Friday, 26th December 2014
To what extent his signings or the new style have been imposed from above is moot. It's practically impossible to find anything to criticise him for before today. We've been playing good football, creating hatfuls of chances, scoring lots of goals, and winning, for us, an unprecedented number of points at this stage of the season in the Premiership.
Even The Special One himself has been saying kind words about Sam! Our manager's pre-match comments, though, did not fill me with hope. Arsenal may be the more important game, the more winnable game, but there's no excuse for shrugging your shoulders and accepting defeat before the game even begins, which is how his remarks sounded to me. Pragmatic, yes, but disappointing and, I suspect, unpopular with the fans.
The players can't be faulted, the effort was there, but the formation was faulty, especially in the first half, and the team selection was questionable. At times, we were simply overrun, and dropping Song to the bench, from the point of view of this game only, was a serious mistake. We missed him badly in midfield.
Carroll got no change out of Terry and Cahill for the hour that he was on. Downing, pushed out on to the wing, was a shadow of the player that he's been on "point duty". Jenkinson struggled, at times, defensively and his distribution was mostly woeful again.
Reid and Collins defended manfully, the former particularly, but there was too much space, pace, and movement in front of the defence. Noble, in his first game back from injury, couldn't get to grips with the Chelsea midfield. Nolan, for all that he tried, and again put in a decent performance, simply isn't good enough or quick enough to compete with this level of opposition.
Kouyate did his energetic best, but one man can't do the job of two or three. Valencia didn't look happy stuck out on the left, but didn't shirk either. He looked the most threatening of any of the Irons today, but also went to ground too easily, several times, under too little pressure, and got very little joy from a slightly erratic referee.
The first half, and the first fifteen minutes in particular, were pretty much one way traffic. Despite a rather wild shot from us only sconds after kick-off, it would be the quarter hour before we mustered a worthwhile move. A too-heavy pass out-ran Valencia.
For all their possession and their intricate play, Chelsea were wasteful of chances. Oscar blazed over after Reid couldn't connect with a cross and Jenks went to sleep. Jenks did a bit better 5 minutes later, putting Cahill under enough pressure that the latter headed comfortably over the bar. There weren't even 10 minutes on the clock at this point, and things weren't looking good.
Hazard ran into Reid on the edge of the box a few minutes later; referee Oliver rightly gave nothing. Valencia made a good break, but Downing dallied on the ball when it came to him. He did win a corner, but he promptly wasted the opportunity with a poor delivery.
On 20 minutes, Adrian made a terrific point-blank reaction save to a shot that was, admittedly, blasted more or less straight at his face. Just before the half hour, it was a good low save from Willian.
The goal was coming, and arrived on the half-hour. Some sloppy marking from an otherwise mostly solid Collins at a corner. He wandered away from Terry, couldn't make a challenge on Costa. Costa headed it down and across the face of goal, Terry stuck out a boot and we were behind.
Adrian, who could do nothing about either goal, had another save to make only a few minutes later, although Matic's shot was probably going wide before it was tipped further past the post. The only mildly controversial moment of the game arrived just before half time. Carroll made slight contact with Ivanovic in the box. Big, strong Ivanovic made the most of it.
Cue handbags - Carroll had angry words to say, Adrian yet again showed the unprofessional side of this nature and got unnecessarily involved, as did one or two others. The result? No penalty and no bookings for anyone, which was sensible refereeing on the whole. Somehow, we managed to get into the interval only a goal behind, and there was still hope...
Whilst there were no changes to personnel, and seemingly no changes to the tactics, we did look a lot livelier in the second half. Chelsea were able to double their lead on 62, but at least they weren't able to coast to victory, even if we rarely looked like scoring.
Their second goal came when Kouyate lost the ball on halfway. A through ball to Costa and a dropped shoulder from him created just half a yard of space. He fired an excellent low shot, past Adrian's outflung hand, into the far corner. It was deserved.
We were never going to get anything from the game after that. Song and Sakho had replaced Carroll and Noble just before the hour; Amalfitano came on for Downing on 73, immediately after the latter had tried a rather wild shot at goal.
A goal would have been a nice consolation. Immediately after half-time, Noble put in a dangerous corner that Courtois came for and missed. We couldn't, however, take advantage. A couple of minutes later another good Noble corner also failed to create a chance.
Amalfitano had what were probably our two best chances of the match. Five minutes from the end, a cute ball from Song gave him the opportunity to head across goal. Courtois went scrambling in vain, but the ball drifted past the post. Less than a minute later, the same player snuck in behind Cahill, wriggled past Terry, and beat Courtois, only to hit the inside of the post.
In the meanwhile, Man of the Match Adrian had made more important stops. First, a little after half time, it was another reaction save in front of this face, this time from Hazard from around 15 yards. On 66, it was flying tip-over of a 30 yd free kick, followed by an instinctive right boot that stopped the corner producing a third Blues' goal. This is a game we could easily have lost 4-1. You expect any keeper to stop some of what comes at him, but Adrian was certainly on form today.
For the rest, it's mostly "Meh!" Effort, as I say, was not lacking, but a few players were either not up to it, off-form, or just made to look very ordinary today. Carroll is a very good player, but he could do with watching this one back on video to learn from Costa's movement. Nolan, judging by the grumbling I heard, will hopefully be too knackered, from his laudable efforts, to start against Arsenal.
Noble looked off the pace, Jenkinson had another learning expereience. If Cresswell couldn't get forward as much as usual, it only proves a point I've made two or three times this month in comments to news articles. It's in central midfield that we've been creating the space that has allowed our full backs to flourish. Today, central midfield couldn't do that. The opposition were, simply, too good.
Song will surely be restored to the starting eleven against Arsenal. Nolan, I would guess, will drop out. Sakho may start in place of Valencia. Beyond that, I don't see any changes (injuries permitting) for the game in two days time.
If we put in a good performance and take something from that match (three points would be nice!), then Sam's choices today are vindicated. If we don't, they're not!
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Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Notwithstanding a moment of temperament today, our best player.
Sometimes good in defence, sometimes not good. Not much cop at passing the ball.
Had a stern test today. Can't say that he passed with flying colours but, on the whole, passed.
Pick of the defence today. Only criticism would be the silly clumsy yellow card.
Rather AWOL for Chelsea's first, but not a bad game.
A borderline 5 / 6. Put in a good shift & did some good stuff, but it looked like hard going in his first game back. Not surprised he was subbed around the hour.
The pick of the midfield, but couldn't be everywhere.
Not quick enough, not good enough, but not ever going to give up either! Barely seen in attack, but several important interventions in defence. When you're out-sprinted by a 36 year old Drogba, though, your days are surely numbered?
Couldn't get into the game at all. Given the way he has performed this season, it simply doesn't make sense to push him out wide. Tactical error from Sam, frankly. And it's not often you can say that this campaign!
Could hardly win a damn thing today. Easily his worst game back from injury.
Didn't look like he enjoyed himself at all, and needs to be a bit stronger. Nevertheless, our best attacking player on the day.
(replaced Nolan) I'd say "Why wasn't he starting?", but presumably it was to save him for Arsenal. Started slowly when he came on, but soon began to exert influence. Not often I award a sub a 7, which should say something!
Ran around, but had no real impact.
I still regard him as no more than a squad player, and certainly not a starter, but he certainly made an impression from the bench & so nearly scored.
Joey O Brien
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Man of the Match: Adrian San Miguel del Castillo.
West Ham United
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Collins, Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate, Kevin Nolan, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Enner Valencia.
Booked: James Collins 28 Aaron Cresswell 33 Winston Reid 58 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta, Francesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, Willian da Silva, Emboaba Oscar, Eden Hazard, Diego Costa .
Substitutes: Didier Drogba (Diego Costa 83), John Mikel (Emboaba Oscar 83), Nascimento Ramires (Willian da Silva 86).
Subs not used: Petr Cech, Filipe Luis, Kurt Zouma, Andre Schurrle.
Goals: John Terry (31), Diego Costa (62).
Sent Off: None sent off..