Anelka sparkles as Chelsea put on flair show

Chelsea 3 Fulham 1: French striker inspires Hiddink's men to throw off their shackles and send warning to Barcelona
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The Independent Football

Chelsea, accused of kicking Barcelona off the park in midweek, produced the kind of football that might have impressed even the most devout of Catalan purists.

Guus Hiddink's side have been castigated for their stonewall defence in the 0-0 draw in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final in the Nou Camp on Tuesday night. But given licence to spread their wings against neighbours Fulham, Chelsea at times were a joy to witness.

There was even a piece of history for the club – strikers Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka scored in the same game for the first time. Many have said they cannot play together, but they combined brilliantly here to suggest Barcelona will have their hands full if they can repeat the trick in Wednesday's second leg.

Hiddink said: "If you have to play them as a central defender, you are worried because they are both so strong and fast. This certainly gives us options. We had a good result but I don't want to shut my eyes from the moments in the game when we were sloppy and made mistakes."

Fulham were in many respects the ideal sparring partners for Chelsea before Wednesday's clash. Roy Hodgson's side are top of the fair play league and there was hardly a bad tackle all afternoon. This has to be the blandest local derby in football, not exactly the El Classico clash with Real Madrid that faced Barcelona last night.

Hiddink has the utmost respect for Fulham's manager Hodgson, and showed it by selecting a powerful side, including John Terry, who was making his 400th appearance for the club.

Chelsea's leading lights made their presence felt with startling speed. In the first minute of the match they had the Fulham defence in a whirl of confusion with a superb one-touch move. Freed of the shackles worn so doggedly at the Nou Camp in midweek, Anelka, Florent Malouda and Drogba combined instinctively and Anelka applied the finish for his 22nd goal of the season.

But while the attack was free-flowing, Chelsea forgot the basics of defending, and a mistake by Alex after four minutes was punished by Fulham. The excellent Danny Murphy passed to Erik Nevland, who was played onside by Chelsea's dozing Brazilian, and the Norwegian powered a low shot through the fingers of Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. Sadly for Fulham Nevland soon had to leave the game, after a crunching challenge by Terry. His replacement Diomansy Kamara was virtually anonymous.

The Fulham goal was merely a blip for Chelsea. Their front three, showing the invention and flair missing in midweek, created Chelsea's second after 10 minutes. Drogba passed to Anelka and the Frenchman centred for his countryman Malouda to apply an extravagant finish.

Drogba had a goal ruled out by a narrow offside decision, and Lampard twice went close with shots from distance as Chelsea continued to flex their muscles.

Anelka was irresistible. Left out of the side that started in Barcelona, he seized his opportunity in impressive style. The much-travelled striker created Chelsea's third goal eight minutes after the interval, with a beautifully weighted pass to Drogba, who jinked past Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer to score.

Attendance: 41,801

Referee: Alan Wiley

Man of the match: Anelka

Match rating: 8/10