Chelsea can sense they are almost there
05 March 2015, 12:45
London - The late American crooner Andy Williams once sang about being 'almost there' and about being close to a 'paradise so rare' and that is how Chelsea must have felt after their 1-0 victory at West Ham United.
Manager Jose Mourinho strode purposefully on to the pitch at the end of a typically rumbustious London derby on Wednesday night, fist-pumping the air as he celebrated a potentially significant win with each member of his team.
With 11 matches left, Chelsea can begin dreaming of their first Premier League title for five years with the leaders five points clear of second-placed Manchester City and with a game in hand to come against rock bottom Leicester City.
Wednesday's encounter at Upton Park was one of the games of the season, a barnstorming end-to-end affair that could just as easily have finished 4-0 to Chelsea, 3-1 to West Ham or in a high-scoring draw.
Rival goalkeepers Adrian and Thibaut Courtois pulled off a string of excellent saves in a non-stop thriller that had the crowd on the edge of their seats.
Chelsea needed the tall Courtois to show off his seemingly telescopic arms in the second half as West Ham launched wave after wave of attacks led by left winger Stewart Downing who gave Branislav Ivanovic one of his most uncomfortable matches of the campaign.
The visitors, though, were a constant menace on the counter attack.
Ramires was denied by a brilliant reflex save from Adrian and, on a separate occasion, by the inside of the post while fellow Brazilian Willian had an effort cleared off the line after another lightning raid.
"We had chances to kill the game and we were expecting good situations to attack the space and score more goals but we didn't and when you don't do that against West Ham you are in permanent danger," a relieved Mourinho told reporters.
"It doesn't matter the quality of the game when the emotion and the tempo is so high. All the players were so fantastic in their commitment and positive aggression and the referee (Andre Marriner) was good at letting the game follow the normal direction.
"The midfield were trying to keep the ball and release attacking players to kill the game but in the end we had periods when we had to defend with everything. It was a game when you can easily lose two points so I am happy."
Once again Chelsea were indebted to their livewire forward Eden Hazard.
It is becoming something of a truism to say that when the Belgium winger plays well, Chelsea play well, and he was at the heart of everything good in the opposition half of the field.
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Hazard also popped up to grab the only goal of the game in the first period, a close-range header from a right-wing cross by Ramires, although West Ham manager Sam Allardyce later suggested the scorer was offside "by six inches".
Coming on the back of Sunday's 2-0 League Cup final win over arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, it has been a draining but nonetheless rewarding period for Chelsea.
Mourinho announced that he would be giving himself and his players some time off before beginning the preparations for next Wednesday's Champions League return match against Paris St Germain at Stamford Bridge with the tie evenly poised at 1-1.
"I want to sleep tomorrow until midday," he said. "My team were brothers on the pitch and that is important if you are to win the most difficult league in the world.
"The (direct) way West Ham play, nobody is better than them."