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Gonzalo Higuain, Jorginho Lead Chelsea Past Fulham in 2019 Premier League Match

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2019

Chelsea's Gonzalo Higuain, left, challenges for the ball with Fulham's Calum Chambers during the English Premier League soccer match between Fulham and Chelsea at Craven Cottage stadium in London, England, Sunday, March 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Tim Ireland/Associated Press

Chelsea closed the gap on Manchester United and a place in the top four of the Premier League to just two points after beating Fulham 2-1 in a west London derby on Sunday.

Goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Jorginho, who netted the winner 14 minutes before the break after Arsenal loanee Calum Chambers had equalised for Fulham, ensured the Blues left Craven Cottage with all three points.

Chelsea stay sixth but have played a game less than nearest rivals Arsenal and United in the race to qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League.

              

Kepa Is Worth the Hassle

Chelsea have spent a significant amount of time recently answering questions about their goalkeeper. Kepa Arrizabalaga has been fined, dropped and recalled since refusing to be substituted ahead of the penalty shootout during the Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester City.

Arrizabalaga proved his worth.
Arrizabalaga proved his worth.GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

While Maurizio Sarri may have found the questions annoying, he can take heart that the former Athletic Bilbao stopper will prove to be worth the hassle. There were doubts about Arrizabalaga even before events at Wembley, with concerns rising about his ability to handle the physical nature of England's top flight since becoming the most-expensive player on the planet at his position last summer.

Yet there are signs the 24-year-old is starting to get to grips with life in a new league. The £71 million man produced a remarkable stop during the first half to rebuff a well-struck volley from Fulham danger man Aleksandar Mitrovic.

It was an astonishing display of athleticism only possible from a 'keeper possessing rare talent. Second-half saves to deny Tom Cairney and Joe Bryan also showcased why Chelsea are right to continue trusting their No. 1.

His best save may have come seconds before stoppage time, when he reacted in a flash to claw away a Mitrovic header from close range.

Nizaar Kinsella @NizaarKinsella

Chelsea fans chanting for Kepa: "It's Kepa, you know, better than Thibaut." I think they are over his act of defiance after that save. #CFC #FULCHE

Yet for all the eye-catching moments, Arrizabalaga is still guilty of a gaffe or two.

Match of the Day @BBCMOTD

😱😱😱 Kepa Arrizabalaga loses the ball in the box with Ryan Babel dangerously close, but the Chelsea keeper gets lucky and regathers it. Live👇 https://t.co/EmaY4L1IeM #bbcfootball #FULCHE https://t.co/hHW2rlpqt8

The mix between the sublime and the ridiculous offers similarities with David De Gea's rocky start to his Premier League career. Now arguably the best goalkeeper in football, De Gea initially struggled at Manchester United, showing a physical frailty and some nervy decision-making.

His raw talent was never in question, though. Nor can Arrizabalaga's core ability be questioned.

He's under the spotlight for the wrong reasons, but Chelsea will be rewarded for showing patience with their headstrong stopper.

          

Higuain is Chelsea's X-Factor in Top-4 Race

Opinion is likely still divided on Higuain's slow start to his loan spell with Chelsea. Yet a closer look reveals a proven goalscorer steadily getting used to the pace of play in England.

Higuain endured some moments to forget at Craven Cottage, such as missing two excellent first-half chances when one-on-one. However, credit to the 31-year-old for not being deterred, with his perseverance rewarded after 20 minutes, when he swept in from a Cesar Azpilicueta delivery.

The finish was typically emphatic from a player who was prolific during spells with Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus. His time at Napoli included working with Sarri, a relationship that continues to bear fruit:

Sky Sports Statto @SkySportsStatto

⚽️ Gonzalo Higuain scores his 41st goal in 50 apps under Maurizio Sarri Higuain European club record Goals 2️⃣7️⃣8️⃣ Apps 5️⃣4️⃣5️⃣ https://t.co/cYeryPRLiL

Sarri's ability to get the best out of Higuain is Chelsea's X-factor in the race to finish in the top four. The Italian's progressive, possession-based tactics demand a ruthlessly efficient frontman to turn pretty passing into decisive end product.

Few are better at finishing moves than Higuain. While he's still working to get his radar set in Chelsea blue, it won't be long before he's finding the net with regularity.

Those goals, coupled with a game in hand, will be Chelsea's edge over United and Arsenal. 

                 

What's Next?

Chelsea host Dynamo Kiev in the UEFA Europa League last 16 at Stamford Bridge on Thursday. Fulham next return to action with a trip to Leicester City on Saturday.

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