In the end it was rather tame. Kai Havertz scored either side of half-time to settle the south west London derby and leave Fulham staring at an immediate return to the Championship. Defeat at the hands of Thomas Tuchel’s well-drilled and accomplished outfit leaves Scott Parker’s side nine points adrift of safety with four games left.
Fulham had started brightly hoping to catch their neighbours cold after their European exploits in midweek. The only signs were promising with only a well-timed tackle from Andreas Christensen preventing Ademola Lookman from a sight of goal and a couple of shaky clearances suggesting that the visitors might profit from their persistent pressing. Antonee Robinson offered more evidence of Fulham’s sense of adventure when he stripped Havertz of possession and surged up the left flank. Only an alert bit of goalkeeping from Edouard Mendy prevented the strugglers from taking the lead.
Chelsea responded quickly. Mason Mount was afforded far too much time and space on the edge of the Fulham box and conjured up a cross that was inches away from the sliding Timo Werner. The German might have been fractionally offside, but it was a timely reminder of the threat posed by Chelsea’s player of the season. Fulham didn’t heed the warning – as Mount played a pivotal part in the opening goal that arrived two minutes later.
Tuchel’s side went a bit more direct from a short goal kick as Thiago Silva lifted a high ball over the Fulham midfield. Mount ran off Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa to move into a threatening position, controlled the ball magnificently and then produced a wonderful weight of pass to release Havertz. The German playmaker didn’t even have to break stride as he held off Ola Aina and finished coolly past Alphonse Areola. He was denied a second almost immediately by a correct offside flag – and despite a shaky spell – Fulham didn’t cave in.
Robinson recycled a half cleared corner ten yards inside the Chelsea half with a lovely floated ball into the inside right channel. Lookman’s low curler carried plenty of power but Mendy’s reactions were enough to prevent an equaliser. Parker’s charges continued to probe, dominating possession, but they lacked an outlet in the area when the ball reached the final third with Josh Maja outnumbered by three centre backs.
Chelsea should have settled the contest before half time. First, Werner unselfishly pulled the ball across goal having run clear down the right but an instinctive save from Areola denied Hakim Ziyech. The French goalkeeper – so often Fulham’s saviour this season – was then on hand to foil Werner, who couldn’t get the necessary power behind his shot from the left angle of the box.
While the deficit was just one, Fulham remained in with a chance of the victory they craved to put some life into their bid to beat the drop. Belief would have been enhanced by the way they ended the first half. Former Chelsea defender Aina caught one beautifully on the edge of the area and, a deflection off Reece James, almost wrongfooted Mendy. The Chelsea goalkeeper managed to get a hand to it – and the rebound spun agonisingly out of Bobby Decordova-Reid’s reach.
Any hopes of a Fulham revival were dashed just two minutes into the second half. A delightful Chelsea move saw the advanced Ben Chilwell feed Havertz, who spotted that Werner had dropped into space in front of the Fulham defence. Werner threaded a gorgeous return ball through the visitors’ rearguard and Havertz rolled in his second goal of the afternoon to hammer another nail in Fulham’s coffin.
Parker’s side had given plenty in what was a very watchable derby but the second goal knocked the stuffing out of Fulham. There was a first Premier League appearance for eighteen year-old attacking midfielder Fabio Carvalho, who almost came close to a consolation goal in stoppage time after linking up with Aleksandar Mitrovic but ended up connecting with Mendy’s head rather than the ball as the Chelsea goalkeeper hared off his line.
The game is almost mathematically up for Fulham and, as Parker conceded in his midweek press conference, the club faces a massive rebuild to prepare for life in the second tier.
CHELSEA (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Christensen, Silva, Zouma; James, Chilwell (Alonso 81), Gilmour, Mount (Abraham 76); Ziyech (Kante 66), Werner; Havertz. Subs (not used): Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Anjorin, Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi.
GOALS: Havertz (10, 49).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, Robinson, Adarabioyo, Andersen; Lemina (Carvalho 78), Anguissa; Cavaleiro (Onomah 78), Decordova-Reid, Lookman; Maja (Mitrovic 81). Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Odoi, Ream, Tete, Bryan.
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicester).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Darren England (Doncaster).