Chelsea continued our perfect start to the new season with a 2-0 win at Fulham, as England won back the Ashes nearby. Perhaps, out of respect for the euphoria ensuing at The Oval, our performance at Craven Cottage was a little more subdued, but goals from Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka were enough to guarantee us a comfortable victory and a first clean sheet of the season.
Ancelotti showed once more that he has a bit of the Tinkerman about him, as he made three changes from the side that so convincingly beat Sunderland in midweek. Mikel returned to a deeper midfield three in place of Michael Essien, as did Florent Malouda, who replaced the impressive Deco. Lampard and Anelka were the forward two, with Drogba up front. Ricardo Carvalho also returned with Ivanovic dropping to the bench.
Chelsea’s first chance to threaten the Fulham goal came from a Michael Ballack free kick, after twelve minutes. However, our in form German midfielder’s shot comfortably cleared the crossbar of Mark Schwarzer’s goal. Beforehand, Clint Dempsey panicked in front of goal after turning Ricardo Carvalho and could only shoot high over Cech’s goal.
Ballack was involved again a few minutes later, when his header sat up invitingly for John Obi Mikel, whose screaming volley flew a yard or so wide of the Fulham goal from a full 25 yards out. Ballack also had a header blocked from all of six yards out.
On the half hour we were again restricted to a shot from range, the unlikely figure of John Terry lashing a fierce strike not too far over the bar from thirty yards out. The run of play was all Chelsea’s and it was only a matter of time before the breakthrough came, and when it did, it was a moment of beautiful incisiveness and purpose.
Lampard, perhaps fortuitously, beat two Fulham players in midfield before the ball fell kindly for Nicolas Anelka. Our French striker threaded a beautifully weighted pass into the path of Didier Drogba, who timed his run perfectly to avoid being caught offside. Schwarzer raced off his line to meet him, but the Ivorian comfortably rolled the ball past the Australian keeper into the far corner, to give Chelsea a deserved lead.
Cech was finally called into action a few minutes into the second stanza, punching away under pressure, and doing so excellently. The play was soon up the other end though, as Drogba caught Schwarzer by surprise with a snap shot on his left foot, forcing the keeper to react sharply and make the save.
Kamara and Baird came off the bench for Fulham, replacing the ineffective Gera and the injured captain Murphy, as Roy Hodgson looked to change the tide of the attack. Erik Nevland soon came on too, replacing the quiet Bobby Zamora.
However, on 78 minutes, the game was put to bed, and again it was quality passing that broke through the stubborn Fulham defence. Ballack moved the ball quickly on to Drogba, who, dropping deep played a perfect pass into the path of Anelka, who showed all his pace to leave the defence for dead. His first touch took the ball around the advancing Schwarzer, and with an empty net our golden boot winner from last season made no mistake in doubling our lead.
The last ten minutes were played out in relative ease, Ancelotti making two substitutions as he game drew to a close. Deco came on for Frank Lampard, who received a typical ovation, before Sam Hutchinson drew cheers from the Chelsea faithful when the promising defender came on at right back in the closing stages, replacing Jose Bosingwa. Having struggled with injuries, it was Hutchinson’s second first team appearance and his first in over two years, though he has been an unused sub previously this season.
Andre Marriner’s full time whistle drew a cagey encounter to a close, with Chelsea coasting home in the end, to preserve Ancelotti’s perfect start. Importantly though, the way our two strikers combined for the two brilliantly crafted goals is sure to worry even the best defences, as we look to build on the Hiddink era and attain success in each competition in which we compete.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Gera (Kamara 63), Murphy (c) (Baird 70), Etuhu, Duff; Dempsey, Zamora (Nevland 75).
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cech; Bosingwa (Hutchinson 86), Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Ballack, Mikel, Malouda; Lampard (Deco 81), Anelka; Drogba.
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti
Referee: A Marriner