There were the usual flashes of class from Chelsea, but there was none of their trademark control. Slumped in his seat on the bench, Thomas Tuchel could not believe what he was watching. Chelsea’s defence had been pushed to the limit by West Ham and, by the end of a barmy encounter, he must have been wondering if his team have what it takes to outlast Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.
Twice Chelsea led; twice they were pegged back because of sloppy defending. Riding high in fourth place, West Ham were immense. Declan Rice was imperious, Jarrod Bowen’s endeavour was rewarded with a fine goal and it summed up a wildly entertaining game when Arthur Masuaku sent a fluke winner past Édouard Mendy, who had handed West Ham their first equaliser by conceding a foolish penalty.
This was an ordeal for Chelsea’s goalkeeper. He had toiled with the ball at his feet and the Senegal international was badly at fault when a mis-hit cross from Masuaku, who rarely looks like he knows what he is going to do next, flew inside the near post to put West Ham 3-2 up with three minutes left.
Chelsea, who have won two of their last five league games, could have few complaints when the final whistle blew. Mason Mount scored a stunner on the stroke of half-time, but too many of Tuchel’s players were below par. There were jittery displays in central defence from Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rüdiger, who could not contain Michail Antonio, and the other worry for Tuchel is that Chelsea did not create much, even after introducing Romelu Lukaku for the injured Kai Havertz at half-time.
An immobile presence in attack, Lukaku never looked like scoring for the first time since 14 September. West Ham shackled the £97.5m striker, even though they were forced into two defensive rejigs after losing Kurt Zouma and Ben Johnson to injury.
A resilient side, who were winless in three games, fought for everything. They were built in the image of their manager, who continues to make a mockery of claims that he was past his best. West Ham have progressed at an astonishing rate under David Moyes and, having seen off Liverpool and Tottenham at home this season, their push for Champions League qualification has even more momentum after beating the European champions.
West Ham, who saw Craig Dawson and Issa Diop rise to the occasion in central defence, refused to be cowed by Chelsea’s quality. Moyes had sent them out with instructions to stifle before striking on the break and the visitors looked uncomfortable from the start, their frustration clear when Jorginho was booked for dissent after a firm but fair challenge from Rice went unpunished in the 23rd minute.
Chelsea were ineffective despite monopolising possession. Hakim Ziyech wasted an early opening, but the breakthrough came from a set-piece, the marking from West Ham abysmal when Mount swung in a corner and Silva nodded past Lukasz Fabianski in the 29th minute.
West Ham, who sacrificed flair by switching to a back three, came roaring back. Vladimir Coufal, outstanding at right wing-back, forced Silva to clear off the line and another opportunity arrived when Jorginho played a short backpass to Mendy, who tried to dribble past Bowen before clumsily chopping the energetic forward down.
It was an atrocious error from Mendy, who has struggled lately, and Manuel Lanzini coolly tucked the penalty away.
Chelsea soon woke up, pouncing when Rice played Tomas Soucek into trouble. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, starting again in midfield with N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovacic injured, found Ziyech on the left and the winger lifted a diagonal pass to Mount, who waited for the ball to drop before opening up his right foot and directing a super volley inside the near post.
It was a special goal, although it did not help West Ham that Johnson was down injured as the move progressed. The left wing-back had to make way for Masuaku and there was another stoppage when Havertz went down after being caught by Zouma, who was not holding back against his old team.
West Ham needed more of that aggression. They pushed again after 56 minutes, Coufal beating Marcos Alonso to a loose ball. The left wing-back was punished when Coufal found Bowen, who spanked home a left-foot shot from 20 yards.
It was the first time Chelsea had conceded twice in a game all season. But they had also made errors against Watford and Manchester United. They lack focus at the moment and although Tuchel responded by introducing Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic, the second half passed by without Chelsea creating anything of substance.
West Ham, who moved Rice into defence after Zouma went off, were the likelier winners. Bowen missed an open goal after a barnstorming run from Antonio, but there was still time for Masuaku to score his first goal in the Premier League. Mendy completely lost the flight of the ball when Masuaku’s mis-hit cross swerved towards his near post and although Chelsea desperately tried to force an equaliser, their title chances had taken another huge dent.