West Ham United 1 Chelsea 2
West Ham: Lanzini (90+2)
Chelsea: Hazard (25'), Diego Costa (50')
Man of the match: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
The term “flat-track bully” carries with it negative connotations.
Often used to refer to a striker who regularly scores against weaker sides but struggles to make an impact in the bigger games, it can also describe teams who possess significantly superior records when facing opponents they are expected to beat.
The phrase need not be considered a slight, though, or at least not when it concerns sides who are as consistent as Premier League leaders Chelsea. This 2-1 victory over West Ham United means Antonio Conte’s team have now taken 53 points from their 19 meetings with those teams outside the top six, which is the principal reason why they are closing in on the title.
Chelsea, indeed, have lost to Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Arsenal this season, yet those three defeats against their rivals at the top of the table have not hindered their chances of ending the campaign in first place.
■ Antonio Conte: Chelsea must make Champions League 'every year'
■ Team of the week: Find out who joins Harry Kane in this week's XI
■ Arsenal v Bayern: With result decided, focus remains on Sanchez saga
Draws against Swansea City and Burnley represent their only blemishes against the rest of the division, as they once again avoided defeat against inferior opposition on Monday evening.
Chelsea actually started the match at the London Stadium rather slowly, spending much of the first quarter pinned back inside their own half by an energetic and intense West Ham.
The hosts’ approach revolved around working the ball out wide and tossing crosses into the box for Andy Carroll to attack in the air. Although they created few clear-cut chances in the opening stages, the early pressure was all theirs as Chelsea, seeking to extend their advantage in the league to 10 points, struggled to get a foothold in the game.
Then, within the space of a few seconds, everything changed. N’Golo Kante did what N’Golo Kante does, pinching possession and moving it on quickly to a teammate, in this case Eden Hazard. The Belgium international exchanged passes with Pedro as the visitors roared forward on the counter-attack, before rounding Darren Randolph to put his side ahead against the run of play.
It was the 21st time Chelsea have opened the scoring this season — and the 18th game they have won after netting first. Conte’s men looked so comfortable thereafter, as they controlled proceedings and kept the home side at arm’s length for the remainder of the encounter.
Chelsea were never panicked or hurried, instead biding their time and picking the right moments to attack. When they did venture forward they were exhilarating to watch, repeatedly slicing through West Ham with their sharp movement and incisive passing. Patient without the ball, Conte’s charges were piercing with it.
The second of the evening arrived from a set-piece, Diego Costa turning the ball home with his knee after Hazard’s corner was inadvertently flicked on by Pedro Obiang. Chelsea had plenty of chances to increase their advantage even further, but a touch of profligacy inside the penalty area prevented them from doing so.
West Ham did rally a little, with Thibaut Courtois called into action to brilliantly deny Sofiane Feghouli just after the hour-mark, before Conte proceeded to shut the game down by introducing Nemanja Matic in place of Pedro and shifting to a 3-5-2 formation. Manuel Lanzini did halve the deficit in stoppage time, but it was a case of too little, too late for Slaven Bilic’s men, who have now won only one of their last six fixtures in front of their own supporters.
The West Ham manager’s opposite number on Monday night has no such concerns, either at home or on the road. Chelsea are flat-track bullies and they are going to win the Premier League because of it.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport