The Summer Series that began with such promise in Philadelphia finished with disappointment in Maryland as Fulham were beaten by two first-half Chelsea strikes and suffered further injury scares. Only a minute after Tom Cairney had limped off after pulling a thigh muscle, Thiago Silva headed the Blues having been left utterly unattended at a corner and once Christopher Nkunku had punished some dozy defending from Issa Diop, Kenny Tete collapsed in a heap on the Fed Ex Field turf having hurt his shoulder. The Dutch full back was fit to continue, but Marco Silva could have done without more fitness concerns on an afternoon when his shadow side were put to the sword.
The Whites had actually started well in Maryland, forcing a succession of corners with a combination of high-intensity pressing and a speculative shot from Harrison Reed that was deflected wide. But where Fulham’s set-piece delivery proved lacking, Chelsea’s was spot on. The Blues, who looked leagues above the slovenly side that Silva’s charges pocketed four points from last term, opened the scoring from their first corner when Silva leapt above Diop and directed a powerful header into the far corner of the net from seven yards out.
Bernd Leno made a series of strong saves to keep Fulham in the game – doing brilliantly to deny Enzo Fernandes a first Chelsea goal before the Argentinian somehow stabbed the rebound wide – but even the German couldn’t deny Nkuku a deserved goal after another calamity in the Fulham defence four minutes before half-time. Diop looked to have the ball under control just outside his own box but decided to try dribbling around three blue shirts and, although Leno made a magnificent stop to prevent Carney Chukwuemeka from scoring, Nkunku poached his third goal in four games from close range.
Silva sent on new signings Calvin Bassey and Raúl Jiménez right at the start of the second half. The pair immediately enlivened the Whites, with the Mexican forward’s intelligent movement and link up play posing problems for the Chelsea defence. It was actually Bassey who came closest to scoring, directing a header from Willian’s corner wide of goal, but Jiménez wasn’t far away from turning in a Harry Wilson cross and Bobby Decordova-Reid forced a reflex save from Gabriel Slonina at the near post.
Chelsea might have extended their lead further but Leno denied substitute Nicolas Jackson by spreading himself well. The rhythm generated by Pochettino’s men was disrupted by constant changes, with Trevor Chalobah lasting only fifteen minutes at the heart of the defence before succumbing to injury. There was a welcome return for Andreas Pereira and the Brazilian saw a fierce drive blocked by Alfie Gilchrist as Fulham fought for a consolation goal on a day when they looked somewhat short of match sharpness.
The Whites fly straight back to London this evening as they step up their preparations with a week’s worth of training ahead of a final friendly against Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim at Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon. Silva will hope to have further signings in place by next weekend as this display demonstrated that his side are still short of where they need to be with less than a fortnight to the big kick off at Goodison Park on August 12.
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Slonina (Bergström 61); Gusto (R. James 45), Chilwell (Cucurella 45), Silva (T. Chalobah 45; Gilchrist 60), Humphreys (Colwill 45); Fernández (Gallagher 45), Santos (Casadei 45); Sterling (Jackson 45), Chukwuemka (Angelo 47), Nkunku (Hall 61); Burstow (Maatsen 45). Subs (not used): Arrizabalaga, Mudryk, Moreira Jr.
GOAL: Silva (20), Nkunku (41).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete (Mbabu 66), A. Robinson, Diop, de Fougerolles (Basey 45); Reed (Stansfield 81), Lukic (Harris 81), Wilson (Dibley-Dias 81), Willian (Pereira 66); Cairney (De Cordova-Reid 18); Vinicius (Jimenez 45). Subs (not used): Rodak, Borto, Parkes, Odutayo, Amissah, McCoy-Splatt, Godo.