A goal either side of half time was enough for Chelsea to secure all three points in the West London derby against Fulham on Sunday.
Pedro opened the scoring inside five minutes and Ruben Loftus-Cheek got on the scoresheet late on but the performance certainly wasn’t vintage against a relegation-threatened side.
The big news ahead of kick-off was that Olivier Giroud came in for Alvaro Morata while Pedro replaced Willian on the wing. The latter change paid dividends within minutes. N’Golo Kante won the ball in an advanced position before feeding the former Barcelona winger inside the box, he fainted past Maxime Le Marchand and slotted the ball into the bottom corner, giving the Blues the perfect start.
From there, the first half went flat with Chelsea dominating possession but struggling to cut through a surprisingly resolute visiting backline. Callum Chambers had Fulham’s first sighting of goal but his effort failed to properly test Kepa before Giroud couldn’t quite squeeze his effort past Sergio Rico at the other end. The French forward had another chance on the stroke of half time but the Cottagers’ Spanish stopper managed him to keep him out with an outstretched leg.
Claudio Ranieri, at his former stomping ground, obviously provided a much-needed team talk during the interval as his new side came out a different team in the second half. La Marchand then Chambers forced decent, but comfortable, saves from Kepa as they looked more likely to net the game’s second goal. Chambers looked accomplished in his new position in centre midfield and began to cause more problems but after wriggling into the box, his pullback was well overhit.
Morata, fresh from the bench, had the perfect chance to wrap up the points. Eden Hazard let fly from the edge of the box and after Rico parried into the six-yard box, the Spanish substitute sent his effort miles over the crossbar. Chelsea’s other sub, Loftus-Cheek, showed him how to score off the bench following a neat exchange with Hazard on the edge of the Fulham penalty area. His finish was composed and emphatic, as was his message to Maurizio Sarri who is still reluctant to start the youngster in the Premier League.
As expected, the game all-but finished at that point as a contest and the final 10 minutes were played at a canter. It’s a game that the Blues had to win and they did, showing more quality than they usually have after a midweek Europa League excursion.
Sarri and his players face a trip to the West Midlands on Wednesday night as they face another newly-promoted side in Wolves who have now lost both of their last two games.