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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Lampard Haunts Former Club Once More

Both clubs on show in the evening Premier League kick off were in need of three points for very different reasons with Chelsea being seven points adrift of leaders Arsenal and West Ham looking to get back on track after throwing away a result to Norwich before the international break.

After failing to convert numerous chances against Norwich in their last premier league game, it was very surprising to see Sam Allardyce persist with the same system, with no recognised striker. Any West Ham fan must be extremely frustrated with such a system after seeing only one win at home all season against Cardiff City. You have to feel sorry for Big Sam with so many strikers injured, but it is difficult to comprehend his decision to leave Carlton Cole on the bench once more. Any Sam Allardyce team in the past has always been known for their direct (long-ball) approach playing off a tall, lone striker, so there must be an underlying reason for Cole's continued exclusion. Allardyce was probably not the first choice for many fans when he first arrived at the club and although he has done a fantastic job at West Ham, football is an unforgiving world and a poor result could see some West Ham fans start to turn on their manager.

It was great to see Mikel brought back into the Chelsea line-up to allow Ramires more freedom to attack. I am a huge fan of Ramires and believe he is one of the most underrated players in the premier league. It has been bewildering this season to see him played in a defensive role at times when he has such fantastic pace and energy to really run and punish teams on the counter attack. The striker crisis at Chelsea seems to have disappeared lately with Eto scoring 3 goals in the last 2 games, but life is far from perfect yet for Chelsea with no clean sheet in their last 6 matches. With Winston Reid, West Ham's best defender, absent from the squad, there was no doubt Chelsea would go after West Ham for the 3 points.

Despite Chelsea dominating possession from the start, the game was very sterile for the first 15 minutes with West Ham comfortably dealing with any Chelsea attack. With only 9 goals in 11 premier league games, it is obvious where the problems lie for West Ham, but Allardyce has always instilled a great team spirit and one outstanding feature this season has been their defense. This was shown in their previous outing against Norwich until they gifted a goal to allow the canaries to win the game, and unfortunately on the 18 minute mark the Hammers did the same again through a very poor and short pass-back from Demel to allow Oscar to nick the ball from Jaaskelienen and force the foul and win the penalty. An argument could have been made for the keeper to be sent off, but with Oscar moving away from goal, it was never a red card in my eyes. Step up Frank Lampard, who smashed the ball down the middle to score for the third consecutive against his former employers. After showing good defensive qualities, West Ham once again give away a poor goal through a moments lapse in concentration.

The goal saw Chelsea begin to ooze with confidence and looked more and more dangerous. On 33 minutes, a ball from the back to Hazard was brilliantly flicked on from the Belgian to Oscar who only had one idea in his mind when running at the West Ham defense and shot low into the bottom corner to make it 0-2, leaving the home fans stunned. The West Ham system was simply allowing Chelsea to dominate the game and after 39 minutes Allardyce had seen enough and made two substitutions bringing on Diame and Maiga in order to do something about the easy possession Chelsea were having. The clear frustration of the home fans was clearly expressed through the boos which greeted the substitutions, due to the continued resistance to bring on Cole up front.

The second half began with Chelsea looking comfortable on the ball still, but signs were showing of the half time team talk ringing in the ears of the West Ham players, who were starting to hold the ball better and create a few more openings. However, Chelsea looked keen to put the game to bed and a header from Cahill on 50 minutes from a corner was cleared off the line and was a warning to the hammers of Chelsea's intent. Great one-touch football and 73% possession at the beginning of the second half were clear indicators of how comfortable Chelsea were and looked to be enjoying the themselves. Eto was excellent throughout the match. There was lots of debate over the decision to bring in Eto and send Lukaku out on loan, but Eto looked sharper and fitter than ever before this season and has justified Mourinho's faith in him. Apart from a chance for Maiga on 65 mins, you would struggle to reflect on a clear chance for West Ham where they really tested Cech and on 81 minutes, Lampard finished off the game with a low-driven shot from just outside the box to haunt his former club once more and make it 0-3.

Ravel Morrison is a name which certainly hasn't been far off the minds of many England fans in recent weeks and you felt that, with this game being live on Sky, it was a great chance for him to showcase his potential and stake a place in the squad for Brazil. He certainly showed glimpses of class and certainly has excellent potential. However, I feel he still has a lot to prove to gain a place in the England squad and will be interesting to see his progression through the remainder of this season.

Only achieving one goal on target in the whole game, which came in injury time, it is clear that West Ham have a tough road ahead. Without a recognised striker, there is no pressure on the ball and there is no option of that long ball which has proved so fruitful for Allardyce throughout his managerial career. With Caroll reportedly 4 weeks away from fitness, you feel they need him now more than ever. There was plenty, however, for the special one to smile about gaining their second away win of the season with West Ham helping them all the way. After a poor result to Newcastle, Chelsea are certainly back on track not only through the win, but the manner in which they gained the victory. With their upcoming fixtures against teams lower in the league, nobody can rule Chelsea out of their equation yet for the premier league title.