A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s trip to Fulham.
Chelsea made the short trip to Craven Cottage this Sunday as they took on local rivals Fulham. It is a trip that is traditionally a successful one for The Blues and confidence in the camp would have been high after the enthralling win over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday evening.
Maurizio Sarri made 5 changes with the main headline being Kepa Arrizabalaga return in goal. Andreas Christensen, Emerson Palmieri, Ross Barkley and Willian also returned. Meanwhile Marcos Alonso misses out altogether.
On Thursday Fulham parted company with former Blues manager Claudio Ranieri and replaced him with former Blues player Scott Parker. This would mean a club who always raise their game for Chelsea’s visit, but that would be amplified with the new manager syndrome.
Parker started his reign by making just 1 change to the side that lost 2-0 away to Southampton on Wednesday. Ryan Sessegnon returned with Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa making way.
The hosts started by attempting to hustle The Blues all over the pitch, but from Chelsea’s first attacking set piece Higuain had a great chance to open the scoring, but his header flashed wide. After that the host’s high level of effort started to make a difference. Mistakes from Emerson and Kepa almost allowed the hosts to take the lead.
However, throughout this period, Higuain was regularly finding space between and behind Fulham’s defence. And so it was only a matter of time before the Argentine striker would find the net and what a delightful shot it was.
But unlike under Ranieri, the Fulham players did not drop their heads nor their effort levels after going behind. The hosts built some pressure and it told very quickly. Kepa made a great save from Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the resulting corner was side footed in by Calum Chambers.
Then as the home support enjoyed their team’s equaliser, Jorginho broke up a Fulham attack and sent The Blues on another counter attack. The recently maligned midfielder was then on the end of Hazard’s pull back to side foot in a beautiful shot in to the top corner.
The now goal scorer was controlling the match, and yet again he chipped a delightful pass over the home defence for Higuain to run on to. However the striker blasted his shot over the bar.
It was a highly entertaining half which Chelsea dominated but Fulham certainly gave as much as they could. Sarri may have wanted the pace to slow down to allow his defence more protection from the home side’s high press.
The Blues continued an amount of control and dominated possession into the early periods of the second half. Eden Hazard, with his pace and his trickery, was regularly a thorn in Fulham’s side. But Chelsea were unable to increase their lead. This allowed the home side to build in confidence and create chances of their own.
As the pressure built up on The Blues’s goal, Kepa managed to keep everything out. The young keeper was dropped for Spurs midweek but he proved today that he can be a top quality keeper. He dropped the ball in the first half, but he kept his team in the lead during the second half. But it just showed how slim their lead was.
The visitors themselves were reduced to the odd counter attack and needed their substitutes for fresh legs thanks to the incredible amount of effort exerted by the hosts.
The win meant that The Blues moved to within just 5 points from Spurs in 3rd place and Chelsea still have a game in hand on all the teams above them. Victory at home to Brighton would place them back in the top 4 and only 2 points from 3rd.
For long spells in the first half the team looked very much like a Sarri side. Possession with attacking purpose and everyone closing their opponents down when not in possession. However his team then needed to do well to weather the storm in the second half as Fulham gave their new manager great cause to be optimistic for their remaining 9 Premier League matches.
Fulham only lost because they came up against a very good side who have some renewed belief in their ranks and battled very hard against The Cottagers efforts. Chelsea could have buckled, but they held firm and claimed all 3 points. The battle for the top 4 closes up even more.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue