Cech comes to Chelsea's rescue after tepid Torres draws a blank

Fulham 0 Chelsea 0
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The Independent Football

If part of Roman Abramovich's intention in spending £50m on Fernando Torres was for the striker to revitalise Chelsea's flagging defence of their Premier League title, then that part of the plan can now be said to have failed.

Chelsea have gained just one point from a possible six since Abramovich's decision to shatter the British transfer record to buy the Spanish striker, and instead of closing the gap on Manchester United, they have slipped further behind the leaders and currently languish 12 points behind.

Torres endured another blank night in Fulham, following his meagre debut in last week's defeat to former club Liverpool. Chelsea had goalkeeper Petr Cech to thank for not slipping to a second successive defeat, with a brilliant penalty save in stoppage time to deny Clint Dempsey.

Carlo Ancelotti bit the bullet and dropped Didier Drogba from the starting line-up, opting for a three-man forward line with Torres in the centre, and with Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda playing behind him in a Christmas tree formation. Ancelotti also brought in Ramires in midfield and gave a full debut to £25m defender David Luiz.

Chelsea dominated possession in the early stages, but struggled to make anything with it and it was Fulham who enjoyed the better early chances, with former Chelsea winger Damien Duff enjoying the chance to run at Ashley Cole.

Duff's low cross provided the first sniff of a chance for Andy Johnson, but Luiz was across swiftly to snuff out the danger. Duff then produced a surprise shot from distance that almost caught Chelsea goalkeeper Cech unawares.

Chelsea created very little, Frank Lampard and Malouda firing into the crowd at the Hammersmith End. Just before the half-time break Torres then wasted a couple of decent chances. He pounced on Ramires' clearing header, but after holding off Chris Baird he could not evade Aaron Hughes and fired a weak shot at Mark Schwarzer's body.

Then, in first-half stoppage time, he raced onto a raking ball from Luiz but his first touch with his left foot let him down, and Schwarzer smothered the danger, prompting the inevitable chants of "What a waste of money".

Chelsea increased the tempo after the interval but still laboured to create meaningful opportunities to score. Torres had a couple more half-chances, heading Ramires' cross over the bar, and then minutes later curling a shot over the bar.

That ended up being that from Torres, who was withdrawn in the 71st minute, replaced by Drogba. Malouda looked far more threatening when he received the ball. The Frenchman had Schwarzer scurrying across his goal with a thumping shot from distance that Fulham's Australian goalkeeper was relieved to see fly past his post.

Malouda also had a decent claim for a penalty when he was bundled to the ground by Brede Hangeland as the pair challenged for a ball from Ashley Cole but referee Mike Dean was not impressed.

While Torres again disappointed, the Chelsea support were cheered by the performance of Luiz, who was calm and composed in defence while also inventive and adventurous when breaking forward. One overhead cross he pulled off could only have been made in Brazil.

The former Benfica man however blotted his copy book by conceding a penalty for a needless trip on Clint Dempsey in the 93rd minute.

The American struck his spot-kick well but Cech dived to his right to keep the effort out, before a leaping Dempsey hit the rebound high and wide.

Fulham had other chances to continue their home winning streak, which had been extended to five games in all competitions before last night, but could not find a way past Cech.

Dempsey broke free of John Terry but Chelsea's imposing goalkeeper was alert enough to parry his fierce shot to safety.

Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Salcido; Dempsey, Sidwell, Murphy (Gera, 83), Duff; Dembele (Gudjohnsen, 83); Johnson (Davies, 74). Substitutes not used: Stockdale (gk), Kelly, Pantsil, Greening.

Booked Sidwell, Gera

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Essien, Lampard; Anelka (Kalou 65), Torres (Drogba, 71), Malouda. Substitutes not used Turnbull (gk), Ferreira, McEachran, Sala, Mikel.

Booked Ivanovic

Referee M Dean (Merseyside).

Attendance 25,685 Man of the Match Hughes

Match Rating 7/10