Chelsea had previously gone unbeaten in their last 10 league games. However, the Blues were surprisingly beaten 3-1 by West Ham United on Saturday afternoon. This loss has exposed a number of defensive weaknesses that need to be remedied urgently if Chelsea are to avoid a serious drop down the table towards relegation this season
The success of Chelsea’s Premier League championship campaign will be determined by how successfully they can maintain Thomas Tuchel’s outstanding defensive record, and West Ham highlighted gaps on Saturday afternoon that must be addressed fast.
This 3-2 loss at the London Stadium is the first time the Blues have surrendered more than one goal in any competition this season, and just the third time since Tuchel took over 11 months ago. Given that the German has only allowed 29 goals in 53 games as manager, it should cause a kneejerk response.
While Chelsea continues to struggle to find proper attacking fluidity — and another subdued substitute display from Romelu Lukaku served as a reminder of how far they still have to go in that regard — the chances of keeping up with Liverpool and Manchester City hinge on the efficient, controlled defending that was sorely lacking against West Ham.
This isn’t the first time, which is troubling for Tuchel. In last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United, Jorginho made a mistake that allowed Jadon Sancho to score. Meanwhile, Ruben Loftus-midweek Cheek’s triumph against Watford was made more difficult by his cheap turnover, which enabled Emmanuel Dennis to equalize.
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“Every defeat is a stumbling block,” Tuchel said. “That will not prevent us from achieving our goals, but we must play more accurately, more consistently, and with fewer big mistakes.”
The most egregious offender against the Hammers was Edouard Mendy. Despite the goalkeeper’s excellent play over the last year, his removal from the Ballon d’Or debate drew much criticism, this was a day he will not remember fondly.
Chelsea had controlled the early exchanges and had taken the lead with a Thiago Silva header in the 29th minute after Jorginho delivered a hurried back-pass, putting Mendy under pressure. With Jarrod Bowen coming in on him, Mendy chose to clear the ball swiftly rather than risk getting himself into a terrible problem, chopping Bowen down as the winger sneaked in front of him to receive the ball. Chelsea were unable to maintain their normal poise in the second quarter, despite Mason Mount’s magnificent volley from Hakim Ziyech’s sweeping diagonal ball restoring the visitors’ lead.
This is something that West Ham should be proud of. Early on, they were rather quiet, with David Moyes choosing for a five-man defense that neutralized Chelsea’s wing-backs but left them short in the middle. The second era was markedly different from the first. Bowen and Michail Antonio took the lead from the front, ruffling feathers and generating issues in order to frighten Chelsea into making more costly blunders.
The ball dropped to Vladimir Coufal on the outside of Chelsea’s box after Silva won a 56th-minute header from Antonio. Marcus Alonso was outmuscled much too easily, enabling Coufal to feed Bowen, who sent a shot past Mendy to tie the game.
Lukaku had been brought earlier in the half to replace the injured Kai Havertz, but Chelsea struggled to find a way forward, managing just one attempt on target in the whole half (after six in the first 45 minutes) until Arthur Masuaku’s late intervention. It’s difficult to deny that he meant it. Masuaku seemed to be utilising space provided by Antonio on the left wing to set up a cross three minutes from time, but his ball took a deflection off Loftus-Cheek and straightened in form towards Mendy’s near post.
Mendy was caught flat-footed, and instead of taking a step to his right, he stretched himself to his right, palming the ball into his goal.
Against West Ham, Edouard Mendy had one of his worst performances in a Chelsea jersey. Getty Images/Alex Pantling
“Edu is going through a tough time,” Tuchel stated afterwards. “I’m not sure why, but he appears to have lost some confidence.” For the first goal, decision-making was not at its best today, but we also put him in an unpleasant position. We are far from blaming anybody, but we must accept that we are making far too many critical errors at the present, which have cost us three times [in a week]. The fact that Chelsea’s defeat to West Ham showed defensive flaws that need to be addressed is uninteresting at the moment; what is noteworthy is what happens in the following 90 minutes.
“We must maintain the proper concentration and attitude, as well as pay attention to the details. At the present, we aren’t excellent enough in the specifics. We must pay attention to the details. There’s no reason to begin questioning the broader picture. We have a good chance of winning this game if we don’t make any major errors.”
Injury is perhaps becoming a factor.
N’Golo Kante’s ability to foresee danger was sorely missed by Chelsea as West Ham built up a head of steam. In his post-match news conference, Tuchel revealed that he had no idea when the key midfielder will return. Mateo Kovacic was also out, and with Havertz and Alonso completing the list of absentees, this month is shaping up to be a tough test of Chelsea’s resilience.
Lukaku was a bit part player, understandably out of sorts after missing seven games due to an ankle injury, but his first appearance since October 20 will revive the argument about how Chelsea can get the most out of him in the coming weeks. With the Belgian on the pitch, they often resemble outsiders in the final third.
In addition to Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Leicester in the Premier League, West Ham has now defeated both Manchester teams in the EFL Cup. With Liverpool and City in play as Chelsea’s bus left east London with the sun sinking over the city, they are just six points behind the Blues, whose advantage at the top was on the verge of being snatched away.
The race will very certainly come down to the wire, and even though it is just December, Chelsea knows they can’t afford any more afternoons like these.