Chelsea 2-1 West Ham: The three best and worst performers
Chelsea’s tie with West Ham at Stamford Bridge was highly anticipated by fans across London. Blues fans were keen to see how their new Italian manager would build his side for the coming campaign, while those of a Claret and Blue persuasion were looking for signs that Slaven Bilic could improve on their impressive last season.
Unfortunately for Hammers fans, their first game of the season provided little to be excited about. The 2-1 defeat saw a primitive style of football reminiscent of sections of the Sam Allardyce era they bitterly complained about without any of the effectiveness.
Chelsea’s support will be much more enthusiastic with the way Antonio Conte has moulded his side. They played with a high line and marked West Ham’s pacey wide men out of the game, leaving Andy Carroll isolated without the speed to break past the back line.
That solid base allowed Eden Hazard to shine in a performance close to his best. The Belgian was a consistent threat and Chelsea’s most common attacking outlet, yet despite the fact that near-everything went through him going forward, West Ham simply couldn’t deal with him.
His movement and speed left both of West Ham’s right backs out in the cold over the course of the match and whenever he stepped inside, James Collins looked panicked. Hazard managed an outstanding nine attacking dribbles throughout the match, proof that he was a constant menace to the opposition.
Hazard managed three shots on target in his 85 minutes on the pitch and endlessly threatened the West Ham goal. He was dispossessed three times during the match, but Chelsea’s defensive pressing and high line ensured that he didn’t endanger his team mates when he gave away the ball.
N’Golo Kante set the league alight last year in Leicester City’s historic Premier League victory and his arrival at Stamford Bridge couldn’t have been more of a success. While he was best known for his incredible defensive work rate last season, Kante’s consistent distribution played an even more vital role in Chelsea’s victory. The Frenchman had a 94.7% pass completion rate, recycling possession alongside Nemanja Matic and providing the majority of the creative thrust from midfield.
That being said, his defensive work was key to limiting West Ham to just two chances over the entire game. Kante and Matic were simply impassable in the middle of the pitch and completely neutralised the Hammers’ midfield trio. Kante could prove one of the greatest bargains in football if he maintains his form.
Kante’s midfield partner came close to making the top three, but in the end, Diego Costa’s goal capped off a very impressive performance from the striker. The Spanish international was a nightmare for Reid and Collins to deal with all night. His movement was as persistent as it was brilliant, creating space for himself and his teammates as well as carving out opportunities to run at the defence.
He proved an equal physical match up for both centre backs and managed to rattle off three solid attempts on goal throughout the game, all while giving Willian and Hazard the chance to break forward by drawing the full backs more central.
There has to be an honourable mention for Dimitri Payet. West Ham’s only two opportunities came after the Frenchman was brought on and he brightened an otherwise dismal performance.
Other plays on both sides had considerably worse starts to the Premier League season.
James Collins has been a solid defender for West Ham throughout his second spell at the club, but he was a mile away from his dependable self against the Hammers. He seemed intimidated whenever a Chelsea player, namely Eden Hazard or Diego Costa, came running at him, and seemed to give too much ground at every opportunity. This allowed the Chelsea forwards to maraud into space and threaten regularly.
The 32-year-old put himself on the back foot early in the game, conceding a reckless yellow card after just 20 minutes for tackle near halfway line. From then on, he had to play far more cautiously, putting added pressure on himself and his fellow defenders.
He did score a fantastic equaliser and progressively grew into the game, but his lackadaisical defending led to Costa’s winner at Stamford Bridge.
The presence of new signing Havard Nordtveit should have made the Hammers defence more confident, but the ex- Borussia Monchengladbach holding midfielder did nothing to reassure his teammates. The Norwegian, well known for being composed in possession, continually gave the ball away with his nervous and wayward passing.
Nerves may have plagued the 26-year-old’s debut as he looked unsure in possession, but even worse, he offered nothing creatively and made no impact defensively. Admittedly, the majority of West Ham’s midfield was bypassed by ambitious long balls from the back, but he could’ve perhaps demanded the ball more and tried to make his mark on the game.
Oscar has been described as a luxury player in the past, and for good reason. He operates best in a considerable amount of space with plenty of options to work with. He didn’t have the chance to exploit either of those things. West Ham played compactly and crowded him out of the game, and the Brazilian simply didn’t have the guile to create anything meaningful.
Other than his poor attacking performance, Oscar was also a liability in possession. He took far too many chances with possession and made a lot of wayward passes, often gifting possession to a very lazy West Ham midfield.
Chelsea’s victory proved what many already expected from the Conte era. Players with a solid work rate and a willingness to dedicate themselves to the system will prosper, while others looked out of their depth and more or less worthless.
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