorest since Lampard’s arrival. No desire to win, no sign of scoring and no chance of winning, in what showed Chelsea at their worst. Abraham’s absence was evident, with a number of chances throughout the game ones that the English talisman would’ve gratefully accepted.
The team selection is a big part of Chelsea’s defeat, and although rotation was necessary it wasn’t done correctly. Why would you start 32 year-old and 33 year-old forwards who have two goals combined all season? Why would you drop your midfielder who scored the only goal in last week’s defeat?
The starting eleven and in game tactics that followed proved costly, in a really lacklustre display. This was a game that Chelsea should’ve comfortably won, yet instead we are reflecting on a shocking performance and a big three points lost on home soil.
In terms of individual performers, the lack of individual quality is worrying. Not one attacking player had a good game, and the back four once again showed its flaws and naivety. Nevertheless, a few players do deserve some sort of praise for Saturday.
Kepa Arrizabalaga kept Chelsea in the game for far longer than they deserved, with two outstanding saves either side of the break showing his class. Reece James attacked very well down the right-hand side, and aside from his fault in the West Ham goal he was a bright spark going forward.
My man of the match goes to Mateo Kovačić, who was the best of the worst on Saturday. It wasn’t a fantastic performance and wasn’t near the level of his previous two displays, but his control in the middle of the pitch and artistic passing was pivotal for Chelsea.
What matters now is how Chelsea recover from this devastating derby defeat, and what they do to bounce back. Saturday’s game has taught us a lot about Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, but has also reminded us that there remains a lot of work to do.
Quotes from Chelsea FC
Lampard on reacting to adversity: “We were never going to come through a season as invincibles or anything, so when these moments come they’re little tests for all of us and we have to pass them. I don’t think this is any time for harsh reactions and judgements across individuals or the team. It’s time for a look at a bit character, to see how our reaction is for Aston Villa.”
Lampard on squad rotation: “I have to think about the squad and about the course of the season. We’re not going to get through the season with the same 11 players, so those are the things for me to look at. I think the team we had out there for sure had the quality to go out there and win this game. The fact we performed below par is the reason that we didn’t.”
Chelsea will be looking for redemption in just three days’ time, when they host relegation battlers Aston Villa next Wednesday. The Blues then travel up to Merseyside next Saturday, facing another struggling side in Everton at Goodison Park.
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