SW6 derbies are typically not the most fiercely contested in England, but this one had to be, with both sides desperate for all three points for very different reasons. But one man clinically decided the destination of the points in just 16 second-half minutes.
Andre Schurrle. The German, who has taken his time to settle in to life at Stamford Bridge since his £18m arrival from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer, excelled at the Cottage as he produced his most impressive performance in Chelsea blue to date. His quick-fire hat-rick proved enough to extend our lead to four points as Liverpool moved above Arsenal in what was a hectic day in the Premier League.
Prior to Schurrle’s goal-scoring exploits, it had been an arduous away assignment down the Thames Path as Fulham proved to be a tough nut to crack during the opening 45 minutes. Clear-cut chances were few and far between, with Jose Mourinho’s men producing an uninspired display. Excusable, given their Turkish ventures in mid-week and the unfavourable scheduling of this match.
Fulham ‘keeper Maarten Steklenburg possessed the look of a figure who had flown from Australia on Friday as his lumbering antics came close to costing his team early on. Minutes after Fernando Torres came inches from making the most of the Dutchman’s error, the Spaniard went close again. After Steklenburg had demanded too much time for his in-play goal-kick, Torres pounced and as pushing ensued, instead of squaring the ball into the path of Oscar, he opted to shoot wide.
As Felix Magath strolled down the tunnel at the Cottage, delighted with what he had seen, no doubt to deliver an encouraging half-time team-talk, it could hardly be any more contrasting to the one Mourinho had planned. Jose simply did not say a word to his players. Enough motivation it was, as the second period was to prove.
Eden Hazard, who had been quiet up until then, burst into life, brilliantly releasing Schurrle who latched onto his pass and slotted home under the despairing Steklenburg.
Hazard began to make a significant contribution to the match. The Belgian excellently nutmegged Fulham right-back Sascha Riether before standing up a superb cross with a wonderful rabona for Torres, who was beaten to the ball by Kieran Richardson. What an assist that would have been.
As “There’s only one team in Fulham” belted out from the away end, Hazard combined with Schurrle once again to deadly effect. The former Lille wing-man sublimely, almost casually, played in his German counter-part who finished clinically. After a disheartening start to his maiden season in the Premier League, the 23 year-old is certainly staking a claim for himself to become our number nine, a position in which he flourished at Bayer Leverkusen.
Only five minutes later, his hat-rick was complete courtesy of his accomplished finish past Steklenburg which followed Torres’s intelligent through-ball. Johnny Heitinga’s late goal slightly dampened an excellent second-half performance as his stabbed finish denied us a clean-sheet. Yet, our overcoming of the many adversities we were confronted with is surely the mark of champions.
After returning to London on Thursday following our Champions League exploits in Istanbul, the players did not train ahead of this derby encounter and instead focused on recovering to play again less than 72 hours later.
Jose made two changes from the side which drew at Galatasaray as Nemanja Matic, who was ineligible for the mid-week encounter, and Oscar replaced Lampard and Willian respectively.
Our back four, despite conceding a needless goal late on, were generally solid. Schurrle and Hazard were revitalized after the interval while Oscar, as confirmed by Mourinho, seemed to be suffering from fatigue.
Samuel Eto’o was omitted from the 18-man matchday squad with some claiming his absence was a cause of a rift between Jose and the Cameroon international following the boss’s recent disparaging comments about his age.
Starting XI: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Ramires, Matic, Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard, Torres.
Subs: Schwarzer, Cole, David Luiz, Mikel, Lamaprd, Willian, Ba.