Chelsea took control of the battle to secure Champions League football next season as Timo Werner’s goal earned a 1-0 win over West Ham on Saturday. After a week dominated by England’s ‘big six’ aiming to guarantee top level European football every season via a breakaway Super League (ESL), Chelsea and Liverpool turned their attentions to trying to earn a top-four Premier League finish on the field. Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham were the other four English clubs involved in proposals for the ESL, which collapsed within 48 hours of its launch after a furious backlash from governments, governing bodies, players and fans.
The Blues are now in pole position for fourth as just a second Premier League goal in 22 games for Werner opened up a three-point advantage over the fifth-placed Hammers.
Thomas Tuchel blamed the distraction of huge protests outside Stamford Bridge on the night the ESL proposals crumbled for a 0-0 draw against Brighton on Tuesday.
The German made six changes with one eye also on the first leg of his side’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid on Tuesday.
However, Chelsea’s superior strength in depth showed against an injury-hit West Ham without Michail Antonio, Declan Rice and Aaron Cresswell.
“We did not talk one word about Super League from Tuesday on,” said Tuchel. “I felt everybody very concentrated and enjoying the focus on just the game.”
The result could have been very different had Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta not escaped strong claims for handball inside his own area as he deflected a shot wide midway through the first half.
Werner has failed to live up to his £50 million ($69 million) price tag since joining from RB Leipzig last summer.
But the German ended his two-month goal drought with a composed finish from Ben Chilwell’s cross two minutes before half-time.
After the break, though, Werner showed the profligacy in front of goal that has characterised his season as he somehow turned the rebound wide after Lukasz Fabianski parried Mason Mount’s long-range effort.
The in-form Jesse Lingard came closest to an equaliser for the hosts as his looping effort drifted just wide.
But the Hammers’ hopes were killed off 10 minutes from time when Fabian Balbuena was harshly sent off after a VAR review for his follow-through on Chilwell after clearing the ball.
“I thought it was a rubbish decision,” said West Ham boss David Moyes. “I think it is a decision made by somebody who has never played the game.”
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