The opening six games of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign at Chelsea have been dismal to say the least. Before heading to Craven Cottage, they sat 15th in the table – having scored only five goals. Confidence was low and faith was being lost, and their recent streak of three games without a win transformed their clash against their local rivals Fulham into a must-win fixture.
But with only one win in their last five games, Fulham have also been struggling to find the back of their net. Marco Silva would be keen to rectify their lack of threat, while also ending his winless streak against Pochettino as a manager.
FUL: Leno; Robinson, Ream, Diop, Castagne; Pereira, Palhinha, Reed; Willian, Jiménez, Wilson
CHE: Sánchez; Colwill, Thiago Silva, Disasi, Cucurella; Fernández, Caicedo, Gallagher; Mudryk, Broja, Palmer
Chelsea started on the front foot and began creating chances immediately. In only the second minute of the game, Armando Broja was played in behind the Fulham defence, coming face-to-face with the goalkeeper. He calmly took the ball around Bernd Leno, and the Albanian striker was faced with two Fulham defenders on the goal line. However, in an effort that summed up Chelsea’s attack so far this season, Broja blasted the ball over the bar and into the crowd. The finish was far from optimal, but it was a positive early sign in a half that Chelsea would go on to dominate.
But rather than dominating a game and being unable to make their opposition pay, Chelsea managed to gain a reward for their impressive start. Levi Colwill picked up the ball on the left flank and began driving into the Fulham half, playing a perfectly weighted chip into the path of Mudryk who had slipped out of Issa Diop’s eyeline. The Ukrainian chested the ball down well before expertly slotting the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper.Embed from Getty Images
Having gone through all of September without scoring a league goal, the delight within the Chelsea squad was evident, but it didn’t stop there. Only twenty seconds later, their euphoria (and their lead) was doubled – with Tim Ream looking to play out from the back, a misplaced pass allowed Cole Palmer to intercept and run towards the Fulham goal. He played a clever pass in behind Ream, but when the centre-back attempted to clear the ball, it ricocheted off Broja’s shin into the host’s net.
Chelsea looked back to their attacking best in the first half, and it was led by Cole Palmer. He caused the Fulham defence all sorts of problems in the opening 45 minutes by drifting inside from the right-hand side. He and the entire Chelsea lineup performed well, taking a deserved 2-0 lead into the break.
Their strong performance continued into the second half, despite Fulham’s attempts to pin them back. Just after the hour mark, Chelsea created a fantastic opportunity to extend their lead even further. Thanks to a combination of the woodwork and some quick reactions from Leno, however, Fulham remained within touching distance.
After a difficult evening, Fulham’s ability to stay in the game and reluctance to give up almost paid off. A well-worked move resulted in Tom Cairney with the ball on the left-hand side of Chelsea’s penalty area. He played a fantastic low cross into the box where he found Saša Lukić only six yards out, but the substitute’s effort was straight at Robert Sanchez who managed to keep the score at 2-0.
Fulham’s second-half performance was far greater than the one they produced in the first 45 minutes, but Chelsea’s defence stood firm against the waves of pressure. The three points gained will be massive for Chelsea, and it sees them move above Fulham into 11th. The upcoming fixtures for the two-time Champions League winners are extremely difficult, so Pochettino and his staff will be hoping to use this win to create momentum heading into the difficult period.
Similarly, Fulham have a difficult patch coming up in the next few months but face a struggling Sheffield United next weekend. After the defeat against Chelsea, this game becomes even more important as points may be hard to come by in the near future, so Silva will be desperate to get a reaction out of his players.