David Hautzig's Match Report
I haven’t written about West Ham in quite awhile. I was at he Burnley disaster, and I wasn’t about to run back to my hotel to write about the absurdity on the pitch from players and supporters alike. Besides, my boss was in London, was subjected to that mess, and wanted to hang out afterwards anyway. Who was I to say no?
Southampton saw twenty family members descend on my home for the holidays, so with cooking to be done I was lucky to have the match on at all. To be fair, it was rather nice to just watch a good performance without having to be sure I got the details of the action correct.
For today, I wanted to start with some clever anecdote about the board and papering over the cracks, but the events prior to the match made me think twice. Then stop. After listening to the playback of the TalkSport call from that former soldier Ray Wilkins helped, I wished I had known more about him prior. My friend Neil Barnett, who I’m guessing did the on pitch presentations about him today, always spoke so highly of him. And I know this week has been somber for him and everyone at Chelsea. The world is much meaner place now, so when kind people leave us it’s just a bit colder for the rest of us.
On to football.
Normally the sight of a grown man rubbing his own thigh would not make me sit up and take notice. So in the third minute when Arnie seemed to strain his hamstring the mood went from hopeful to “oh no” pretty quickly. It helped when Hazard’s low effort moments later skimmed past a diving Hart as well as the post to go wide.
West Ham won a corner in the seventh minute, and the method was exactly what we want to see more of. Masuaku with a cross into the box for the run of Arnautovic. The angle made it tough for the Austrian to get a good flick on it, but the intent, seeming comfort on the ball, and effort were good to see. Ten minutes later, the duo teamed up again with yet another tremendous ball into the box. For a moment I thought Arnie was going to repeat his volley from last week against Southampton. He didn’t, but won a corner nonetheless.
It takes a lot of skill to complete an accurate pass with the outside of your foot. This is a skill that Fernandez does not yet possess. When he gifted Willian with the ball thirty yards from goal with such an attempt, it was due to the good defensive play of Ogbonna and Cresswell that West Ham didn’t pay dearly for the error.
Chelsea came close to opening the scoring in the 29th minute when Hazard was kind enough to show Fernandes the skill actually needed to make that outside of the foot pass. After a give and go with Morata, Hazard darted down the left and sent the ball back to Morata with the outside of his right foot. Morata’s little redirection rolled just wide of the far post, but the match was starting to tilt in the direction of Chelsea attack, West Ham defend.
Football can be such a funny and cruel game. In the 36th minute, Hazard sent Willian in on Hart. The embattled loanee from the soon to be crowned EPL Champions slid out and made a superb save and send the ball out for a corner. The corner came to Moses outside the penalty area, and he looped the ball back into the box. Arnautovic was able to just get a foot on the ball. However he couldn’t clear it, and after making that lovely save Hart watched the ball roll slowly past him off the feeble, but effective, second attempt from Azpilicueta after a Morata header.
West Ham 0
Moments into the second half, Hazard and Willian again combined with a series of neat, quick passes inside the West Ham box that ended with a Willian shot rolling just wide. A minute later, down the other end, West Ham asked their first question of Curtois. It wasn’t a tough question, but after Fernandes laid the ball off for Arnautovic at the top of the Chelsea eighteen yard box he sent a low shot that the Chelsea keeper at least had to gather up.
Chelsea continued to rampage through the West Ham defense, led by Hazard, Willian, and Morata. The latter should have doubled the hosts advantage from a corner in the 55th when he beat Zabaleta to the ball, but his unchallenged header went over the bar for a goal kick. A few minutes later, after a dreadful giveaway from Masuaku, Morata had a goal disallowed for offside for the second time. At that point the MOTM for West Ham was a dead heat between the linesman and Danny Welbeck.
Soft tissue injuries. West Ham could write the bloody book on them. The 63rd minute removal of Cresswell moments after he landed awkwardly from a jump was stunning in its lack of surprise. We are West Ham. We get injured. Chelsea probably looked at Evra and thought truly terrible things about what they could now do to us.
When Chicharito came on, my best mate Jon texted me. “OMG. Hernandez sighting.” Then the announcer pointed out that Lil Pea has scored more goals against Chelsea than any other EPL club. Well, when Arnautovic got hold of the ball to the right of the Chelsea goal and had the vision to find Hernandez at the top of the box, the Blue Sea opened up and Chicharito’s curling shot found the back of the net. Please, dear lord. Make my club realize they have a goal scorer and instead of telling him to do stuff he doesn’t do, just let him do what he does sooooo well.
West Ham 1
Joe Hart made another superb save in the 79th minute when Willian passed to Alonso at the top of the West Ham eighteen yard box. He turned and fired at goal, and if it wasn’t for Hart’s outstretched hand Chelsea would have been in front again.
Since I write as I watch, I don’t want to be disingenuous. When Arnautovic went down, I thought penalty right away. When I watched the replay, I wasn’t as sure. But what I am reasonably sure of is this; had Hazard or Morata gone down from a similar challenge from Cresswell or Zabaleta, I would fully expect to see Kevin Friend point at the spot.
Whatever Joe Hart was thinking about today, be it Russia or simple pride, he had his best game in years. In the 88th minute, Giroud sent a header that looked goal bound. But yet again, his outstretched hand sent the ball around the post and out for a corner.
West Ham won a corner in the 93rd minute, and for the life of me I have no idea what anybody in Claret and Blue were thinking. A short corner, and then a soft roller right to Curtois. If Chelsea had come down and scored a winner, it would have been right up there with Antonio’s blunder at Crystal Palace. But they didn’t.
West Ham 1
When we got a point away at Spurs this year with the same scoreline, there were those who did not celebrate the point. Cough, cough….Nigel….cough, cough. Their reasoning was that to celebrate a game where we only had one shot on target is as anti West Ham as you can get. I disagreed, but I understood the thought process. Today was decidedly different. We were outplayed for long stretches to be sure. But we went for it when we could. And for that reason it’s a well earned point. We showed endeavor, a bit of skill, and good organization.
And a lot of Hart.