West Ham United 3-2 Chelsea
- Goals: Tomas Soucek (£4.8m), Michail Antonio (£6.9m), Andriy Yarmolenko (£5.2m) | Willian (£7.1m) x2
- Assists: Jarrod Bowen (£6.4m) x2, Antonio | Christian Pulisic (£7.0m) x2
- Bonus: Willian x3, Antonio x2, Bowen x1
A late goal from substitute Andriy Yarmolenko (£5.2m) won West Ham United a game of twists, turns and one contentious VAR decision.
Such is the state of play at both ends of the table that the result could prove crucial for the Hammers’ Premier League survival and damaging for Chelsea’s Champions League aspirations.
But from a Fantasy perspective, it was not quite such a dramatic evening.
Of the players who brought in decent Fantasy Premier League (FPL) returns, only Chelsea midfielders Willian (£7.1m), who scored twice, and Christian Pulisic (£7.0m), who claimed assists for both goals, could be found in at least five per cent of Fantasy squads.
West Ham’s four main contributors – Yarmolenko, Tomas Soucek (£4.8m), Michail Antonio (£6.9m) and Jarrod Bowen (£6.4m) – are owned by roughly 120,000 FPL managers. In total.
For context, Kevin De Bruyne‘s (£10.7m) ownership is 32 times larger than that. All by his ginger self.
That said, the Fantasy repercussions could linger longer than last night’s hauls.
Chelsea coach Frank Lampard didn’t spare all of the horses in his line-up choices, making just two changes from the side that beat Manchester City six days previously and starting five players who were given extended run-outs in the weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final against Leicester City.
That was proof, if it were ever actually needed, that rotation won’t be a major issue for those managers looking to capitalise on the Blues’ next four fixtures, which involve Watford and Norwich City at home and trips to Crystal Palace and Sheffield United.
The fight for Champions League spots is now so intense – two places sought by four teams separated by just three points – that Lampard can’t afford to rest his key players.
Last night, the stars were Willian and Pulisic, who have both appeared in all four matches since football returned.
The Brazilian, owned by 5% in FPL, is in sparkling form, with four goals and an assist from the last four Gameweeks.
He made his mark from set-pieces against West Ham, converting a penalty – his second in successive league games – and then a free-kick, both times following fouls on Pulisic.
The American has been equally productive since the restart, with two goals and as many assists since Gameweek 30+, although he was profligate when blasting over the bar in the first half following a clever dummy from Tammy Abraham‘s (£7.5m) clever step-over.
Small wonder that the pair are the most popular transfer targets among Chelsea assets heading into Gameweek 33+, although Mason Mount (£6.2m), who created a couple of chances during a 37-minute cameo at the London Stadium, and Abraham are also attracting interest.
The England striker started his first league match since Gameweek 25 last night, but managed only one attempt, off-target, and a single chance created during an underwhelming performance that was in stark contrast to his dynamic turn from the bench in the win over Man City.
Lampard was left to rue his side’s defensive shortcomings against the Hammers:
There’s without a doubt a good group of players in there, but then when you analyse the consistency, you feel a game like this is coming. Again, that shows there’s work to do. If we are opening up to try and score that winning goal then we have to be prepared to run back the other way and defend. And defend better.
West Ham exposed a weakness at set-pieces for which Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (£5.4m) deserves a sizeable chunk of the blame.
The Spaniard struggled to command his area last night; a fault that led to both of Soucek’s openers.
The midfielder thought he’d scored his first-ever West Ham goal when he hooked home following Antonio’s botched attempt from a cross, only for VAR to rule the Englishman was lying offside, which he was (just), and interfering with play, which he really wasn’t.
As it happened, the decision proved more derisory than costly, as another corner led to another Soucek goal, this time from a header back across goal and past the hapless Kepa.
In fairness, the Hammers’ other strikes could not be laid at the keeper’s door, with their second an emphatic finish from Antonio which gave Bowen his second assist of the night.
But the defending of Antonio Rudiger (£6.0m) and Marcos Alonso (£6.2m) certainly left a lot to be desired regarding Yarmolenko’s winner.
The Ukraine international finished sweetly from Antonio’s pass on the break, but he went past Rudiger all too easily and was helped no end by the fact that Alonso neglected to track his run in the first place.
Chelsea have kept just one clean sheet since Gameweek 22 and only six all season – that’s just one more than Norwich and Aston Villa – although, amazingly, Villa have conceded double (553) the attempts that Chelsea (276) have allowed.
Equally mystifying is that only Manchester City have allowed fewer shots than the 276 conceded by Chelsea, and only two teams (City and Liverpool) have better tallies for shots on target conceded than the Blues.
Whatever the causes of all that, it’s clear Chelsea defenders are not featuring highly on Fantasy managers’ wish lists, although Alonso’s attacking threat against the Hammers will be highlighted in the Members Analysis section below.
West Ham assets have not proved any more popular, but there’s a differential option or two to be had as David Moyes’ men prepare for the final six, potentially mad, matches of the season.
The madness will almost certainly arise from half of those fixtures involving do-or-die clashes with fellow relegation candidates Norwich, Watford and Villa.
The rest of their schedule is less fraught, but could prove testing for their goalscoring potential, as the defences of Burnley, Newcastle and Manchester United are among the tightest in the league.
In Antonio, Moyes has found a gem that he was keen to praise post-match.
We need him so much. He led the line really well.
Fantasy managers could be tempted by the midfielder if he remains in an out-of-position role up front – likely as the club’s recognised strikers are currently either injured or out of favour.
Bowen is another who could be worth a look as the January signing has a goal and two assists from his five Premier League starts now.
Both he and Antonio are hardly popular – owned by 0.1% and 0.8% respectively – which marks them out as major differentials.
And although Gameweek 21 was the last time the Hammers kept a clean sheet, their schedule involves a number of games that don’t exactly scream goals, so a low-cost punt such as Issa Diop (£4.3m) might be worth considering as well.
What’s for definite is that neither side is about to start thinking of the beach any time soon, leaving Fantasy managers with a number of motivated players to pick from as the season draws to a close.
West Ham United United XI (4-5-1): Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Soucek, Rice, Bowen (Yarmolenko 78′), Fornals (Balbuena 90′), Lanzini (Wilshere 68′); Antonio.
Chelsea XI (4-2-3-1): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Christensen, Alonso; Kovacic (Mount 52′), Kante; Pulisic, Barkley (Loftus-Cheek 63′), Willian; Abraham (Giroud 63′).