Another London Derby awaited AVB and his weary side as they host Martin Jol’s Fulham at Stamford Bridge. David Luiz recovered in time to spare his manager grilling questions on his decision to keep Alex in the cold. Lampard returned to the starting lineup and Fernando Torres came in for Didier Drogba as Chelsea shuffled their limited squad in the festive fixture. Martin Jol made 3 changes from the team hammered 5-0 by Manchester United in midweek including the lively Kerim Frei.
Prior to kickoff, Fulham only managed to find the net 4 times away from home but it was Chelsea’s defensive frailty at home that was more worrying, conceding their 13th goal this season, as well as seeing their gap with the summit opening up to a potential 13 points after their 3rd consecutive 1-1 draw.
Play of the Game
Chelsea: Shortly after the break, Ashley Cole found space down the left hand side before whipping a cross to Torres inside the box; his first touch was poor but managed to hold the ball up against Hangeland before laying it to Juan Mata for a first-time shot that led to Chelsea’s only goal of the game.
Fulham: Philippe Senderos was unexpectedly driving forward into Chelsea’s half before he headed Dembele’s return pass to Bryan Ruiz on the right flank. A little piece of skill sent Ashley Cole the wrong way and Ruiz’s low cross across Cech was slid in by Clint Dempsey who otherwise had a more subtle day.
- A Fulham throw-in in Chelsea’s half in the 8th minute was nicely passed around by Dembele and Bryan Ruiz before squaring the ball to Dempsey to unleash a bouncing shot towards Cech’s right bottom corner.
- Mata’s cross from the right side was brilliantly chested down by Fernando Torres in the 15th minute 10 yards out but his first time volley was straight at the keeper’s arms and was denied a much-needed goal to revive his disappointing Chelsea career.
- Chelsea’s goal in the 46th minute came at the perfect time for them and Fulham’s gameplan was completely interrupted; however there were no changes to tactics to extend or protect the lead and eventually allowed Fulham to equalize shortly after 9 minutes.
- It was Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale’s show in the last 15 minutes as he did superiorly well to fend off great efforts from Malouda, Drogba and Meireles as they continually bombarded his goal charging for a late winner.
- Replaced by Fernando Torres in the starting lineup, Didier Drogba still wanted to steal his thunder by covering everything bus his eyes on the (cold?) Chelsea bench.
- Chelsea legend Jimmy Greaves, who scored 124 goals in 155 appearances for Chelsea, appeared at half time in a ceremony but the home crowd might have wanted more from him.
Fernando Torres has had another disappointing day in front of his own fans and it’s only a matter of time before his fans, manager and chairman gets enough of him; many would be confused as Sturridge, instead of him, made way for Drogba. Despite not play playing a high line, Chelsea still failed to keep a clean sheet at home and it is worrying as AVB doesn’t seem to figure out the reason behind his defense. Is Gary Cahill going to be a solution? Doubt it. The introduction of Malouda and Drogba, as well as the liberated Meireles after Lampard came off created glimpses of hope but the vital winner did not come.
The 5-0 loss was quickly forgotten as Fulham started the game fearlessly and confidently as Chelsea found little ways to win headers against the towering Hangeland or penetrate the organized midfield. Wingers Bryan Ruiz and Kerim Frei kept their markers busy and nervous and Dembele was just a handful. The West London team was patient in their build-up plays and dictated the tempo whenever they had possession, thanks to the evergreen Danny Murphy. Martin Jol will be more than satisfied with the mentality and morale of his team.
Best Performer of the Game
Moussa Dembele. The Belgian forward has finally adapted to the premier league this season and he was involved in both attack and defense at Stamford Bridge tonight. He danced around the field and kept the slow Chelsea midfielders chasing his heels all day. Playing behind lone striker Orlando Sa, he was also found in his own half nicking the ball away from the ineffectual Torres and closing down Bosingwa. He was unlucky not to register himself on the scoresheet as his drilled shot was just wide of the bottom corner after skipping past Romeu with style and ease.
Who could do better?
Andres Villas-Boas. His decision to start Torres and keep him on for 90 minutes had backfired with a lack of quality in the attacking force. Didier Drogba had 4 shots on target in his 20 minutes and many would wonder if the scoreline would stay the same had the Ivory Coast captain started the match. AVB’s failure to implement tactical changes after their early goal in the 2nd half was punished by a determined and persistent Fulham side shortly after. He threw on Malouda for Lampard 10 minutes later but few would understand why he would delay the introduction of Drogba by a further 10 minutes. Once again, AVB has little tendency to change formation during the game and prefers only direct substitution. It would be interesting to see how, and more importantly when he could turn things around at the bridge.