'Chelsea the new champions,' says humbled Coleman

Fulham 1 - Chelsea 4
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The Independent Football

What else could Chris Coleman do than throw up his hands and declare that Fulham had been completely outplayed by the team he believes to be the best in the Premiership and bedevilled by a player he rates as one of the best in the world? "It might sound silly now, but we went out there to try and keep the ball," said Fulham's manager. Some hope. Coleman's team was systematically taken apart as Chelsea laid down another marker to support Jose Mourinho's belief that they can win the Premier League with games to spare.

What else could Chris Coleman do than throw up his hands and declare that Fulham had been completely outplayed by the team he believes to be the best in the Premiership and bedevilled by a player he rates as one of the best in the world? "It might sound silly now, but we went out there to try and keep the ball," said Fulham's manager. Some hope. Coleman's team was systematically taken apart as Chelsea laid down another marker to support Jose Mourinho's belief that they can win the Premier League with games to spare.

On this form it is no idle boast. Meeting Mourinho's demands, Chelsea keep the game simple and quick and are masters of the work ethic. "For us to have had any sort of chance today we needed all our players to be on top form and catch Chelsea on an off-day," Coleman added. "But we were not at our best and they were exceptional all over the field."

None more so than Arjen Robben, whose return from injury has given Chelsea an extra dimension. Quick, inventive, balanced and strong, Robben gave Moritz Volz such a torrid time that he must have felt his blood twisting. "Sometimes you need an individual who can open the door for you," Mourinho said. "Robben is one of those. Bringing him to Chelsea was not my decision. If it was Mr Ranieri, thanks a lot, you did your job. If it was Peter Kenyon or Mr Abramovich, they should become managers."

Two early long-range attempts by Andy Cole and Steed Malbranque that flew over Chelsea's bar suggested that Fulham might be up for the task. However, from the start Mourinho's team imposed the principles of swift interpassing and closing down quickly, inspired by John Terry, a towering figure in defence who also made sorties upfield. From one such inspired move, the England centre-back advanced into a shooting position only to be thwarted by a desperate challenge.

Seeming overawed by the opposition, Fulham could not break Chelsea's grip on the game and had no answer to Robben who began to run at the tormented Volz with greater frequency. After 12 minutes the Dutchman dropped his shoulder and sped past Zat Knight to send in a low cross that only just failed to connect with Eidur Gudjohnsen's surge into the penalty area. Next, Robben turned Volz again and held off Mark Pembridge as he used his acceleration to create another opening that Fulham struggled to deal with.

Chelsea went ahead after Claude Makelele had been fouled just outside the penalty area in a central position. Fulham put five men in a defensive wall but Frank Lampard's swinging strike in the 33rd minute gave Mark Crossley no chance of repeating earlier heroics in goal.

For a brief period in the second half, Fulham got more into Chelsea's face and equalised in the 57th minute when Lampard's headed clearance fell to Pape Bouba Diop who volleyed back into the net from fully 30 yards. Two minutes later, however, Chelsea were back in front. Displaying his marvellous agility and touch to the full, Robben danced past two tackles before stroking the ball past Crossley. All this while Mourinho was preparing to make a change, blaming poor concentration for Fulham's goal.

Coleman knew the game was up. "One minute we were back in the game, the next it was all over. The last of our confidence drained away," he said. After 73 minutes Chelsea went further ahead. Put off by Gudjohnsen's movement, Diop made a hash of dealing with Lampard's free-kick and William Gallas stooped to score with an easy header.

With Fulham now in complete disarray, Chelsea scored again, Robben's dribbling skills followed by a cute back-heel, setting up an opportunity that Tiago guided into the far corner of Crossley's goal.

Coleman shook his head. "I've just told my players you were played off the park by a class team, and thankfully you do not have to play opposition like that every week. They are the best team we have played this season and that includes Arsenal. We held Arsenal for an hour and should have taken something from the game. Today we were never at the races."

Goals: Lampard (33) 0-1; Diop (57) 1-1; Robben (59) 1-2; Gallas (73) 1-3; Tiago (81) 1-4.

Fulham (4-5-1): Crossley; Volz, Knight, Rehman, Bocanegra; Radzinski, Malbranque, Pembridge (McBride, 72), Boa Morte; Cole. Substitutes not used: Van Der Sar (gk), Legwinski, Hammond, Rosenior.

Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Gallas; Smertin (Tiago, 63), Makelele, Lampard; Duff (Kezman, 76), Robben; Gudjohnsen (Huth, 83). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Bridge.

Referee: U Rennie ( S Yorkshire).

Booked: Chelsea: Makele, Lampard.

Man of the match: Robben.

Attendance: 21,877.

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