Chelsea 2 Fulham 0 match report: Blues uninspiring in climb to the top
Oscar and Mikel earn victory but Mourinho has much work to do
“We will give you happiness,” Jose Mourinho promised in his programme notes. He did not specify that it would be today, when there were too many periods of doubt and frustration for the home crowd, but from the worst start to a season in the Abramovich era - as well as a Champions' League home defeat by Basle in midweek - Chelsea now sit on top of the Premier League table; until this afternoon at least.
Although Fulham have just about the worst record of any club against their main local rivals - nine wins in 79 meetings now and one since 1979 - four of the last five League matches had been drawn before today and until Oscar's goal early in the second half they looked capable of achieving another. They did not, however, take their two good chances and were punished further by that collector's item, a goal by Jon Obi Mikel. It was his first in the League and only a third in almost 300 games, which sent many supporters home with a smile after all. Adding to their pleasure, their neighbours drop into the bottom three.
Afterwards Mourinho pointed to the League table in defence of his decision to leave Juan Mata not only out of the starting XI again but out of the squad. The manager has made it obvious that he regards the gifted Brazilian Oscar as first-choice for the creative playmaker's role just behind the main striker, one which he grew into today, improving during the second half as the rest of his team did. On Mata, Mourinho said: “He must work and adapt to a certain way of playing and has to learn to play the way I want - be more consistent and more participative when the team lose the ball.”
It was still significant that with less than half an hour gone, Oscar, Andre Schurrle - who had been ineffective as a centre forward away to Manchester United - and Eden Hazard had all done a shift in the central role with equally little success. Samuel Eto'o, in whom he has invested so much faith, played unimpressively in front of them and later made way for Fernando Torres, in whom Mourinho seems to have far less belief.
“The result was better than the result against Everton, but I think we played much better against Everton than we did today,” Mourinho added. “After a bad start that everybody kept telling me is the worst start for about a decade, I go to bed and look at the table nobody is in front of us.”
Four players did drop out after the loss to Basle - David Luiz and the midfield trio Willian, Marco van Ginkel and Frank Lampard. John Terry came in at the back and looked solid alongside Gary Cahill. They were caught out only once, when Darren Bent's pace should have given Fulham the lead. Pajtim Kasami, playing just behind him, sent a perfect pass between the two centre backs but the former England striker, just onside, allowed Petr Cech to save with his foot.
That was by far the best opportunity of the first half, David Stockdale in the visitors' goal being required to make no more than one save from the excellent Branislav Ivanovic, in between fielding crosses and corners.
Not surprisingly the away fans were by far the more satisfied come the interval, even chanting the name of their manager, who had been the subject of isolated calls for his head following last Saturday's draw at home to West Bromwich Albion. From the same end of the ground came taunts of “you're not special anymore” at Mourinho, who must surely have used equally harsh words to his team in the dressing-room.
Jol said: “At half-time we were really pleased, but in the second half they were more aggressive than us.” That aggression, a determination to win more balls, led to a goal seven minutes after the resumption when Stockdale could not hold shots from either Schurrle, cutting in from the left, or Eto'o, leaving Oscar with an easy task to put Chelsea ahead, as he had done against Basle.
Jol summoned the mercurial Adel Taarabt and there was an immediate reminder that the lead needed to last longer than the 25 minutes on Wednesday: Kasami flighted a free-kick beyond the far post, where Steve Sidwell headed weakly wide.
With seven minutes to play a header by Torres forced a fine save from Stockdale and from the resulting corner Terry headed down for Mikel to convert with an acrobatic effort for his first goal in any competition since January 2007.
Mourinho, meanwhile, has lived up to his promise to help English football by agreeing that his assistant Steve Holland should become the permanent coach to the Under-21 team under Gareth Southgate. Holland, who was briefly manager of Crewe, will stay at Chelsea, where on this evidence he still has plenty of work to do - top of the table or not.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Schürrle (Lampard, 80), Oscar, Hazard (De Bruyne, 85); Eto’o (Torres, 64).
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Stockdale; Riether, Hangeland, Amorebieta, Richardson; Duff (Taarabt, 64), Sidwell, Parker, Kacaniklic (Na Bangna, 72) Kasami (Rodallega, 85); Bent.
Man of the match Ivanovic.
Match rating 5/10.
Referee Andre Marriner.
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