Timo Werner gives Chelsea upper hand in top-four race against West Ham

Chelsea beat West Ham where it mattered: not by gaming the system but by outclassing them on the pitch. Thomas Tuchel’s side have no need for a European Super League. This polished performance showed that they are strong enough to dominate without stacking the odds in their favour.

Timo Werner’s third goal in his last 32 appearances was enough for Chelsea, who kept plenty in reserve before their Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, to take control of the top-four race. It was a composed display and a crucial win. It moved them three points above West Ham, who lost Fabián Balbuena to an absurd red card, and four above Liverpool.

The travesty of the Super League is that it would have rendered fixtures such as these irrelevant. West Ham, one of the stories of the season, could have forgotten about trying to upset the established order. Never mind fading and dying, their bubbles never would have reached the sky in the first place if the project had gone ahead and it should not have been lost on Chelsea’s chairman, Bruce Buck, that this game mattered because there was so much riding on it for both sides.

Watching from the directors’ box, Buck saw a sense of jeopardy bring the best out of Chelsea from the start. A fretful, distracted bunch when they drew with Brighton on Tuesday, back when it seemed that the world was about to cave in, Tuchel’s side were in the zone against opponents hoping to take a top-four spot off them.

Chelsea quickly took charge. Werner had a look at goal as early as the fourth minute, turning Mason Mount’s cross over from a decent position. It was a warning to West Ham, who looked vulnerable to pace. The visitors were sprightly on the ball, dominating possession, and they had further chances in the opening exchanges. Mount was a livewire on the right, spinning beautifully before going close with a low drive, and Christian Pulisic should have done better than fire straight at Lukasz Fabianski from 12 yards.

It felt ominous for West Ham, who lacked energy in midfield without Declan Rice and an outlet in attack without Michail Antonio.

Injuries have hurt David Moyes’s side, who had to adjust in defence with Aaron Cresswell, Arthur Masuaku and Craig Dawson missing, and they struggled to move up the pitch. Chelsea blocked most of their counterattacks at source and the only note of concern for the visitors came when Tomas Soucek’s goalbound shot was blocked by César Azpilicueta, who was relieved not to concede a penalty for handball.

Chelsea were ahead shortly after that scare. It was a fine goal, Werner sparking the move with an exchange with Pulisic, who advanced before slipping Ben Chilwell into space on the left. West Ham had been pulled out of position and Chilwell, improving at left wing-back all the time, produced a clever cutback for Werner to slip past Fabianski from close range.

It felt like a breakthrough moment for Werner, who has toiled in front of goal for much of the campaign. Conventional wisdom has it that the floodgates were bound to open for the German once his drought was over. Based on his astonishing miss in the 55th minute, wel, the recovery process has some way to go. A goal looked certain when Fabianski repelled a long-range drive from Mount and Tuchel made no attempt to hide his irritation when Werner, an erratic finisher, somehow scuffed the rebound well wide.

Chelsea could have relaxed if Werner had extended their lead at that stage. Instead West Ham crept into the contest and twice went close, Mount blocking an effort from Ryan Fredericks and Jesse Lingard looping a swerving volley inches wide with Édouard Mendy beaten.

Yet West Ham struggled to create clear chances. With Azpilicueta selected at right wing-back over Reece James or Callum Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea had an extra defensive bolt and offered Lingard and Jarrod Bowen no space. It was tough for West Ham, who lacked balance on their left flank, where Fredericks struggled as Masuaku’s deputy.

Chelsea looked likelier to score for much of the second half. Mount lined another effort up from 25 yards and continued his duel with Fabianski, who saved smartly. Werner, who makes up for his rough edges with non-stop hustle, broke into space and tested West Ham’s goalkeeper at his near post.

Tuchel could reflect on another smart plan. In the end attention had turned to another ridiculous VAR decision when Balbuena saw red for accidentally catching Chilwell.

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