West Ham and Chelsea were unable to be separated in their Premier League showdown at the London Stadium this afternoon.
Both teams desperately sought all three points but ultimately had to share the spoils in a 1-1 stalemate that few positives could be drawn. However, from a Blues perspective, their winter recruit João Félix feels like a long-term game-changer. Making only his second appearance he continued where he left off and registered the game’s opening goal.
The loanee from Atletico Madrid was impressive on his debut before the red mist descended. In a 58-minute cameo at Craven Cottage the Portuguese forward produced six shots with four of those on target giving him an expected goals tally of 0.88. Chelsea head coach Graham Potter subsequently named him as the best player on the pitch even in defeat.
Ice cold. 🧊 pic.twitter.com/IpdtSjebjb
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) February 11, 2023
How they needed Félix in their recent fixtures against Liverpool and Fulham which ended in goalless stalemates. Not since 2007 had the west Londoners gone at least three consecutive Premier League games without scoring, any chance of that happening ended in the 16th minute, but it could have come earlier. Félix, playing behind false nine Kai Havertz, stood out, relishing the freedom in a deep-lying forward role he was at the heart of everything positive Potter’s men were doing from an attacking sense. He ended up being directly involved in five of Chelsea’s 12 shots (three shots and two chances created).
In fact, the build to Chelsea’s opener would have pleased co-owner and chairman Todd Boehly watching on from the director’s box, Mykhailo Mudryk initially regained possession before Félix met the end of Enzo Fernandez’s cross. All three joined last month with big money spent on Mudryk and Fernandez – the latter a British transfer record. The fee Benfica received for Fernandez’s services isn’t weighing on his shoulders. The recently-arrived World Cup-winning midfielder completed more passes in the final third than any other player (29).
The combination football Chelsea occasionally displayed is right up Félix’s alley. His difficulty in assimilating to Diego Simeone’s demands has been well-documented. Félix even hinted the decision to leave Spain’s capital was in part because of that. “I was already looking for a change of scene because it was difficult to get used to the way of playing,” he told the Spanish newspaper AS. “I left because my head was already full from trying so hard and not being able to do it. It had to be in this market and I think it has been good for Atleti and for me too.”
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Emerson’s equaliser, a first Premier League goal which just so happened to be against his former club, was another timely reminder of the Blues‘ fragility at the back. For the Hammers, it was much needed in their quest to stave off relegation, David Moyes’ side has now gone three games unbeaten (accumulating five points from nine available), equalling their longest such run this season. Emerson’s effort was one of two shots on target by the hosts. Felix registered that same amount on his own.
He further cemented himself as the new uncrowned King of the King’s Road with a performance befitting of his predecessors including Gianfranco Zola and Joe Cole both of whom served as pundits for BT Sport in today’s coverage. The final 10 minutes though belong to Tomáš Souček, who came on for the injured Lucas Paquetá, firstly an offside goal disallowed before getting away with handing Chelsea a late penalty.
Two points dropped is still two points dropped. Chelsea — who have drawn three consecutive Premier League matches for the first time since February 2012 under André Villas-Boas — must now dust themselves down ahead of their Champions League round of 16 first-leg tie with Borussia Dortmund, given the way things are shaping up in England’s top division, they will have to win European football’s grandest prize for a third time to play in next season’s competition.