For all of Andre Villas-Boas's insistence that he wants to impose a new philosophy at Chelsea, it was the strength of the old virtues which carried them past Fulham in the Carling Cup third round last night. Despite playing for 73 minutes with 10 men, their resilience and athleticism – an effort described by Villas-Boas as "super-human" – allowed them to have the better of two hours of goalless football, before their ruthlessness rewarded them with a penalty shoot-out success.
While Fulham had the game's best chance – Pajtim Kasami's penalty which struck the bar early in the second half – Chelsea created more, attacking with verve and daring even after Alex's dismissal. "To be with 10 men for 70 minutes and to create the most amount of opportunities and the best opportunities is something that's out of this world," said Villas-Boas afterwards. "It was very, very gratifying."
It was not until Fulham struck the bar from the spot a second time that Chelsea were delivered into the fourth round. Bryan Ruiz took the 10th kick of the shoot-out, needing to score to force an 11th, but his shot bounced off the bar, off the line, and then to safety.
Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, was not too downhearted, though. "A couple of months ago, I wouldn't have thought that my second XI could play a game like this against Chelsea," he said.
Villas-Boas's team selection reflected his mission of rejuvenation at Stamford Bridge. He has taken it upon himself to build a post-Jose Mourinho Chelsea, and last night he gave full debuts to Oriol Romeu, Romelu Lukaku and Ryan Bertrand, while Josh McEachran made his first start of the season.
While the opening spell did not exactly suggest that the pride of SW6 was at stake (there was barely a single tackle worthy of a derby), Chelsea's football was imaginative and enterprising. Romeu rewarded the trust put in him, looking utterly like a product of his Barcelona education. "He had an amazing game," said Villas-Boas. "His ability to receive the ball is something out of this world, his comfort with it is extraordinary."
Romeu, who started most of Chelsea's attacks while ending most of Fulham's, was stationed just in front of a well-advanced defensive line, so high up the pitch that the visitors' Orlando Sa twice nearly exploited it, but was denied both times.
Chelsea created enough good chances of their own, most of them down a left flank dominated by Betrand. The best, though, came when McEachran burst from midfield, only to have his shot turned in by the obliviously offside Daniel Sturridge, who immediately went off injured.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech did not emerge for the second half, having gone to hospital for a scan following a head collision, which revealed no injury. He was replaced by Ross Turnbull, who was immediately confronted by the drama which the first half lacked. Two minutes after the re-start Alex felled Kerim Frei in the box, and referee Chris Foy was compelled both to award a penalty and to send him off. Kasami could not convert.
In response, Villas-Boas introduced John Terry for McEachran. He switched to 4-4-1, and the first half pattern of play was reversed. Chelsea had to rely on counter-attacks, their most threatening weapon being the fearlessly charging Lukaku. Fulham, in contrast, started to play the delicate, precise football.
With neither team keen on adding 30 extra minutes to their schedules, the game opened up. First Turnbull tipped over brilliantly from close range before Zdenek Grygera had to scramble Lukaku's header from off the line.
As had been the case all night, though, the finishing did not live up to the approach play. Chelsea, powerfully improving as the game went on despite their disadvantage, had chances but could not save themselves the exertions of another short-handed half an hour.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech (Turnbull, h-t) ; Ferreira, Luiz, Alex, Bertrand; McEachran (Terry, 52), Romeu, Malouda; Sturridge (Lampard, 44), Lukaku, Kalou. Substitutes not used Mata, Drogba, Mikel, Bosingwa.
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Grygera, Senderos, Briggs; Kasami (Zamora, 79), Baird, Gecov (Sidwell, 90), Frei; Ruiz; Sa (Dembélé, 59). Substitutes not used Etheridge (gk), Riise, Kacaniklic, Halliche.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside).Reuse content