West Ham 0-1 Chelsea: Five Things We Learned as Blues pop the Hammers bubble

West Ham versus Chelsea became a surprisingly important match for the top four race in the Premier League. Few would have predicted at the start of this season that the Hammers would have been fighting for the European places.

All credit goes to David Moyes and the incredible job he has performed in East London. The winner of this match would take firm control of the coveted top four finish and spot in next year’s Champions League competition. The Blues arrived with a massive match ahead on Tuesday against Madrid but were able to get the job done with a 0-1 win through a Timo Werner goal. A huge result for the Blues that gives further momentum to take on the Los Blancos in the Champions League.

Before the match against Madrid,five things were learned after bursting West Ham’s bubble.

Timo Werner Scores against West Ham, But Divides Fan Opinion

Werner turned the tables in this tie with an expertly created goal. He was able to control the ball with a great flick near midfield, played on the turn and showed great physical hold-up play, and then laid the ball off to the left side of the pitch. Christian Pulisic and Ben Chilwell combined well and the later then put a low cross on the ground across the face of goal. Werner drifted away and had the West Ham defenders lose track of him, and then quickly and decisively put the chance away. 0-1 Chelsea.

This ended up being the deciding moment of the match. Werner was also lively throughout and had plenty of chances. But, despite being the deciding man in this match, many fans did not feel he was man of the match, and some on social media began to say he should be sold after the match. Why? Because he missed a gilt-edged chance on what was essentially an open goal and tap-in. It was a horrible miss. But again, Werner divided opinion. He went from hero to zero among some fans. I even saw some say that Chelsea have to sell him because there is no excuse for a miss of that quality.

While the miss was terrible, this encapsulates the reactionary and overly critical aspect the fanbase is chronically morphing into. Without Werner’s goal and overall involvement Chelsea do not win that match given the starting XI, but yet that is never enough for a fanbase that in increasingly divided amongst player favorites and narratives. Supporting and celebrating a player that has been yearning for goals simply is not good enough for some. If the miss is the defining moment of the match for Blues fans, it shows a distinct perception that Werner’s negatives will always outweigh the positives for some fans. It is a bit unbecoming.

Whether or not you thought the German was man of the match is one thing, but to make a negative mountain out of a molehill, while ignoring all other positives, is the definition of a narrative. Do better, Blues fans. Let’s fully back the German striker, as he scored a crucial goal in a crucial match in a crucial part of the season ahead of one of, if the most, crucial match of the season against Madrid midweek in the Champions League semi-final. Hopefully this is a sign that Werner is emerging and hitting form at the exact right time. Besides the miss, there was certainly enough to suggest in this match that he is hitting his form.

Werner celebrates the only goal of the game against West Ham. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
Werner celebrates the only goal of the game. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

New Roles Within the Rotation

This match saw some slightly adapted roles for some players, surprisingly it was with the captain. The saying goes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but the swiss army knife that is El Capitan, Cesar Azpilicueta, continues to prove the opposite. He was deployed at right wingback today which shocked most fans. However, he did well enough and this provided a key chance to rest Reece James ahead of the clash of giants in Madrid midweek.

Curiously, it was not just Azpilicueta’s position that was unfamiliar, but also how he was functioning in the attack. Many times he was overlapping with Mason Mount and cutting into the center of the attacking third while Mount was drifting out to the wider portion of the attacking third on the right side. Azpilicueta is not one who is particularly skilled in attacking and scoring, so this tactical adjustment was something that had to catch West Ham a bit off guard.

Ben Chilwell was also being deployed in a similar manner to Azpilicueta. He overlapped and took up more central positions than Pulisic several times in the first half, which is not something Blues fans have seen often. Chilwell obviously gets forward in attacks with Thomas Tuchel but has primarily been the wider outlet. Werner was many times drifting wide as well while Pulisic would sometimes occupy the center of the box. This may sound contradictory, but overall shows that positional fluidity was on full display in attack against West Ham.

Given the system, this is something that is not of concern. Many of the front three options are all capable of scoring, so the constant drifting and shifting could be something that gives future opponents headaches as man-marking is tougher to execute if the striker is drifting to left wing, if the left wing is drifting to attacking mid, and if the wingback is drifting into the front three centre forwards. This will open up more space as the man-marker is drifting about to follow his man. This is a space to watch for future matches with opponents and if it forces opponents to play zonal defensive marking.

Azpilicueta moved up to eighth in the list of all time appearances at Chelsea, making his 421st against West Ham. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)
Azpilicueta moved up to eighth in the list of all time appearances at Chelsea, making his 421st against West Ham. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

Chelsea Control the top four race after beating rivals West Ham

The Blues were able to melt down the Irons and this will be an integral result to the top four ambitions for Chelsea. Fans were worried after the loss to West Brom and draw against Brighton if the top four finish would happen. Beating West Ham was always going to be the result the Blues needed to cement their ability to control their own destiny for the top four.

With this win, Chelsea now own the three point lead on fifth placed West Ham and also own the tiebreakers of goal differential and head-to-head results. We have learned that although the going has been tough at times for the Blues, they are showing time and time again under Tuchel to get the key results in key situations. The win away in East London showed this once again.

Looking ahead to the fixture list, Chelsea have to play Fulham and Leicester City. If the Blues can once again win these fixtures at the Bridge, the battle should almost be completed with the objectives reached. The result at West Ham likely will be the pivotal moment in the season if this objective is reached. West Ham came into the match in great form and scoring goals in bunches. Up stepped the defensive line of steel and shut the Hammers down throughout the match.

Another Defensive Masterclass

The record has now become 16 clean sheets in 21 matches for Tuchel at Chelsea. West Ham were limited for chances throughout, especially the newly emerged and dangerous goal threat of Jesse Lingard. The former Manchester United player entered this match with 10 goals and three assists for the Hammers, and was clearly the danger man for West Ham. Tuchel’s men and system nullified Lingard without, and likely created the worst game for Lingard since joining the London club. It has begun to become a constant within this Chelsea squad (except when playing West Brom) that defensive solidity is a guarantee for every match. Liverpool, Atletico, Everton, United, Spurs, City, and Porto have all been unable to find the back of the net against Tuchel’s Chelsea. David Moyes and West Ham now join the ever-growing list to be shutout.

The key hear is that is no longer a fluke or aberration. 76.2% of matches with Tuchel have resulted in a clean sheet for the Blues. There is no way to overstate this: Chelsea are an incredible defensive squad and this bodes incredibly well the rest of the way in the league and for cup matches. You cannot drop three points or lose a cup match if you do not concede. With almost every three out of four matches ending in a clean sheet, there is a lot of collective credit that is highly deserved for all involved in this massive defensive turn-around. Expect this trend to continue now throughout the rest of the season.

Time to Consider 3 at the Back for the Long-Term

The defensive solidity was discussed above, and paramount to this solidity is the three at the back formation. This formation has also caused the most success in recent times for Chelsea FC dating back to the days of the mercurial yet incredible Antonio Conte.

It is time to consider this formation for the long-haul because of how it is collectively maximizing the entire squad. It has also righted the course, stopped the draws from winning positions, and turned Chelsea into a giant amongst Europe again. Why would this winning formation change? The collective success of this formation is undeniable and can no longer be ignored. Tuchel may prefer to play different systems and styles but the old saying goes “why fix it if it is not broken?”. There is not a more applicable statement to the Chelsea formation and system at the moment. This defensive solidity, combined with patient build-up plays, has the Blues firing all the right cylinders to end up where they are striving to come season’s end.

If this system gets the Blues to the Champions League final, there have to be few who question the long-term use and stability of the three at the back formation for the Blues.

Written by Travis Flock (@Crossroads_CFC)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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