Chelsea vs. Fulham: 6 Things We Learned
It was far from vintage, but goals from Oscar and John Obi Mikel secured a welcome three points.
Jose Mourinho looked relaxed, even during a bitty opening 45 minutes, but there is much to work on, and here are the six things we learned from the win.
Jose Mourinho Has No Faith in Juan Mata
Chelsea’s player of the year for the past couple of seasons has found life tough since Mourinho returned to the Bridge in the summer.
Against Fulham, Mata was not given the opportunity to show he can adapt, as he was not even in the squad.
For much of the contest, Chelsea looked like Mata's presence was sorely missed. The Blues huffed and puffed and found it extremely tough to break Fulham down. But Mourinho was vindicated in the end with the 2-0 win.
The Inside-Outside Debate
Fifteen minutes in at Stamford Bridge, Eden Hazard tumbled under a challenge in the box from Sascha Riether.
It was not a grievous foul by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a clear push in the back—one Hazard made the most of.
It was a challenge that had Chelsea fans screaming for a penalty. It was the sort of challenge that, had it been outside the box, would almost certainly have been given as a foul.
Riether took a nervous glance the way of referee Andre Marriner and seemed relieved to see the official allow play to go on.
But it raised the question, one that has been raised many times before and will no doubt be raised again: Why is such a challenge a foul when outside the box, but not in it?
Width Is Vital for Chelsea
For the opening 45 minutes, Chelsea's form was off and Fulham was able to contain them fairly comfortably.
Chelsea’s play was crying out for some width.
On 52 minutes, for the first time in the match, Andre Schurrle got one-on-one with Fulham full back Riether.
He glided past him with ease, fizzed a low cross that resulted in Oscar tucking the ball home from close range.
Mourinho has stacks of midfield options: Mata was not even on the bench, while Frank Lampard, Kevin De Bruyne and Willian were among the substitutes to back up Hazard, Ramires and Oscar.
For all the quality at Mourinho's disposal, he needs to find a blend that will allow his team to stretch the play on both flanks—which in turn will create space for his ball players in the middle of the park.
Samuel Eto'o Is in Desperate Need of a Goal
Samuel Eto’o started his third consecutive game, and his match sharpness will be improving.
He once again looked good, with some excellent movement and interplay, but he is crying out for a goal.
A golden chance came early in the match, when the Cameroon international showed the striking instincts are intact as he dashed in front of his marker to meet a low cross.
On another day the instinctive prod would have found the target, but it flashed narrowly wide.
John Obi Mikel Can Shoot
Mikel is not in the Chelsea team to score goals. If he was, the Blues would be in bother as he had gone some 260 games without finding the target.
On Sept. 21, 2013 (remember the day), he set things right by getting on the end of a John Terry header and volleying home.
It's his first goal since January 2007! Mikel slams home from close range after JT had headed down! 2-0! #CFCLive— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) September 21, 2013
For a player who had gone six years without scoring, he took the volley pretty well.
In the final five minutes, his every touch was greeted with calls of “shoot” from the Stamford Bridge faithful.
That novelty may soon wear off if Mikel reverts to type.
It's Not Actually That Bad
For 45 minutes, the Blues looked weighed down by pressure as they struggled to break down a stubborn Fulham side.
But the tide turned when Oscar stabbed home a loose ball on 52 minutes.
The remainder of the performance was not vintage, but Mikel sealed the win—and with it three points that took Chelsea to the top of the Premier League table.
So it has been Chelsea’s worst start to the Premier League for a decade. But they are top of the table.
Not that bad, then.