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Timo Werner strikes as Chelsea down West Ham to bolster top four hopes

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(Getty)

Four days after Chelsea fans protested the club’s involvement in The Super League, Chelsea players protested any potential involvement in next season’s Europa League, defeating West Ham 1-0 to stay fourth in the Premier League and go three points clear of their beaten, fifth-placed opponents.

Entering Saturday evening’s fixture at the London Stadium, Thomas Tuchel’s Blues were ahead of their hosts on goal difference alone. Earlier in the day, Liverpool again conceded late to stutter to their second 1-1 draw of the week, enough to overtake Tottenham but not enough to leapfrog West Ham or Chelsea before those teams faced off here.

And so London’s loose rivals were presented a vital opportunity to take some of the vibrant daylight in the capital and insert it between themselves, their opponents and Jurgen Klopp’s faltering champions.

Both sides struggled to settle into a rhythm in the early phases, with minimal pressure frequently proving enough for dispossession. Yet Chelsea were able to create a promising chance just three minutes in, a neat cut-back from the right flank finding Timo Werner in the West Ham box. An inconvenient bounce threw off the striker’s timing, however, and he lifted his shot over the crossbar.

The visitors gradually began to assert themselves, with Mason Mount sliding a low effort into Lukasz Fabianski’s grasp, moments after West Ham’s most promising move up to that point had ended with Jarrod Bowen nudging a pass to an offside Jesse Lingard in the Chelsea area.

The Manchester United loanee would get his next opportunity with 15 minutes played, when the hosts’ one-touch interplay out of their own box saw the midfielder released on the left wing. Lingard would tear up the turf but ultimately clip an angled shot over Edouard Mendy’s bar.

Chelsea began to target full-back Ryan Fredericks – uncomfortably stationed on the left in Aaron Cresswell’s absence – with increasing success, and before long Werner and Christian Pulisic combined well, the latter driving a shot straight at Fabianski from the centre of the box after Mount had let the ball run beneath him.

The England midfielder was, as is becoming the norm, the most dangerous player deployed by Tuchel, and on the half-hour mark a stunning first touch to bring down a lofted ball preceded some more mesmeric footwork in the Hammer’s penalty area. Mount’s subsequent shot was blocked, with the next Chelsea chance falling to Werner.

The Germany international, as is becoming the norm, had been energetic but predictable in his movements, and in this moment he completely mistimed a header after a clipped cross by Ben Chilwell, the ball dropping harmlessly for an easy clearance.

Ben Chilwell of Chelsea is fouled by Fabian Balbuena of West Ham UnitedGetty

As the half wore on, West Ham were able to forge a much-needed period of sustained offence, in which David Moyes’ men had a penalty claim waved away – Cesar Azpilicueta’s last-ditch block seeing the defender use his chest, rather than his arm, to deny Tomas Soucek an opener. Andreas Christensen then used both of his arms to deny Lingard what would have been a crucial through ball on the break, dragging down the England international and receiving a booking as a result.

The most significant piece of action yet came with just three minutes standing between West Ham and half-time, however.

As Chilwell passed the ball into the hosts’ box, a lack of communication between Fabian Balbuena and Soucek meant neither committed to an interception, with Werner slotting home from seven yards out. For all the 25-year-old’s missteps, the finish marked his 11th goal of the season – pulling him level with Olivier Giroud and one behind the club’s top scorer this season, Tammy Abraham.

Despite the goal, though, there was to be another misstep from Werner 10 minutes after the break. Fabianski dove to keep out a long-range strike from Mount but mishandled the ball somewhat, allowing Werner an apparent tap-in – only for the striker to skew it horribly wide.

A relieved West Ham would build on what had otherwise been a slick start to the second half, to the visible frustration of the ever-animated Tuchel on the sidelines.

Lingard, intrepid and inventive in his passing, was unsurprisingly central to the majority of the Hammers’ best moves. With 60 minutes on the clock, the 28-year-old flicked a half-volley narrowly wide of Mendy’s goal as the much-improved home team pushed for an equaliser.

West Ham United’s Jesse Lingard vies with Chelsea’s Thiago Silva and N’Golo KanteGetty

In the absence of the injured Michail Antonio, however – the closest thing Moyes has to a recognised striker – West Ham were largely possession without punch. Chelsea still looked the more threatening side when in advanced positions, and soon enough Fabianski was again forced to keep out Mount, this time barely preventing his net from pulsing by pulling off an acrobatic stop.

Moyes called on Manuel Lanzini and Said Benrahma, replacing captain Mark Noble and Pablo Fornals, in pursuit of parity, while Tuchel withdrew Pulisic and sent on Hakim Ziyech.

Referee Chris Kavanagh, getting in on the action, sent off Balbuena, dismissing the West Ham man after the centre-back’s clearance resulted in his boot scraping down Chilwell’s calf. The official consulted the pitchside monitor before arriving at the dubious decision, which all but ended the home side’s hopes of avoiding a second straight defeat as the tie ticked into its final 10 minutes.

Chelsea, who so nearly grabbed a late second when substitute Tammy Abraham headed over from point-blank range, will hope this result helps to establish genuine momentum, something Tuchel’s players have been lacking somewhat across recent outings.

Up next for the Blues are Real Madrid in a match-up 23 years in the waiting. The rarity of that kind of fixture has been preserved – for the time being, at least – by the collapse of The Super League, and Champions League glory would surely satiate any Blues fan more than a weekly joust with the La Liga giants.

Even Champions League football next season would likely be preferable, and Chelsea moved a step closer to that goal with this victory.

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