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Three talking points as West Ham battled to victory against Chelsea

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West Ham

David Moyes tasted victory for the first time as manager of West Ham as Mark Arnautovic’s early goal and some excellent defending proved enough to overcome Chelsea in Saturday’s London derby.

The Hammers started on the front foot at the London Stadium, backed by their rapturous home crowd, and it was little surprise when Arnautovic tucked home a deft finish after just six minutes.

David Zappacosta forced Adrian – who retained his starting berth ahead of Joe Hart – into a smart low save before the break but Chelsea found it tough to create openings against a stubborn defence.

Antonio Conte rang the changes at half-time as he looked to haul his side back into the game, bringing Pedro into the fray before introducing both Willian and Victor Moses, but they simply couldn’t wear down West Ham’s brilliant rear-guard defending despite dominating possession.

They did eventually carve out one clear chance with just six minutes to go but Alvaro Morata fired wide with the goal at his mercy, and the hosts did enough to hold out for a gritty and deserved win.

The result sees Chelsea miss out on the chance to draw level on points with Manchester United ahead of tomorrow’s Manchester derby, whilst West Ham move level with West Brom in 17th place.

Hammers rear-guard efforts secure derby win

Heading into Saturday’s London derby, West Ham had an awful defensive record.

They had conceded 32 goals from their opening 15 Premier League matches, making it their worst start to a season since 1965, and very few gave them much hope against a high-flying Chelsea side.

But it’s the unpredictability of football that makes it an exciting sport and the relegation strugglers proved to be more than a match for their title-chasing opponents, and after falling so agonisingly short away at Manchester City last weekend they made sure to close out a vital result this time around.

It was a miraculous defensive effort from the hosts, who had their backs against the walls from the moment Arnautovic gave them the lead on six minutes, but their focus never wavered for a second.

The returning Winston Reid was an imposing figure in the middle but it was Aaron Cresswell who stood out the most in a central role, adjusting to a different position and subduing Chelsea’s potent threats.

For the majority of the match the hosts played with nine or ten men behind the ball and they just put their bodies on the line, showing the spirit and resolve of a team that should be able to avoid relegation.

Yet it wasn’t a snatch and grab win by any means, with the visitors failing to have a single shot on target after the break, and David Moyes will no doubt enjoy the sweet taste of victory for the first time.

Arnautovic off the mark in match-winning display

If there was one man who epitomised West Ham’s dogged efforts against their rivals on Saturday lunchtime then that man was Marko Arnautovic, who put in an excellent shift from the first whistle.

The Austrian has come in for a lot of criticism since his £24million move from Stoke City over the summer, making the headlines for all the wrong reasons and falling out of favour with Slaven Bilic.

And David Moyes’ appointment came with a stern message for Arnautovic, with the new Hammers boss urging him to become more of a team player, but it seems the recent arrival of Moyes has sparked a remarkable turnaround in the 28-year-old’s attitude – and this was clear against Chelsea.

There was a hunger to his play that hadn’t been seen in his 11 Premier League appearances prior to Saturday, playing with a desire to win the ball and mucking in and helping his team defend superbly.

There won’t be a more relieved man in east London tonight either after he finally got off the mark for the Hammers, opening his West Ham account and scoring his first goal for almost eight months.

It was a finish that was worthy of all three points in all truth, with Arnautovic playing an intricate one-two on the edge of the penalty area before shuffling into a yard of space and deftly passing the ball into the net, and the way he jumped into the crowd to celebrate showed just much it meant.

The key now is for him to push on and try and add some consistency into his game, but for now there’s no doubt that he’ll enjoy the well-deserved plaudits for a goal that beat fierce rivals Chelsea.

Sluggish Chelsea spurn chance to close the gap

With the Manchester derby taking place on Sunday afternoon, Chelsea would have gone into their encounter at the London Stadium knowing a win would make up ground on the teams above them.

Three points would have seen them draw level with Manchester United in second place and ramp up the pressure on Jose Mourinho’s side ahead of their looming clash with rivals and Premier League leaders Manchester City, putting Chelsea firmly in the mix with the festive period approaching around the corner.

Yet Antonio Conte’s team clearly missed the narrative and failed to hold up their end against an inspired West Ham side, and it was once again down to the fact that they started the match slowly.

For the second time in a week they found themselves behind inside the opening 15 minutes but, unlike last Saturday where they turned it around against Newcastle, they couldn’t grind down West Ham.

The Blues looked sluggish and tired at times – perhaps not helped by their gruelling midweek Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid – and they sat back, failing to press the Hammers and struggling to string meaningful passes together, with Conte cutting an extremely frustrated figure on the touchline.

They may have enjoyed vast amounts of possession but they couldn’t turn it into goals, and the fact that they didn’t manage a single shot on target in the second-half despite having 71% of the ball tells its own story.

That said, they still could have salvaged a point late on only to see Alvaro Morata somehow miss the target with the goal at his mercy, and it’s fair to say it just wasn’t Chelsea’s day over in east London.

Neither Morata nor Eden Hazard – who had more goals between them (14) than the whole West Ham side (13) before kick-off – were at their best and Conte will rue what was a missed opportunity to keep the pace.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

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Why Chelsea’s striker search is less underwhelming than supporters believe

Jake Jackman

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Chelsea
Photo: Reuters

Chelsea are determined to strengthen their squad options during the January transfer window and a striker appears to be top of their wanted list. The Blues have been linked to a number of players in recent days and some of the names mentioned have caused amusement for fans on social media.

Even the club’s own supporters have questioned the motives of Antonio Conte and the board, as a few of the rumours are unambitious. However, all of the strikers being linked have similar profiles and that should be encouraging for everybody connected to the Blues.

Antonio Conte is known to be a perfectionist and that can be seen in his recruitment since taking over at Stamford Bridge. Every player that he has brought in has been signed for a reason and he tailors his signings to suit the needs of the squad.

The Italian won’t be influenced by big names and glamour deals, as he wants to have complete control at Stamford Bridge. Marquee signings and big characters don’t help in that.

During the summer, it was surprising that Chelsea signed Alvaro Morata ahead of their former striker Romelu Lukaku. For a long time, it looked destined for the Belgian international to return to Stamford Bridge, but Conte favoured the more level-headed Spaniard.

It can be debated whether that was the right decision or not, but it is easy to see the motives behind the choice.

Although Lukaku is an incredible athlete and a good goal-scorer, Conte would have questioned his mentality and ability to consistently perform for a big club. Morata may never have been a regular starter for either Real Madrid or Juventus, but he had the experience of playing at the highest level.

It was a signing with less risk attached. The Spanish international was less selfish and prepared to work hard for the team. For all of the reasons discussed, the Chelsea manager decided that he was a better fit for his team.

It has become clear that Conte wants another striker to compete with Alvaro Morata, but he doesn’t want to change his system. That is why Michy Batshuayi doesn’t feature more regularly, despite scoring a goal every 96.5 minutes across the major two competitions this season.

The Belgian international was signed to much fanfare, but it was a move that made little tactical sense for the club and they will be desperate not to make a similar error. Some supporters have called for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as he looks set to join Arsenal, but he wouldn’t be a great fit in this Chelsea squad. Therefore, he would be a waste of money.

Who are they trying to bring in?

The Blues are trying to sign a powerful striker that can dominate in the air and bring the midfield into the game. Alvaro Morata is excellent at linking-up play, but he is more mobile than those being linked to the club during this window.

It seems that Conte’s ‘plan B’ would be more direct and a player that can bully the opposition is what fits the bill. He wanted Fernando Llorente as a back-up striker during the summer, but he lost out to Tottenham. The Independent report that the club could be set to try again for the Spaniard. A player of his profile can be expected to arrive before the deadline.

There has been scorn thrown at a number of the players being linked to Chelsea, but Edin Dzeko would be viewed as a good signing if he was to arrive. The Telegraph report that the Blues are in talks over a deal and that could see Batshuayi move in the opposite direction.

This would be a good signing, as the Bosnian international has Premier League experience and his return of 12 goals across the Serie A and the Champions League is impressive. At the age of 31, he would provide fierce competition to Morata and should be available for a reasonable fee.

Those two would be met with the most positivity by supporters as they have both proven themselves at a high level. Llorente is already carrying out a similar role at Tottenham and has performed well whenever he has had the chance. He would likely be used more at Chelsea, due to Morata not being as consistent as Harry Kane, but he would be good enough to do a job at Stamford Bridge.

However, it has been the other strikers being linked that have raised eyebrows. Sky Sports reported that Andy Carroll was a loan target for the club before his latest injury setback. Meanwhile, the Mirror report that Chelsea have made enquiries about Stoke City striker Peter Crouch.

Neither are Champions League level talents, but they are reliable players. It would be a disappointment if the club couldn’t secure better, but as squad players for a short-term basis, they could contribute. Their homegrown status coupled with prices would make them appealing as a stop-gap solution for Conte.

The desire to bring in a striker this month suggests that Conte is ready to cut ties with Batshuayi before the deadline. Dzeko would be his priority target as he could offer the most competition to Morata. However, if a deal can’t be agreed with Roma, which would be understandable considering how important the Bosnian is to their team, they will have to move down their list of targets.

Peter Crouch or Andy Carroll won’t set the world alight and there will be jokes made on social media if either were to sign. That said, it is encouraging to see a manager source targets based on profile rather than reputation. Chelsea don’t have to make major tactical changes to implement any one signing and the same can’t often be said about the rest of the top six.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton 0–4 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Amex Stadium

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Photo: Reuters

Chelsea secured their first Premier League win of 2018 as two goals inside the first six minutes helped see off Brighton and Hove Albion in a lively encounter at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Without a win in their last six matches – and without the services of the suspended Alvaro Morata and Pedro – the visitors went in front on three minutes when Eden Hazard found space in the penalty area to send a thunderous strike past Mat Ryan.

And Antonio Conte’s men struck again just moments later, with Willian lashing home after some wonderful one-touch build-up play from Hazard and Michy Batshuayi outside of the Brighton box.

Brighton responded courageously for the rest of the half though, with two penalty shouts being waved away – somewhat controversially – by referee Jon Moss either side of a superb Willy Caballero save from Tomer Hemed’s close-ranger header.

The hosts came out firing after the break too, with Davy Propper sending a header crashing off the woodwork, before Chelsea struck the post themselves when Willian’s free-kick was palmed by Ryan.

Despite Brighton’s endeavours it was the visitors who secured the three points late on, with the imperious Hazard grabbing his second of the afternoon before Victor Moses slotted home in the last minute.

The result sees Chelsea leapfrog Liverpool back into third place in the table – at least until Monday night – whilst Brighton remain in 16th, just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Relieved Chelsea return to winning ways in style

At the sixth time of asking, Chelsea have won a game in 2018.

The over-riding feeling may well be of relief for Antonio Conte and his team but on the day Chelsea didn’t play like a side devoid of confidence, playing some blistering football on their way to their win.

After scoring just one goal in their past four games they managed two in just six minutes, well and truly flying out of the blocks to shock the home team and earn a commanding early advantage before all of the supporters had taken their seats at the Amex.

The hosts simply couldn’t handle Chelsea’s counter-attacking play, with Eden Hazard in particular looking dangerous whenever he was on the ball, and Brighton struggled to keep him at arms’ length.

The Belgian was imperious, scoring twice, completing eight take-ons, creating three chances and generally just running the show, and Chelsea’s success this season – and their top-four challenge – will be largely determined by whether Hazard can continue in this vein of form.

It wasn’t all good news, mind.

At times they were defensively lacking, allowing Brighton too many clear sights of goal, and on another day – against a better attack – they might’ve been made to pay.

Yet, in the same manner, it could have been an even more flattering score-line in Chelsea’s favour on the day had it not been for a string of smart saves from Mat Ryan in the Brighton goal, and Chelsea will go into Wednesday’s Carabao Cup deciding leg against Arsenal in good spirits and with hope of progressing to the final next month.

Brighton draw another blank as Locadia lies in wait

Late on Friday evening, Brighton announced a new club-record signing for the second time in a matter of months as 24-year-old Dutch striker Jurgen Locadia made the move from PSV Eindhoven.

The former-PSV man has an excellent pedigree in front of goal, scoring nine times in 15 Eredivisie games this season, but he wouldn’t have been too impressed with his new team after six minutes.

At 2-0 down there was already a mountain to climb for Chris Hughton’s side, and with only one win in 12 Premier League games prior to kick-off – and considering that the Seagulls had failed to score on 12 separate occasions this season – it was always going to be a tough task for the promoted side.

And whilst that record extended to 13 score-less games out of 24 by the time the full-time whistle went, the final score at the Amex does little to paint a picture of how the match went.

Many would have expected another home capitulation, similar to their 5-1 defeat against Liverpool before Christmas, but that wasn’t to be the case this time around as from the moment Chelsea doubled the lead inside ten minutes Brighton were superb in taking the game to their opponents.

Willy Caballero was forced into an excellent reflex save on the hour mark to deny Tomer Hemed’s close-range header, Davy Propper saw a header bounce back off the crossbar and the excellent Ezequiel Schelotto saw a shot smothered as the Seagulls seemingly did everything but find the net.

Would Locadia’s presence have made a difference?

Looking at it, it probably would have done. There were times where Chelsea’s defence were at sixes and sevens, and the hosts created a constant stream of good chances.

But whilst Brighton ultimately have nothing to show for their dogged efforts it was a display that earnt deserved plaudits and offers a renewed sense of hope for the rest of the season.

With a good performance against the reigning champions behind them, and with a new signing raring to go, Brighton are well-equipped for a critical run of games to come next against Southampton, West Ham, Stoke City and Swansea City in their battle to avoid the drop.

Willian celebrates 50 not out with sumptuous strike

For a team where the likes of Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Pedro consistently find themselves grabbing the headlines, it’s their Brazilian outlet Willian who is an ever-present in the Chelsea team.

Saturday lunchtime’s trip to Brighton signalled the 50th consecutive time that the 29-year-old has taken to the field in the Premier League, and whilst Chelsea have found it tough going since the beginning of 2018 Willian’s been impressing with four assists and three goals in his past five starts.

His latest instalment was arguably his best yet, too.

Out of nowhere Chelsea defied their recent woes with Willian, Michy Batshuayi and Eden Hazard producing some brilliant one-touch football on the edge of the Brighton penalty area before the Brazilian shifted the ball to one side and lashed past a helpless Mat Ryan.

It was the sort of move that wouldn’t have looked out of place in their title-winning exploits last season such was the quality and tempo of it, and it shocked the home fans in the Amex into silence.

With all of the talk of the past few days surrounding potential January moves for Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch – two players who can add a new and a far more direct dimension to Chelsea’s offensive play – both Willian and Hazard showed that there may not be a need to panic buy just yet.

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Chelsea 0-0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech

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Chelsea
Photo: Reuters

Chelsea remain winless in 2018 after Antonio Conte’s misfiring charges recorded their third successive goalless draw.

Despite having a numerical advantage for the final 20 minutes following Ben Chilwell’s red card, the Blues could not find a winning goal against a Leicester City side that enjoyed prolonged spells of dominance.

Chelsea have now played more than 270 minutes of football in all competitions without scoring and have dropped to fourth place in the Premier League table as a result of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City. Leicester remain eighth and continue their good form since Claude Puel’s appointment as manager.

Here are three talking points…

Chelsea’s goal scoring problems are mounting

Much has been written about Alvaro Morata’s goalscoring drought, which extended to five matches after he failed to register a single effort in this clash, but Chelsea’s goalscoring issues go much deeper.

Since the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on January 3, the Blues have failed to find the back of the net. None of the top six clubs have scored fewer than Chelsea’s current tally of 41 Premier League goals for the season.

There is no doubt the burden has rested heavily on Morata and when he was in fine form during the first few months of the campaign, Chelsea were often rampant. But the Spaniard’s barren spell has coincided with a downturn in the Blues’ effectiveness.

The problem for Conte is he has little faith in back-up striker Michy Batshuayi. There is no other obvious candidate to act as the focal point, although the Italian has previously experimented with a false number nine.

Defensively, Chelsea are very solid, but that counts for little when they fail to score.

Leicester grab a point despite Chilwell’s red

It’s not often a player receives two yellow cards in a matter of minutes, but that’s exactly the fate that befell Leicester’s Ben Chilwell.

After being cautioned for a foul on Willian, the Leicester man then received a second booking only five minutes later for bringing down Victor Moses.

Both fouls were fairly innocuous and Chilwell’s dismissal disrupted the Foxes’ performance, which had threatened to claim all three points at Stamford Bridge.

Leicester boss Puel was critical of Mike Jones’ decision to send off Chilwell, which may have come under more scrutiny had Chelsea gone on to win the game.

As it was, the visitors held out for a point, which was the least they deserved. Jamie Vardy twice went close to breaking the deadlock and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois had to be alert throughout.

This was definitely not a rearguard display – Leicester created numerous chances and were keen to take the game to their high-flying opponents.

Tiredness to blame – Conte

Chelsea boss Conte blamed tiredness for his side’s failure to win for the fourth game in a row. This fixture came just three days after their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, amid a run of seven games in 21 days.

The Blues return to action again against Norwich City for an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday night. In total, Chelsea will play eight games in January after playing nine in December.

There’s no doubt it is a punishing schedule, but Chelsea are not alone in that regard. A club with their squad depth should be able to cope. Conte has rotated his squad, particularly for the cup games, and is sure to field a much-changed side for the Norwich replay.

Of course, if the Blues were winning matches there would be no need to raise the fatigue element as an excuse.

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