John Terry, Chelsea tortured by lively West Ham attack in EFL Cup loss
LONDON, England--Three points from London Stadium as West Ham defeated Chelsea 2-1 in the EFL Cup.
Hammers thrill London Stadium at last
West Ham delivered their best football so far at the London Stadium and a treasured victory over their London rivals. Evening games in cup competitions used to bring the best out of the old Boleyn Ground, and perhaps it will be like that in Stratford, though questions about the new place's ability to cope with big-match occasions will be raised after outbreaks of violence in the stands.
Careful restrictions on ticketing had reduced the game's attendance to 46,000 from a usual 56,000, and 5,000 Chelsea fans were escorted into the ground by a heavy police presence. That could not prevent regrettable late scenes of agression across the divide between rival supporters sitting in the Trevor Brooking Stand behind the goal.
Such incidents will dominate newspaper headlines, and sullied an atmosphere that had crackled all night. Cheikhou Kouyate opened the scoring in the 11th minute, nodding across an angled ball from captain Mark Noble, who looked inspired after suffering his own struggles this season.
Chelsea meanwhile, were laboured, and unable to replicate the brilliance of their performance in blowing away Manchester United 4-0 on Sunday. Manager Antonio Conte had made seven changes and that may have contributed to a wholly disjointed performance, though the Italian will have been especially concerned by the defending from a back line in which John Terry was restored to action for the first time in seven weeks.
This was a battle between two teams set up in the 3-4-3 formation which Conte has helped make fashionable. His defensive trio of Terry, Gary Cahill and David Luiz were not blessed with foot speed, and struggled with the effervescent Michail Antonio. Hammers manager Slaven Bilic employed Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini up front alongside Antonio. A right winger by trade, Lanzini's versatility has seen him now play four different positions for West Ham this season.
Conte's dissatisfaction with his team's first-half showing was perhaps suggested by sending his team out three full minutes before West Ham took the field for the second half. It did not improve his team's defending, as Payet swiftly went close, only for Edimilson Fernandes to surge onto the second of two failed clearances and rattle in a leftt-foot shot that Asmir Begovic had little chance to stop.
At that point, Conte threw on Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro, big guns left on the bench in case of emergency. Chelsea began to dominate possession, and create chances, as West Ham drew deeper into defence. Costa, sent through by Willian, nearly made it a testing last few minutes for the Hammers, who should have scored a third themselves when Simone Zaza nodded wide.
Gary Cahill's injury-time goal was little consolation for Chelsea. The final whistle blew within seconds as the London Stadium celebrated like never before.
Terry suffers in defensive trio
John Terry began by holding the central position of Conte's defensive trio, and was making his first appearance since rolling an ankle at Swansea on Sep. 11. His viability in such a formation was called into serious question by West Ham's movement. Lanzini, Payet and Antonio offering a withering variety of movement, all three capable of carrying the ball at speed.
With Andy Carroll's return date unspecified and Zaza yet to score for West Ham, Bilic was forced into improvisation with his three best players. Record signing Andre Ayew may soon provide an answer, and he was named here on the bench, coming on in the latter stages to replace Lanzini, and further cheer the Hammers.
Soon after Kouyate's opening goal, Payet and then Antonio had chances to finish off what some impish Lanzini skill had started. Payet looked to have been fouled by N'Golo Kante before Antonio skewed wide. Lanzini himself should have done better on the half hour when Antonio beat Luiz. The Argentine's poked finish was poorly angled and Chelsea had survived another scare.
West Ham's attackers certainly posed more questions than Manchester United's leaden forwards had at the Bridge on Sunday, though it was Terry, whose return pushed Cesar Azpilicueta into a wing-back role, who struggled most obviously.
In the latter stages, when Conte wanted someone to bring the ball forward out of defence, Luiz was employed as the central man of the trio. Terry looked even less suited to being the left of the three. The captain has returned to a team playing very different football to that he has been used to.
Chelsea youngsters struggle
With no European football on offer, the League Cup looked a viable target for Conte and the competition could also fulfil another function, that of blooding youngsters from the club's celebrated but unproductive academy. Conte's starting line-up included two youth-team graduates in Ola Aina at left wing-back, and Nathaniel Chalobah in defensive midfield, with forward Dominic Solanke on the bench.
Aina's copybook was blotted by a thoughtless early overhead kick across his own area, and he was beaten by Fernandes ahead of the Swiss wing-back slashing in the Hammers' second.
Meanwhile, Chalobah's job of protecting that defensive trio of advancing years was not completed to much satisfaction. Noble's knowhow proved a significant problem to a player in his first season as a first-team squad member after six loans.
Another newcomer, Michy Batshuayi, whose role is to back up Costa, struggled to emulate Chelsea's usual leading man, and rued a 44th minute miss of a chance that Oscar had expertly carved for him. Once West Ham's second had gone in, it was the Belgian who was removed to bring Costa on. Chalobah and Aina were not long in following him from the field.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.