Victory from the least ferocious derby in the calendar saw “in crisis” Chelsea temporarily move to the summit of the Premiership table.
The match itself was drab to say the least as Fulham adopted similar tactics to those offered by Basel. Sit deep and play on the counter. On another day Fulham would have gone in leading at the break, as Bent missed a glorious chance after decent build up play from Kasami and Parker in particular. The biggest talking point for the Blues in the first half was the strong penalty appeal when Hazard was bundled over from behind. A few wasted half chances aside Eto’o, Schurrle and co were largely anonymous.
A goalless half increased the frequency of the camera shots of Mata in the crowd and Mourinho looking tense. It was looking ominous when there was not a visible difference to the tempo as the second half began, but nerves were calmed when Oscar converted on 52′ following a scruffy move that came back off Stockdale and into the path of our Brazilian number ten. The release of tension was palpable and although Chelsea began to play with a little more freedom, Fulham were still creating half chances, probably safe in the knowledge that neither of the centre forwards we had to offer looked like they had a goal in them. The visitors continued to look solid and uncompromising at the back and frustratingly a little too much so as another penalty appeal for a foul on Ramires was not given.
Fortunately for Chelsea the Cottagers hard work meant that they began to show visible signs of tiredness at around 70 minutes and with the lion share of possession for much of the match, you felt that the second goal was inevitable and with a total of 13 corners there was always a strong chance that it would come from that source. The one surprising factor was that it was John Obi Mikel who scored the goal that effectively ended the contest after Oscar’s corner was teed up by Terry. Obi has looked pretty good recently and his first goal in over seven years capped another tidy performance in the middle. His every touch preceding his goal brought cries of shoot from the home fans.
On the whole, Chelsea deserved the win and did enough on the day. The one thing that has become apparent from recent performances is that Chelsea look fairly easy to stop at the minute. When it matters the most it looks like the ideas run out pretty quickly. It goes without saying that Chelsea would not get away with a performance like that against the better sides. Whilst it is obvious there are extra gears available if necessary, Mourinho’s ‘change of style’ reasoning does look on the surface to be another of his famous media rearguard defensive tactics. However, if the exclusion of Mata is part of this change then it will take time to click if Oscar is now the focal point and the majority of the offensive players are new.