Chelsea took a huge step towards securing a Champions League spot as Timo Werner’s first goal since February helped Thomas Tuchel’s side beat top four rivals West Ham.
Werner, who has struggled to make a significant impact since joining for £47m last summer, started and finished the move that settled a tightly-fought game.
The Germany forward fired home from Ben Chilwell’s cross after a well-worked move involving Christian Pulisic, Werner’s sixth Premier League goal since arriving from RB Leipzig.
West Ham struggled to create chances and finished the game with 10 men after Fabian Balbuena was shown a straight red card in the 81st minute after catching Chilwell’s leg with his follow through while making a clearance.
Referee Chris Kavanagh watched a replay on the pitchside monitor before dismissing the Paraguay defender.
The Hammers remain fifth in the table, three points behind Chelsea, after Liverpool’s failure to beat Newcastle earlier on Saturday.
In what was billed as a huge game in the race for the top four, West Ham were hoping to deliver a victory for the underdog at the end of a week when the so-called “big six” tried to break rank and join the European Super League.
David Moyes’ side have enjoyed a fine run of form to raise hopes they could secure a Champions League spot.
However, they did not register an attempt on target until after half-time as Chelsea extended their unbeaten run away from home under Tuchel to 10 games in all competitions.
West Ham wanted a penalty when the game was goalless after Tomas Soucek’s shot struck Cesar Azpilicueta in the torso before hitting his arm, while Werner missed a glorious chance to double the lead after Mason Mount’s shot was parried into his path but the striker screwed it wide.
Perfect start to a big week
This was the perfect start to a testing week for Tuchel’s men as they opened up a three-point cushion between fourth and fifth spot in the table.
Having gone from the high of beating Manchester City to book an FA Cup final appearance, they were held by lowly Brighton as their fans made their feelings clear outside Stamford Bridge about their club’s planned participation in the European Super League.
They put that flat performance behind them, Chelsea doing enough to secure the points against West Ham before Tuesday’s huge Champions League semi-final first leg away to record 13-time winners Real Madrid.
Werner has had his critics but he produced a big shift which he capped with a smart finish.
Even before his goal he was lively although he was fortunate his miss after Lukasz Fabianski palmed Mount’s attempt straight to him did not prove costly in the end.
Chelsea were ninth in the table when Tuchel took charge in January but the FA Cup finalists now have a clear advantage in the race to finish in the top four.
Their success under the German boss has been based on strong defensive foundations and this was their 10th top-flight clean sheet in 14 games since Tuchel arrived.