Chelsea 3-0 West Ham: It’s lift off for Torres as Chelsea march on through clouds of doubt
Fernando Torres’ tortured wait for his first Chelsea goal came to a satisfying end yesterday as Chelsea clinched all three points in an entertaining game against West Ham at Stamford Bridge. The Blues ran out 3-0 winners against the relegation candidates on a rain-sodden Saturday afternoon with Frank Lampard opening the scoring moments before half time. Torres’ long-awaited first goal came with just four minutes remaining, an accurate finish with his left foot whilst Florent Malouda put the sheen to the scoreline with a thunderbolt drive.
The win over their London neighbours meant that Chelsea remain in second place, six points behind leaders Manchester United who had set the bar by narrowly beating Everton in their early kick-off. The pressure to keep up, knowing that Man Utd had opened up a 9 point gap prior to the 5.30 kick-off was painfully clear on manager Carlo Ancelotti’s face. But it was no greater than the pressure that had been growing on £50 million signing Torres who for the fourth game in succession had to watch the games opening proceedings from the bench. The goal-scoring exploits of Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou in midweek meant that they were the preferred options in attack.
Whilst Chelsea could have found themselves with a little less to worry about had Malouda converted an early chance, it was the lowly placed West Ham who were taking the game to the hosts. With the Blues surging forward in search of early relief, Carlton Cole released the ever-growing Freddie Sears who did excellently to avoid the attentions of last man Ashley Cole and when his inswining cross found Johnathon Spector unmarked it looked like the Hammers were about to strike an early blow. Fortunately for Chelsea, the ex Man Utd man could not decide whether to swipe with a boot or stoop to head and choosing the latter, the ball found Petr Cech all too easily.
Another Sears cross caused problems for the Blues defence, with Essien heading behind and once again the visitors came close to taking a precious lead in their fight for survival. Mark Noble sent the ball across and not for the first time a Hammers shirt had been left unmarked, Sears’ rather tame attempt at goal was prevented from crossing the line through a combination of Cole and Cech. Rather than get a clean strike on the ball Sears’ improvised back heeled flick lacked the conviction to cause any real harm and it was rather a reflection on West Ham’s play: all endeavour with the final product lacking.
The near misses gave Chelsea the incentive to attack- not an invitation you want to hand out lightly to the Premier League champions. And after finding their footing on a slippery Stamford Bridge surface, the deadlock was broken. A typically tireless overlap from Cole was spotted by Drogba who found the England full back with a pinpoint pass. Nearing the by-line Cole looked up to a crowded six-yard box and deciding not to panic, took his time in picking out the late arrival of Lampard who finshed in commanding style into the top corner of Rob Green’s goal. It was enough to satisfy the nervy home support before half time. But the contest was far from over.
West Ham, led by recently named Football Writer’s Player of the Year Scott Parker were not here to lie down and their football deserved more than they had so far reaped. Parker, Noble and Sears were for the most part running most of the game from midfield, undaunted by their opposite numbers Lampard, Essien and John Obi Mikel. But the hosts always looked the more potent, and when they did attack they did so with venom. Lampard was allowed the space to unleash a stinging shot at Green who parried, but Wayne Bridge’s weak clearance was picked up by Malouda who, through good fortune rather than skilful endeavour, found himself with a sight of goal before wasting the opportunity into the side netting.
With that, the visitors began to seek an equalising goal that would move them further away from their relegation troubles. They attacked with purpose and after substitute Robbie Keane’s shot was grasped by Cech, Sears who played with a maturity beyond his tender years did particularly well to escape his marking with a neat turn. His centre found Cole but the tall striker only found himself in a twist as he tried to escape the attentions of Braislav Ivanovich before fouling the Serb.
With Chelsea hanging onto their one goal lead, and West Ham mounting attack after attack, Ancelotti took a tactical gamble with the introduction of goal-scoring flop Torres. Nicolas Anelka was also introduced, but many a fan could be spotted shaking their head at the decision to take off what they perceive as their greatest goal-scoring threat in Drogba, for an over-rated, under-achieving Spaniard. The gamble though was to pay off and the lid that has been suppressing cheer and elation for most of the season at the Bridge was about to blow off.
Anelka poked the ball through the legs of one defender and with Torres racing onto the pass and into the area, luck (and the elements) seemed to strike again as the ball stuck frustratingly in a puddle. Rather than give up the chase, the Spaniard reacted first, and shifting the ball onto his equally deadly left foot unleashed a curling shot that left Green rooted. The Bridge, having waited 83 days, 14 games, 12 hours and 12 minutes for Torres to find the net, erupted as if it were they lifting the Premier League trophy in three weeks time. It was the finish of a natural born scorer and you could see how much it meant to the players as they mobbed the 27 year old.
With the points sewn up, and the fans happy with the sight of a rare Torres goal, Chelsea could relax. And there was still time for more. Torres looking more confident, looked to play a one-two with Anelka but the pass went amiss of the Frenchman but was fortunately picked up with Malouda. Taking one look up from the edge of the area, the winger pulled back with his left and followed through empathically; the top corner finish capping off a memorable day in West London
With Chelsea continuing their fine form and Torres disspelling the ever-darkening cloud of doubt, this grey wet day in the capital could not prevent the shining talents of Ancelotti’s men breaking though. For Avram Grant and West Ham, the days look to be getting darker; their future even cloudier.
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