Fulham 1 – 2 Chelsea

Match reports

The Times, Matt Dickinson: “It is as difficult to imagine Avram Grant in a fury as it is to picture a raging Bruce Forsyth, but the Chelsea first-team coach did blow his top at half-time yesterday. At the very least, he got quite cross. “When the players are sleeping you need to wake them up,” he said, and the late alarm call had the desired effect as Chelsea came from behind to record what was, ultimately, an easy victory.”

The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Chelsea continue to feature in the title race and that, in itself, is remarkable – they have won 10 points over the festive period despite having to play virtually a reserve side as the manager plots a shopping spree. Grant’s fury here might have partly reflected the reality that he had contributed to handicapping his own side by bafflingly asking Michael Essien rather than Mikel John Obi to anchor midfield. But that alone did not justify the visitors’ sloppiness.”

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “[Grant] just needed to break his players’ lethargic mood. [His] invective, which Michael Ballack confirmed had been a “bit loud”, shook up Ballack and company and a tactical switch gave Chelsea greater direction.”

The Independent, Jason Burt: “Ballack, finally injury-free, took responsibility then and he took responsibility throughout the second period, dragging his team back into proceedings. Maybe Chelsea have a new player in him, as well, as they desperately search to plug the gaps that have appeared due to their horrendous injury list.”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: “Chelsea can celebrate a very happy new year, at the expense of Fulham , whose Premier League survival hangs in the balance.”

The goals

10′ Murphy (penalty) 1-0
54′ Kalou 1-1
62′ Ballack (penalty) 1-2

The good

  1. Second half. No chants of “You know what you’re doing”, but perhaps there should have been. Avram Grant’s half time substitution and tactical switch turned out to be inspired. By all accounts he also dished out a much deserved bollocking. “I was not happy,” said Grant after the game. “If it helps to win, I can break chairs.” I’m beginning to quite enjoy his wit.
  2. Michael Ballack. Another impressive display from our current captain. His form since returning from injury against Aston Villa on Boxing Day has been top-notch. It gives rise to the age-old question: can he play with Frank Lampard? On the evidence of the last three games, which Lampard missed because of injury, and most of last season you’d have to say that it looks unlikely. Still, if Lampard decides to seek a fresh challenge at the end of this season, it’s heartening to know that Ballack can step into his shoes.
  3. Juliano Belletti, Michael Essien and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Essien was immense in the second half, wasted in the first: the holding role is not his best position. Overall Wright-Phillips was quite good, apart from the shot-cum-cross balls-up early on. Belletti was outstanding, and would have been my Man of the Match if it weren’t for Ballack. He occasionally lets himself down defensively, jumping in on occasions and leaving the right-hand side wide open, but he more than makes up for it going forward. He has a decent dead ball delivery and is capable of delivering raking passes out of defence. And to think there was all that fuss in the summer when Jose Mourinho signed him instead of Daniel Alves.
  4. Salomon Kalou. For all the criticism Kalou receives, you can’t deny that he’s done well in the goal scoring department in our last two games. Bravely headed home the equaliser after some great work by Alex, who had the measure of Fulham’s dire defence at set pieces. He was pretty much anonymous after scoring – but that’s Kalou for you.

The bad

  1. First half. One big New Year’s Eve hangover. Fulham were the brighter and more threatening side for the opening quarter of an hour and probably deserved their lead, though the penalty was a bit soft. Michael Essien was wasted in the holding role, while Steve Sidwell was ineffectual alongside Ballack. Grant’s decision to replace Sidwell with John Mikel Obi at the break, which allowed Essien the freedom to get forward, turned the game. In the end, we could, and probably should have won by more.
  2. Steve Sidwell. I’m not sure what to make of Sidwell. It wasn’t his fault we were rubbish in the first half – the whole team seemed lethargic. That said, he was anonymous and contributed very little. Like Claudio Pizarro, Sidwell doesn’t appear to have a long-term future at Stamford Bridge.
  3. Tal Ben Haim. Probably a bit harsh to include him here, as he had a decent enough game. He just doesn’t instil confidence.

Man of the Match

Michael Ballack.

Final thoughts

10 points from 12 over the busy festive schedule. Under the circumstances – 10 players out injured or suspended – it’s a pretty remarkable statistic (it’s also 4 points more than Mourinho managed last Christmas, when he too had a depleted squad).

With home games against Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool to come, the title race could yet prove to be more exciting than many of us predicted. It could also be determined by Grant’s dealings during the January transfer window. Nicolas Anelka, Maicon Douglas, Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Branislav Ivanovic, Daniel Alves and Kevin Doyle are just some of the players being linked with us.

Related links