West Ham United 3-1 Chelsea
“How will I win around the fans? By winning games”, said Rafael Benitez confidently in his first press-conference. Still without a win ten days into his new job, instead of answering “How will I win around the fans?”, he might want to ask himself “How do I win games?”
Whilst November may be perceived as Chelsea’s worst month — West Ham gained five points from November, with Chelsea just the three — December is historically Chelsea’s worst performing month, having won only just over 40% of their matches.
Chelsea, who have won the last nine league games versus West Ham when scoring the first goal, inexplicably failed to beat West Ham, losing by 3 goals to 1 in a forgettable first-half.
Juan Mata got the reward for positive Chelsea play, but the longer it stayed at 1-0, the more belief West Ham had at getting back into the game, eventually getting the ultimate prize by winning resoundingly.
“You’re not wanted here, you’re not wanted here, f*** off Benitez, you’re not wanted here” was the chant throughout the game, and it was bad enough just having the travelling Chelsea army, let alone invite the West Ham faithful to have a pop too.
Chelsea have won four and drawn one of their five games where they have had a half-time lead, averaging 2.5 points per game when scoring first, compared to just the one measly point when conceding the first goal.
And knowing the significance of the first goal, it was Chelsea who broke the deadlock. Indeed, the Blues have let their opponents score first just three times in 14 games, the best record in the league.
Fernando Torres was surging down the right, before picking out an advancing Juan Mata, who fired low past Jussi Jaaskelainen’s reach.
The duo had shown promising signs even before the goals, with Torres having an extra spring in his step having received advice on how to regain his formidable pace that was seen so frequently in Liverpool.
But even more significantly is seeing the game off with a second goal, something Chelsea desperately lack.
It was a case of all possession for the Blues. Oscar was dropped in favour of Victor Moses, and the directness of the Nigerian, combined with the simultaneous ballet dancing of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, gave Chelsea a different look than just three creative players getting in the way of one another.
Ramires tried to feed the ball through the Torres when Ivanovic was better placed, and probably had more chance of scoring, especially in hindsight, as the Spaniard fired high over the bar.
Eden Hazard, who has shied away from prominence of late having been introduced to the English game at full blast, turned well and struck a shot wide, whilst also providing chances for his team-mates.
But it is goals, and not fancy footwork, which Chelsea have been starved of. Mata could have scored another had Jussi Jaaskelainen not been there to deny him, after excellent play from Victor Moses, whose youthful nature gave Chelsea new-found pace and excitement.
Petr Cech still had to stay awake even with little to do in the half, lifting over a James Collins’ header after he had conceded a free-kick.
But if he was largely free in the first 45 minutes, he would most definitely be kept busy after the interval. Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta were sturdy to not allow the likes of Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan a way through.
But the former Chelsea youth player Cole did score the game’s next goal, leaping above Ivanovic to head past the stand-in captain.
So often Chelsea give up at this stage, but it was to the European Champions’ credit when they rode up the pitch within moments, and were it not for the woodwork, Juan Mata would have restored Chelsea’s lead from a set-piece.
And then it was time for changes. First, Oscar on for Hazard; then, Marin on for Moses. Could that inspire the first win of the new Benitez era? Far from it.
With four minutes left, Chelsea conceded their customary goal, allowing West Ham to clinch all the points, with Diame making the most of defensive lapses to power past Cech.
Ashley Cole did keep his side in the game, it seemed, just moments earlier, clearing off the line from a Winston Reid header, and he will be disappointed his concentration did not hold out for longer, as the England full-back was caught in two minds for West Ham’s third, with Maiga rubbing salt into the wound in stoppage time.