Chelsea moved within two points of the Premier League top four on Sunday with a nervy 2-1 victory at local rivals Fulham. An evenly-balanced and surprisingly open game, the match was Fulham’s first since the sacking of Claudio Ranieri with Scott Parker taking charge of the team.
Chelsea took the lead within 20 minutes after Gonzalo Higuain savvily tapped home Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross. Fulham equalised seven minutes later via Calum Chambers before it was the divisive Jorginho that won the game for Chelsea with a beautifully placed finish from outside the box.
The following match analysis will discuss how Chelsea held out against a spirited Fulham team to earn a vital three points for the European push.
Home side Fulham lined up in the same 4-2-3-1 formation often deployed under Ranieri but with one change from the Italian’s last game in charge. Ryan Sessegnon started on the left-hand side of the attacking midfield-three with Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa dropped to the bench. Aleksandar Mitrovic started as a lone striker.
The most notable change for the visitors was the start in goal for Kepa Arrizabalaga, his first since the infamous substitution debacle in the Carabao Cup final. Two members of the back-four also changed from their last league game. Andreas Christensen replaced David Luiz and Emerson replaced Marcos Alonso at left-back. Pedro, despite scoring against Spurs in midweek, was dropped in favour of Willian.
Jorginho’s return to form
After a string of disappointing performances that left many in the British media questioning his abilities, Jorginho was excellent in Sunday’s game. A constant influence from the midfield, the Italian international completed three key passes and scored the winning goal in his deep-lying role. Jorginho controlled the tempo of the match, why he was so successful in Naples.
His role was the same as always for Chelsea, receiving the ball from the centre-backs and progressing play from deep, but the relative lack of central-midfield pressing from Fulham allowed him more freedom and expression than in previous outings. The shot below sees him finding space in the midfield and offering a passing option to Christensen.
The undoubted highlights of Jorginho’s game were two spectacular long balls for Gonzalo Higuain in the first half. Though the Argentine failed to convert either of the chances, they showed Jorginho’s ability and reading of the game.
As a midfield-three, Jorginho, Kante and Barkley looked the most fluent they had in months. The image below shows their usual midfield shape. Perhaps due to the criticism of N’Golo Kante’s new position in Sarri’s system, the Frenchman has taken up a more defence-oriented role since the Carabao Cup final. In the game, he often sat in a deep-two within the midfield-three, alongside Jorginho. He still pushed up in certain areas and provided an overlap on a couple of occasions for right-winger Willian.
Jorginho and Kante were both excellent in the game and showed that they can in fact work well together in Sarri’s system. For Jorginho, it’s telling that Chelsea’s possession stats and defensive solidity both nosedived when he was substituted with 20 minutes left. He will feel, though, that for now at least, he seems to have silenced his critics.
One of the biggest changes in personnel from Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Tottenham last Wednesday was Andreas Christensen being chosen at centre-back over David Luiz. The common consensus on David Luiz is that he works better in a back-three, so Christensen’s slow integration into the starting lineup makes sense. The Dane was fantastic on the day as he showed maturity and poise beyond his years at centre-back.
Alongside Antonio Rudiger, the 22-year-old effectively dealt with both the aerial threat of Aleksandar Mitrovic and the speed and agility of Ryan Babel in Fulham’s attack. The image below shows his intelligence in the game as he shepherds the ball out of play away from Ryan Sessegnon.
Christensen also showed adept ball-playing ability at points in the game. In the shot below, we can see Christensen confidently dribbling to the halfway line, after which he played a pass to N’Golo Kante who was then fouled. Chelsea then scored a goal in a move started by the resultant free-kick. This is one example of the impact that Christensen had not only in defensive areas but going forward as well.
His performance was not flawless, however. Chelsea’s backline did keep the score down to 2-1 but Fulham could very easily have drawn the game and they were lucky that Ryan Sessegnon was an inch offside when he scored late on. One example of Christensen’s naivety at the back in the game was his run out of position that left Tom Carney exposed – with Rudiger having to step in to stop a certain goalscoring opportunity.
Chelsea’s forward movement
Chelsea’s forward movement was a highlight of the game. Hazard and Willian effectively swapped wings throughout the 70 minutes they were on the field together and Hazard and Higuain showed good chemistry. Higuain looked very lively in the first half especially and after wasting a golden opportunity to take the lead early on, he made no such mistake later in the game.
For Chelsea’s opening goal, Azpilicueta made a trademark overlapping run on the right-hand side and drilled in a cross which Higuain savvily tapped home.
The second goal showed even better attacking co-ordination from Chelsea. As the shot below shows, after Hazard makes one of his typical attacking runs, left-back Emerson overlaps on the left-hand side whilst Higuain and Willian occupied the centre-backs in the penalty area. This freed up space for Jorginho on the edge of the box who had the time and individual skill to place a beautiful finish into the top right corner.
The attacking movement in the first half for Chelsea against Fulham was some of the best we’ve seen from them this season. The visitors could have very easily been three or four goals up when the referee blew for half-time.
Positives for Fulham
However, it maybe Fulham who take more positives out of the game. In his first team selection as a manager, Scott Parker mainly chose the players who helped Fulham to promotion last season. These trusted faces included Tim Ream, Kevin McDonald and Tom Cairney, all of whom had been in and out of the side in Ranieri’s tenure. Though this team selection and formation left summer signings on the bench, it led to a more cohesive team performance overall.
Perhaps the key attacking outlet for Fulham was Ryan Sessegnon who once again proved his credentials at the top level with a solid performance at left wing. Cesar Azpilicueta was caught out of position a few times on the right-hand side of defence and was exposed by clever interplay between Cairney and Sessegnon several times in the first half.
Fulham also had some joy on the right wing in the first half via Ryan Babel. The Dutchman was one of Fulham’s best players early on with his pace, skill and strength. Babel often cut inside the penalty area to make a front-two with Mitrovic. He also dropped deeper into midfield to press. Though Emerson Palmieri may have been chosen at left-back for Chelsea because of his defensive stability, he was often caught out by Babel who was in far too much space on the wing.
Looking at the game as a whole, it’s safe to say both teams have their fair share of problems. Chelsea’s midfield and attack looked fluent but the wide areas looked exposed, whilst Fulham had a lot of chances but lacked a cutting-edge. Ultimately, the scoreline seems justified as the defensive nous of Chelsea’s two-centre backs and some sensible substitutions saw the visitors over the line.
Next up for Fulham is a trip to another club with a recent managerial turnover, Leicester City, before hosting Liverpool on 17 March. Meanwhile, Chelsea host Dynamo Kyiv in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie on Thursday. They then play Wolves on Sunday, as their push for the top four continues with a game-in-hand over Manchester United and Arsenal.
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