It was one of those afternoons where, for Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel, any win would do. They duly got it despite a sluggish performance and now that their extravagant transfer business is over, they may feel justified in plugging the line that the season begins here.
The slowest burn of affairs ended in near chaos and with West Ham furious at the refusal of what looked like a perfectly good equalizer from Maxwel Cornet.
Kai Havertz had just given Chelsea the lead, stealing smartly at the far post after a fine cross from fellow substitute Ben Chilwell, when Édouard Mendy dove to clear at the feet of Jarrod Bowen. The keeper could only knock in the way of Cornet, who finished strong.
West Ham celebrated but their joy was reduced when Andrew Madley was summoned to his monitor. VAR had correctly spotted that in his follow-up Bowen had cut Mendy off but the contact was light and in any case the ball had already flowed several yards and Mendy’s chances of correcting his error were slim.
The goal looked good, even when slowed to a speed that distorts too many decisions, but Madley opted to score it and West Ham were rightly furious.
“It was a ridiculously bad decision,” said David Moyes, who then went to see Madley. “I don’t want an explanation from them because it would have been difficult to give. I don’t think anyone can justify that.
Moyes saved the majority of his anger for Jarred Gillett, the VAR manager. “The sad thing is that this is the level of our elite refereeing at the moment,” he said. “I lost faith in them after that.
I’m more embarrassed for the VAR guy than the ref because that tells me he’s someone who doesn’t understand football and probably shouldn’t be near if that’s enough to send the ref to the screen.
Unsurprisingly, Tuchel disagreed. “My opinion is very clear, it’s a foul,” he said, before addressing the perceived injustice Chelsea suffered against Spurs three weeks ago.
He also said Mendy, who remained on the ground after the incident and was accused by Moyes of playing the game, suffered badly and would be a doubt for Tuesday’s Champions League draw against Dinamo Zagreb.
Prior to the outrage, a football game had taken place, but not much until Michael Antonio took advantage of another rickets from Mendy to score.
West Ham had started to come out of their shell after containing Chelsea with some comfort for an hour. Mendy saved a volley from Bowen but beat to the resulting corner after the ball looped over Lucas Paquetá’s shoulder. Declan Rice returned it for Antonio and, given how poor their performance was, it was no surprise that Chelsea were caught off guard.
Tuchel had told them to toughen up after the defeat at Southampton, but that seemed to come at the cost of anything improvised or instinctive. Raheem Sterling did his best to provide an element of surprise, but the main talking point before half-time was the obvious, if rarely examined, composure of £75m signing Wesley Fofana on his debut.
Watching from the executive seats, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang must have wondered where the odds he loves to gobble up could come from. When Chelsea finally created one, the source was unexpected. Chilwell had just been introduced with Havertz when he won a diagonal header from Thiago Silva and reacted strongly to the push past an unconvincing Lukasz Fabianski.
Fabianski had had no reason to get his gloves dirty before, but just after Cornet headed for a post he again scooped the ball from his net with a decisive combination from Chelsea Cavalry.
“We wanted to restart the season and today we did that,” said Tuchel, who felt his players allowed West Ham to slow down proceedings too soon.
At the end, the visitors were completely excited. “It’s up there with the worst VAR decisions made since entering the game. Shambles,” tweeted Declan Rice, who still hadn’t calmed down an hour after the whistle. Chelsea didn’t care.
Kai Havertz secures controversial Chelsea win as West Ham Street disallowed goal