Mourinho's tactical switch kick-starts Chelsea stroll against West Ham

Posted by Phil Lythell

Frank Lampard puts Chelsea in front at West Ham from the penalty spot.GettyImagesFrank Lampard puts Chelsea in front at West Ham from the penalty spot.

Chelsea got their Premier League title challenge back on track with a resounding 3-0 win over West Ham United on Saturday.

The Blues had found themselves seven points off the top of the table following Arsenal's win over Southampton earlier in the day and knew that a positive response was imperative. Stung after seeing its momentum checked by two horrendously poor performances in its most recent matches against Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion and no doubt with Jose Mourinho's instructions ringing in its ears, the team was unrecognisable from the rabble that could muster only one point from its last two outings.

The energy levels were soaring from the first minute with Chelsea pressing high up the pitch and denying their opponent any space to operate. With the Hammers persisting with their curious strategy of not fielding any recognisable strikers, the home side had no target man to relieve the pressure, resulting in quick turnovers of possession whenever Chelsea closed the space around the defenders. Not content with just winning the ball back, the Blues used it wisely in advanced positions and constantly threatened the West Ham goal.

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Epitomising this refreshed and exuberant performance was Oscar. The Brazilian was a perpetual menace to Sam Allardyce's men whether with the ball at his feet or harrying those clad in claret and blue. His application in denying the opposition the chance to settle on the ball carved out several opportunities for his teammates with Eden Hazard, Ramires and Samuel Eto'o buzzing around him to pick up the scraps. There was also the delightful touch and vision that have become Oscar's trademark, the 22-year-old gliding serenely around the pitch and clipping intelligent passes with unerring accuracy.

His goal that doubled Chelsea's lead encapsulated his man of the match display. Racing on to a delicious flick from Hazard, he held off the attentions of the West Ham defender and coolly found the bottom corner from 20 yards out. It was a moment of class, so effortless in its wonder that it succinctly summed up the genius that the Brazil international has in his boots.

However, the victory and Oscar's role within it came about due to the change in system implemented by the manager. The introduction of John Obi Mikel into a 4-3-3 has been demanded by many Chelsea supporters following recent setbacks, and Mourinho duly obliged. The Nigerian offered a steady calming influence just in front of the defence, a quality in direct opposition to the frenetic chasing of shadows that has characterised the double pivot of Ramires and Frank Lampard. While adding an extra barrier in the middle of the field and mopping up any loss of possession, Mikel's presence also liberated his two midfield companions to affect the play nearer to the opposition goal.

The result was a display from Lampard that was reminiscent of his pomp. The Englishman's best outings in a Blues shirt have always come with a roving midfield brief, a role that commands a certain amount of positional discipline but not enough to stifle any creative expression. He reprised that role at Upton Park to tremendous effect as he pulled the strings, playing Hazard, Oscar and Eto'o into the space behind the defenders. There were also two goals to add to his ludicrous tally, a pile driver from the penalty spot following Jussi Jaaskelainen's foul on Oscar and a classic Lampard first-time strike of a loose bouncing ball just inside the area. His total now stands at 207, with his brace ending a 10-match barren run in front of goal.

Oscar and Lampard might have been the standout performers, though in truth every player in the changed away strip put in an excellent display. Eto'o is looking sharper with every game and was desperately unlucky to see his wicked curling shot drop just to the wrong side of the upright having earlier forced Jaaskelainen into a fingertip save with a similar effort. Hazard was his usual impish self, and Ramires was full of endeavour for the entire 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, the back four were virtually untroubled as their shape and confidence quickly snuffed out any dangerous positions that West Ham created, with Cesar Azpilicueta particularly impressive. But given the paucity of threat offered by the Hammers, it was not the most difficult task, with only Ravel Morrison and Stewart Downing presenting the Chelsea defenders with anything serious to think about.

All in all, the win and performance were just what the doctor ordered. If there is one criticism, it was that Chelsea did not kill the game off earlier and win by an even wider margin. That might sound like nitpicking, though even at 2-0 the game can change definitively if the opposition pulls one back, especially when it is the home side in a London derby. Despite the Blues dominating the ball and carving out several goal-scoring opportunities, the game was not settled until eight minutes from time. Three-nil is a handsome result, though on the balance of play it could -- and possibly should -- have been double that.

However, given the dejection of the previous two league games, the fact that there is a tinge of disappointment at scoring three goals away from home highlights just how fortunes have changed in a fortnight. This was not luck, though; this was a return to the qualities that have won Chelsea so many trophies over the past 10 years, namely application, determination, confidence in teammates and no short amount of skill. This looked like a true Mourinho team, not least due to the 4-3-3 formation.

Long may it continue.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell.


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