Chelsea went back to the top of the Under-21 Premier League after an emphatic 3-1 victory away to West Ham United in Romford on Friday night.
All of the damage was done in the first half as Kasey Palmer’s impudent flick opened the scoring before a quick-fire brace from Dominic Solanke put the Blues out of sight by the interval. Sebastian Lletget grabbed a goal for West Ham early in the second half but it was to prove a mere consolation as Chelsea dominated throughout and deservedly took all three points.
With Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Andreas Christensen and Nathan Aké part of Jose Mourinho’s plans for the first team’s FA Cup fixture at home to Bradford City, coach Adi Viveash was forced into some changes but was nonetheless able to field a strong-looking team against the struggling Hammers. Mitchell Beeney returned in goal after Jamal Blackman had featured last time out against FC Porto, with Dion Conroy and Jake-Clarke Salter paired in central defence ahead of him and Ola Aina and Jay Dasilva manning the full-back berths.
Charlie Colkett and Jordan Houghton took care of the central midfield area with Charly Musonda released just ahead of them in the number ten role, with Palmer and Isaiah Brown wide of Solanke in attack.
Chelsea were quick out of the blocks and might have been a goal to the good inside of a minute. Brown was awarded a free kick for a foul on the right wing and Colkett’s delivery was exceptional; it curved and dipped into the most dangerous of areas and practically begged for a touch, but Clarke-Salter was unable to oblige and the ball dropped agonisingly wide of the far post.
Solanke then found himself in a good position just outside the box and was able to get the ball out of his feet in order to get a shot away, but when it arrived it was rather tame and allowed goalkeeper Raphael Spiegel to turn it away for a corner. The set piece gave way to the first goal of the game though, as Colkett and Musonda worked it short for the latter to spin a ball into the box that was exquisitely turned home by the in-form Palmer; improvising to backheel it on the volley into the far corner.
The gulf in class between the two sides so far this season was not just evident in the league standings but also on the Rush Green pitch as the Blues poured forwards with ominous intent. Musonda’s thirty-yard free kick dipped awkwardly just in front of Spiegel and forced the young stopper to scoop it over the crossbar, whilst he was equally as unconvincing in getting rid of a Palmer effort from outside the box that looked easier to deal with than perhaps it was.
West Ham, under new management as Steve Potts took charge of his first Under-21 game following a promotion from the Under-18 ranks, had a couple of bright moments in the first half but nothing that really worried Beeney. Jordan Brown’s typically powerful and rugged approach saw him drive into the area before Conroy and Clarke-Salter dealt with him, whilst captain Josh Cullen might well have done better with a close-range header after good work on the left by Djair Parfitt-Williams.
Brown’s looping header brought Spiegel into action again before the game tempered itself somewhat approaching the break, but in the 44th minute Chelsea deservedly doubled their lead. A flowing move down the right released Brown again, and although his shot was saved by Spiegel the hosts couldn’t clear it. Palmer tried his luck and a spot of penalty area pinball saw Brown fire the ball towards Solanke, who smugged it over the line from six yards out.
They weren’t done yet either and went into the dressing room 3-0 up at half time. Cullen was unable to take Reece Oxford’s pass from the back and Colkett seized on the loose ball in a flash. His first time through ball was perfectly weighted for Solanke, who confidently dispatched the ball into the bottom corner for his 22nd goal of the season.
The near one-way traffic continued at the resumption of play for the second half with Musonda close to releasing Solanke again and a wonderful pass by Colkett giving Aina a chance he put wide, but West Ham were able to reduce their arrears in the 51st minute. Parfitt-Williams won a tussle with Aina on the left in which the Chelsea defender felt he may have been fouled but, with play going on, the cross found Lletget, who volleyed home at the near post.
It didn’t signal anything resembling a comeback though and normal service simply resumed in the form of Chelsea seeking more goals. Clarke-Salter’s fiercely-hit shot flew across the face of goal without Palmer or Solanke able to get a touch, and, not willing to give the hosts respite, Viveash then introduced the fresh legs of Jeremie Boga in place of Musonda.
The visitors took the foot off the gas for a ten-minute period in order to kill any real aspirations West Ham might have had of staging an unlikely turnaround and they rarely looked anything other than in full control of the evening’s proceedings. Further goalmouth action was limited by Chelsea’s change in focus but, under the gravelly direction of Viveash, they put the game under a stranglehold they would never release.
West Ham United: Spiegel, Pike, Westley, Makasi, Burke, Oxford, Lletget, Cullen (c) (Carter 64), Brown (Hector-Ingram 86), Diangana (Powell 68), Parfitt-Williams
Subs not Used: Bogard, Onariase
Goal: Lleget, Burke
Chelsea: Beeney, Aina (Dabo 71), Conroy, Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Colkett, Brown, Houghton, Solanke, Musonda (Boga 61), Palmer (Mitchell 77)
Subs not Used: Collins, Scott
Goals: Palmer, Solanke 2