David Moyes’ hosts thought they had taken the lead when Tomas Soucek netted late in the first half, only for a lengthy VAR check to deny them the opener.
Chelsea soon struck from the spot through Willian before Soucek successfully levelled for West Ham in the second half and Michail Antonio tapped in for the Hammers.
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
Willian was on hand again for the Blues, however, scoring off the post with an impressive free-kick – seemingly ensuring the honours would be even come full-time.
West Ham substitute Andriy Yarmolenko would provide one more twist, though, sliding a finish past Kepa Arrizabalaga for the win. Here are five things we learned from the Premier League fixture:
Rice could prove a fascinating fit at Chelsea
Last season, Declan Rice was being labelled a “Rolls Royce player” by neutral fans, left, right and centre. His stock was high, he was earning his first England caps, and most teams in the top flight would have taken the young midfielder on board.
Chief among those clubs was seemingly Chelsea, where Rice started his youth career and where his best friend Mason Mount resides.
Although Rice has not had the best season – few in the Hammers’ claret and blue have – it still feels like the 21-year-old could prove a fascinating, if not wholly necessary, prospect in Frank Lampard’s young and increasingly Anglicised team.
If West Ham do end up in the Championship next season, there is surely no chance Rice stays in east London – no matter how many times they hand him the captain’s armband, as they did on Wednesday. Chelsea have plenty of cover in the midfielder’s preferred position, but his youth and ability to deputise at centre-back could prove alluring enough for Lampard.
Draining relegation cycle can be broken
West Ham, Watford, Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich have all been fantastic at one thing since the league’s resumption: ceding any and all advantages to climb over one another and towards daylight.
What this has resulted in is a cycle that is more draining than vicious, one in which these five clubs have destined to remain until the end of the season – perhaps even until the day that this societal construct we know as time collapses and Wednesdays are as hard to come by as Premier League points.
Norwich were trampled 4-0 by Arsenal on Wednesday evening, while Bournemouth also conceded four in their miserable hosting of Newcastle. These results followed Watford’s 3-1 defeat by Southampton at the weekend, when Villa were beaten by Wolves. These clubs keep offering each other opportunities to escape the cycle, but they also seem incapable of seizing these chances.
Or at least they did until West Ham secured three pivotal points against Chelsea. You get the sense that even one or two draws before the end of the term might be sufficient sustenance for any one of these teams to drag themselves out of the loop, up and away from the drop zone, towards the light. So a win seems seismic. It certainly felt seismic for West Ham on Wednesday.
Moyes is not done yet
Speaking of cycles… West Ham fans, how familiar is the following pattern? Your side come up against a top-six team; they take up position behind the ball, hoping for any chance to break and work the ball to Antonio; they fall behind, soon to concede a second goal; the second is finally followed by substitutions, with the result already out of sight.
Just as the pattern of struggling sides wasting opportunities ended with this game, West Ham’s demoralising gameplay pattern – stunningly – ceased, as Moyes’ players finally added some quality and end product to their hard work.
Following the failure of Manuel Pellegrini earlier this season and the east Londoners’ performances since Moyes arrived, it seemed for all the world that the Hammers needed to look to a younger coach.
But the jury is still out on that. West Ham have struggled for results since the restart, but their performances have been sprinkled with the odd positive, here and there, and they finally built on those against Chelsea. They must build further as the end of the season nears.
Forgotten man Willian is in business of reminding
In light of Christian Pulisic’s scintillating showings in recent weeks, it feels as though Willian has been somewhat overlooked.
The Brazilian, a dutiful servant of Chelsea Football Club since 2013, at one point seemed certain to depart Stamford Bridge come this summer, but he has been crucial to his side’s success since the Premier League’s restart.
He was as clinical from the penalty spot on Wednesday as he was against Manchester City last week, was conscientious and diligent elsewhere in the game, and found the net for a second time in the second half when his fantastic free-kick clipped the post and ricocheted past Lukasz Fabianski.
With the winger having recently agreed a short-term contract extension to stay at Chelsea until the end of this extended season, could there yet be the potential to figure out a new deal that appeases both sides? Hakim Ziyech’s looming arrival might render such a development redundant, but Willian is proven in the English top flight and, even as he nears 32, is always useful to have around.
VAR as divisive as ever
Fans dispute VAR’s effectiveness for a plethora of reasons, and whether or not you support the implementation of the system, one thing it does for better or worse is seemingly expose shortcomings in the officials operating it.
Was Antonio in an offside position for Soucek’s disallowed opener? Of course. Was he obstructing Kepa’s line of vision? It certainly didn’t seem to be the case.
If anything, the West Ham man was helping the goalkeeper out by blocking off one side of the Brazilian’s net, all the while staying low and flat and leaving the ball visible to Kepa.
West Ham had to wait for almost four minutes to find out the verdict of this particular VAR ruling, and understandably felt hard done by when it was revealed. Thankfully for them, it didn’t affect their result – but it might have affected their goal difference.