Fernando Torres ended his goal-scoring drought in a west London thunderstorm as Chelsea kept themselves in with a slim chance of retaining their Barclays Premier League title.
The burning issue before kick-off for Chelsea was whether Didier Drogba or Torres would start up front. The decision to start the Ivorian was ultimately an obvious one given the two strikers’ current form. The Blues lined up in a “Christmas tree” formation, with Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda behind lone striker Drogba.
West Ham lined up in a similar formation – Carlton Cole spearheading the attack, with width provided by Demba Ba and Freddie Sears. With newly-anointed FWA Footballer of the Year Scott Parker absent through injury, Jonathan Spector lined up in the midfield.
The teams were greeted by a thunderstorm which had been threatening the capital all day. With the surface dampened, Chelsea started on the front foot with both full-backs – Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole – bombing forward, leaving both Ba and Sears trailing in their wake. The Hammers looked to be in for a long afternoon, with Rob Green forced into three saves in the opening 12 minutes.
But by the first half’s midway point West Ham seemed to have come to grips with the challenge presented to them, and started to hurt Chelsea on the counter-attack. Sears in particular was giving Ashley Cole a hard time – his pace allowing him to get beyond the England international and pick out Spector at the back post, whose diving header was turned away by Cech.
With half-time approaching and West Ham in the ascendency, Frank Lampard ended the home fans’ frustrations – a typical late arrival into the box meeting Cole’s low cross with a side-footed effort into the roof of the net to open the scoring.
The second half followed the same pattern as the first – Chelsea starting on top before West Ham regained a foothold. With 15 minutes to go, the Hammers should have been level – substitute Robbie Keane firing wide from a Spector through-ball. Such moments change games and this was the cue for Torres to make his mark.
Replacing Drogba on 76 minutes, Torres immediately looked sharp – creating a chance for Anelka. Then with six minutes remaining, the moment Stamford Bridge had been waiting for arrived. Taking an Anelka pass just inside the box, Torres looked to have been foiled by the weather – the ball holding up on the sodden turf. However, the Spaniard showed the sharpness of old, swivelling quickly to drive past Green and send the Chelsea hordes into ecstasy.
Torres’ luck seemed to have finally changed for the better, as his misplaced pass to Anelka was pounced upon by Malouda to drive home a third in stoppage time – affording the scoreline a rather flattering look.
The result keeps Chelsea six points behind United, with the two sides still to meet in a fortnight’s time. The Hammers remain bottom, but anything from this game would have been a bonus. They will hope to still be in touching distance of safety when they play their relegation rivals Blackburn and Wigan in the weeks to come.