Chelsea exorcised the demons of defeat to bitter rivals Tottenham by battling to a 2-0 victory in another London derby against neighbours Fulham, with Pedro Rodriguez and substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek getting the goals early and late for Maurizio Sarri.
Comprehensive though it was, last weekend’s loss to Spurs has not sparked a prolonged hangover. Chelsea were some way short of their fluid best but they were good enough to see off improved and motivated opponents, and Loftus-Cheek provided more evidence that he is ready to start.
Marcos Alonso will not have too many games where he is as bad as this going forward, but his defensive deficiencies are a recurring concern. Time and again Fulham found encouragement and space to attack down his flank, and better teams will not be so wasteful if given such opportunities.
Sarri stuck to his ideological guns despite criticism in the wake of the Tottenham defeat, and he was broadly vindicated here. Jorginho was effective despite Tom Cairney’s attempts to man-mark him and N’Golo Kante created Chelsea’s first goal from his more advanced role. Trusting in Loftus-Cheek to impact the game from the bench also proved inspired.
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 8 — Kept his cool to stick to Sarri’s passing philosophy without taking crazy risks even as Fulham pressed ferociously in the first half, and made a couple of crucial saves from Calum Chambers to protect their lead when the visitors pushed hard for an equaliser.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 — Has struggled to adapt to his changed role under Sarri at times this season, but this was one of his more solid days. Stefan Johansen got no joy out of him in the first half and Floyd Ayite fared little better in the second. Shuffled over to left-back when Alonso went off with a minimum of fuss.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 8 — Used the ball well and stood up to the physical challenge of Aleksandar Mitrovic. Also made one vital sliding clearance from a dangerous low Aboubakar Kamara cross that it would have been very easy to divert into his own net.
DF David Luiz, 7 — Rebounded well from his horror show against Tottenham with a composed performance under considerable pressure. He defended Mitrovic with the right blend of force and discipline, and his scrambling interventions saved Chelsea on a couple of occasions.
DF Marcos Alonso, 3 — Without doubt his poorest performance in a Chelsea shirt. Every cross was wayward, most of his passes were misplaced, and Fulham found it startlingly easy to work their way around or through him into dangerous crossing positions.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 5 — His form has dipped noticeably in recent weeks after a bright start, and he did not offer much of a positive impact to Chelsea’s attacking or defensive efforts. Ross Barkley and Loftus-Cheek are nipping at his heels for this starting spot.
MF Jorginho, 7 — Man-marked by Cairney from the first whistle, he nevertheless found ways to knit Chelsea’s play together from the base of midfield and maintain their hold on possession despite Fulham’s high pressing.
MF N’Golo Kante, 8 — Showed the best of what he can offer in a more advanced midfield role early on, dispossessing Jean Michael Seri, driving forward and finding Pedro to break the deadlock. His typical energy and positional savvy ensured that Fulham’s best chances came from the opposite flank.
FW Pedro Rodriguez, 8 — Provided pretty much the only moment of composure in a sloppy first half when he cut inside from Kante’s pass and slotted the ball beyond Sergio Rico. Showed similarly impressive poise to keep the ball when pressed by Fulham defenders.
FW Olivier Giroud, 7 — Did not get much of a chance to continue his recent hot scoring streak, but can always be relied upon to work hard for the team and provide a solid focal point for Chelsea’s attacking runners.
FW Eden Hazard, 7 — Still short of the rhythm that lit up the first two months of the Premier League, but flashes here suggested he is getting there. Showed brilliant awareness to pick out Loftus-Cheek for Chelsea’s decisive second goal.
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