Obdurate West Ham find a way to stifle Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea
Chelsea fail to win in the Premier League for the first in the 2018/19 season as they draw 0-0 with their London neighbours
It was an unwanted first for Maurizio Sarri. His Chelsea had not been prevented from winning or scoring in his brief, encouraging reign until they encountered a West Ham United side who have discovered their obdurate streak.
Unflashy qualities, of organisation and determination, prevailed. West Ham can be accused of having delusions of grandeur, but a stalemate doubled up as a triumph for earthier values.
Pointless after four games, they have four points from the last two. A maiden clean sheet under Manuel Pellegrini offered others an object lesson in how to play Sarri’s Chelsea.
A compact side packed the midfield and counter-attacked. West Ham should have won it, Andriy Yarmolenko heading the replacement Robert Snodgrass’ cross wide when he ought to have scored, but if Chelsea dominated every marker bar the scoreline, theirs was a sterile brand of domination.
It cast their fine start in a different light. Their five victims include three teams who are yet to win. Stiffer tests await, although Chelsea could have gone into Saturday’s clash with Liverpool with both sides boasting six straight victories.
Yet two of their best opportunities fell to the wrong man. N’Golo Kante has been granted a more attacking brief under the Italian, but while Willian twice carved out chances for the hyperactive Frenchman, an unconvincing diving header went wide and a shot was blazed over.
It rather summed up Chelsea’s finishing. Olivier Giroud miscued a volley. David Luiz misjudged a header. Eden Hazard attempted a backheel to Alvaro Morata when he ought to have shot. When the ball did break to the Spanish substitute, a couple of minutes after his introduction, Lukasz Fabianski made a point-blank block.
The Pole added a fine injury-time save from Ross Barkley but Chelsea’s perpetual possession - 72 per cent, with Jorginho attempting 180 passes, a new record for a Premier League game – did not produce a goal.
Willian was the brightest of the front three but Giroud was muted. It was the first time since Belgium’s World Cup semi-final defeat to France that Hazard neither scored nor created a goal. That was an indication of how well the valiant veteran Pablo Zabaleta fared.
After a shaky start, when West Ham felt imperilled, he acquitted himself well. He had assistance: Declan Rice, excellent at Everton last week, again patrolled the area in front of the back four with expert assurance.
If Pellegrini was struggling to find his finest formation and best team at the start of the season, the Chilean is closer to alighting on both.
He may have won with his most potent force. Marko Arnautovic was West Ham’s match-winner against Chelsea last season. A knee injury deprived the Hammers of their leading attacking threat and, perhaps, an extra two points. Michail Antonio was his understudy, offering enthusiasm if not enough accuracy.
Pellegrini’s wingers each fashioned him a chance, Felipe Anderson with a precise pass and Yarmolenko with a buccaneering solo run. Antonio’s first finish was wild, his second drilled to the near post. While Kepa Arrizabalaga made an instinctive save, perhaps the best since he became the world’s costliest goalkeeper, he ought to have aimed for the opposite corner.
Lucas Perez took over from Antonio in attack and ended up facing a man whose Chelsea career had appeared over.
Gary Cahill had felt an outcast under the new regime, leading him to muse in public about the possibility of a January move. Yet when Antonio Rudiger went off with what seemed a groin problem, the club captain was summoned.
It represented his first appearance of the Sarri era, but it was not a day for Chelsea to savour the sense of novelty.
Updated: September 23, 2018 07:13 PM