Chelsea needed all their survival instincts to be intact on Wednesday night, as they just about held on for a narrow but vitally important 1-0 win at Upton Park against West Ham United. Just three days after winning the Capital One Cup final at Wembley, the Blues were in for a real battle in the North London derby against the Hammers.
After Eden Hazard’s first-half header, some heroic defending and fantastic goalkeeping helped the visitors overcome Sam Allardyce’s men and maintain their five-point lead at the top of the Premier League. Chelsea also have a game in hand over second-placed Manchester City.
Here are some major talking points from last night’s game:
1) The kind of games that wins titles:
Even though Chelsea were nowhere near their best, they came away from one of the most difficult away grounds in the league with all three points. The raucous celebrations at the final whistle showed just how tough the battle had been and just how relieved the Blues were. These are the kinds of games, which, at the end of the season, make a difference at the top. With only 11 games left now, Chelsea are edging ever closer to the title. Comparisons can be drawn with yesterday’s result and the 1-0 victory at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers in the 2004/05 campaign. On that day too, Jose Mourinho’s men were battered by the physical style of play by the home side, but held for a huge win, thanks in part to a fantastic performance by Petr Cech. They went on, of course, to win the league by 12 points that season. With every passing week, they are looking good to coast to the finish line this time around as well.
2) Chelsea’s defence coming good at the right time:
There was certainly some hangover from Sunday’s final for Chelsea, but West Ham deserve a lot of credit for making more than a match of this. Jose Mourinho said after the game that the Hammers are “the best” in their style-of-play. They played long-balls aplenty keeping the Chelsea backline alert and honest throughout the game. Diafra Sakho had several good chances to score but was thwarted time and time again by the brilliant Thibaut Courtois. Gary Cahill put in another fantastic showing alongside John Terry, signalling a return to form.
While the Chelsea defence has been vulnerable at times this season, it is hitting form just at the right time. With the title race completely in their own hands, clean sheets in the majority of their remaining 11 games will automatically win them the title.
3) West Ham’s worries continue:
The Hammers have now gone six matches without a win and even though put in a great fight against the league leaders, a portion of the fans have turned on their manager. While last night’s performance was encouraging, their 3-1 home loss against Crystal Palace at the weekend posed more questions than answers. They have always been able to pick it up against the big sides, having wins against Manchester City and Liverpool to their name this season. But against teams around them, they have struggled. After threatening to be serious contenders for the top 4 at one stage, they now look set for a mid-table finish.