A mature and disciplined performance saw Chelsea ease to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Fulham thanks to strikes in either half from Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.
In what was a game lacking in excitement and spark, two pinpoint through balls saw two of the most prolific strikers in the Premier League convert when one on one with the goalkeeper.
The result ensured that Chelsea maintained their 100% start to the Premiership whilst a tired looking Fulham side, after their exploits in the Europa League on Thursday, will hope to make it back to back away wins when they take on Aston Villa next Sunday.
The game started with Chelsea adopting their new diamond formation with Michael Essien being the unlucky midfielder to be left out on this occasion as John Obi Mikel took his place at the heart of the midfield with Frank Lampard at the head of the diamond. On the other hand, Fulham’s team had a conservative approach as the midweek injury to Andy Johnson saw Roy Hodgson play two banks of four with Clint Dempsey situated just behind lone striker Bobby Zamora.
The home side actually had their best chance of the match in the second minute as a low cross from the right saw Clint Dempsey turn Ricardo Carvalho but he fired his snap shot over the bar under pressure from the ever advancing John Terry.
That was as good as it got for Roy Hodgson’s men as the game entered a pattern of sustained Chelsea possession with the narrow diamond formation lacking width to break down the solid Fulham back line.
As a result, Chelsea were limited to long shots with John Obi Mikel illustrating the visitors problems in the 20th minute with a sweet strike that was slightly unlucky to drift just wide of Schwarzer’s left hand post.
John Terry replicated his teammate nine minutes later with another shot from 30 yards that once again failed to trouble Schwarzer who watched it harmlessly drift over the bar.
Just as it looked like Fulham were comfortable coping with Chelsea’s attacking plans, Nicolas Anelka found himself unmarked allowing him to play a perfect ball through to Didier Drogba who slotted home with relative ease past the despairing dive of Mark Schwarzer in the 38th minute.
The goal was harsh on the home team but it was clear that they were missing the pace of Andy Johnson to get in behind the Chelsea defence and to work the channels.
The second half began with Fulham’s best opening looking more likely to be a goalkeeper error than a well worked goal from open play. A simple long ball in the 50th minute towards Clint Dempsey saw Petr Cech stranded in no mans land but thankfully Ricardo Carvalho was there to head behind the empty goal for a corner. A weak long range shot from new signing Damien Duff a few minutes later was the best it got for Fulham in what was to become a frustrating 45 minutes.
The movement of Chelsea’s front two was continuing to trouble Fulham as this time a chipped ball from Anelka into Drogba saw the Ivory Coast international forced wide but still ensuring a smart save was needed from Schwarzer to keep Fulham in the game.
Once again, the game entered a period of stalemate which was briefly broken in the 71st minute as Frank Lampard, who had scored four goals in his previous two visits to Craven Cottage, scuffed a low shot across the goal with Michael Ballack unable to make the ground to convert into an empty goal.
Nevertheless, the game was realistically over for the Hodgson’s hapless players as captain Danny Murphy limped off with a niggling injury to be replaced by the defensive minded Chris Baird.
Chelsea effectively confirmed the result in the 75th minute as a role reversal saw Drogba this time provide the assist that saw Anelka round the goalkeeper with electric pace before simply rolling the ball into an empty net.
It was all too easy for the Blues who had been involved in a ferocious battle at Craven Cottage the previous December that ended with a 2-2 draw. Their task this time had been made significantly easier by the fact Fulham were missing their most potent striker in Johnson and had to play in the Europa League on Thursday evening. It will certainly be interesting to see what effect the extra Europa League games will have on Roy Hodgson’s small squad this season.
As for Chelsea, this result gives no further indication as to whether they will win the league this season. The jury is still out on the diamond formation as they will face better performances than the lacklustre Fulham gave today. However, it was clearly evident that Florent Malouda provides the only genuine width going forward whilst the full backs are relied on to contribute on a consistent basis. Chelsea supporters will certainly be highly anticipating the return from injury of Joe Cole as the tricky wide man will seemingly have a big role to play in any success Carlo Ancelotti’s team will have this season.
Subs: 62: Gera (off) Kamora (on), 70: Murphy (off) Baird (on), 75: Zamora (off) Nevland (on)
Subs: 81: Lampard (off) Deco (on), 85: Bosingwa (off) Hutchinson (on)
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