As often, a flash of Chelsea forward Eden Hazard’s brilliance was all it took to tip the scales in what had, to that point, been a fairly even game.
A fan runs onto the pitch as Eden Hazard of Chelsea celebrates after scoring to make it 0-1 during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Chelsea at London Stadium on March 6, 2017 in Stratford, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images)
At West Ham’s cavernous London Stadium, which in its first year as the club’s home has proved nothing like the daunting Upton Park in its capacity to unsettle opponents, the champions-elect had as comfortable a night as they could have hoped to have. Chelsea didn’t allow the Hammers their first shot on target until after an hour. And a Hazard goal and a Diego Costa tally at either side of halftime made for a straightforward 2-1 victory, soiled only by an injury-time consolation goal by Manuel Lanzini.
In the 25th minute, a West Ham free kick was blocked by the wall. The indomitable N’Golo Kante then won the ball and launched Hazard, whose good form is so crucial to Chelsea that, when it’s consistent, the club wins Premier League titles and, when it isn’t, it simply doesn’t. Hazard played a give-and-go with Pedro, ran away from his marker Pedro Obiang and then rounded goalkeeper Darren Randolph to roll the ball into the net.
The lead allowed Chelsea to play its favorite game, prowling in its own half and frustrating opponents until an opening to break in numbers.
Not until the 40th minute did West Ham, which had been playing much better since Christmas time after an abject 3-8-4 start to the season, actually create something of a chance. But Lanzini blasted his shot over from the edge of the box.
At the other end, on a Chelsea breakaway, Hazard put his square ball a little too far behind Diego Costa, who whiffed, while Victor Moses hit his shot right at Randolph.
In the 50th minute, Diego Costa would get his 17th league goal of the season regardless. A corner was headed on to him by Obiang in the Spanish West Ham midfielder’s own box. Diego Costa reacted alertly and kneed it home.
Just after Cesc Fabregas was spared a penalty for chesting the ball suspiciously close to his elbow in his own penalty area, Hazard sprung Marcos Alonso. The wing back dribbled through a pair of defenders but dinked his little chip just wide.
Hazard would serve up a chance for Diego Costa once more in the 67th minute, when the Belgian held the ball up in the box. He found a cheeky way to get it to the Spanish-Brazilian striker, who spun and fired. But Randolph saved very well.
Chelsea’s failure to pick up a third goal briefly looked like it might be costly. In the 92nd minute, Andre Ayew picked up a ball knocked loose by Andy Carroll and laid off for Lanzini, who finished cleanly. The Blues would see out the remainder of injury time, though. And the final scoreline didn’t reflect how comprehensive the Chelsea win had been.
Antonio Conte and his team have restored their lead at the top to 10 points with 11 games to play.