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Fulham and Chelsea share spoils after eight-goal thriller

Fulham and Chelsea had to be content with a share of the spoils after a see-saw under-18 west London derby finished 4-4 at Motspur Park this afternoon. Luke Harris’ second half brace looked to have pinched the points for Ali Melloul’s youngsters but the home side were denied by the second of a pair of strikes from Jude Soonsup-Bell with six minutes left. The Blues also missed a second half penalty in a crazy game that cantered from end to end.

A scrappy start gave way to disaster six minutes in when Harvey Araujo slipped on the edge of his own penalty area, allowing Edwin Andersson to nip in and slip a simple finish under the stranded Alex Borto. The hosts almost offered an immediate reply with Prince Adegoke pushing Imani Lanquedoc’s rising drive over the bar after Araujo had conjured up a brilliant pass to find the midfielder. The young Whites drew level on eleven minutes when some patient build-up play culminated in Araujo delivering a lovely low cross for Jaylan Wildbore to find the corner.

That sparked a prolonged spell of Fulham pressure. Araujo almost made further amends with a header from Matt Dibley-Dias’ corner before Wildbore whacked a drive straight at Adegoke in the Chelsea goal. Dibley-Dias then drifted a delicious curler agonisingly wide, but Araujo grabbed the second goal with a fine header after the visitors had struggled to clear Delano McCoy-Splatt’s corner.

Chelsea came roaring back. Borto just about kept out Louis Flowers’ measured finish and then produced an even better save when Flowers turned provider, somehow denying Andersson with the goal gaping at close range. But the Blues were level two minutes later when Soonsup-Bell glanced a great header home from Lewis Hall’s devilish delivery. Ed Brand’s side stormed into the lead within three minutes when Soonsup-Bell surged down the right flank and sent in a cross-cum-shot that Borto batted away, but Andersson was on hand to power home from close range.

Fulham appeared shellshocked by the sudden turnaround but went on the front foot after composing themselves during the half-time break. Olly Sanderson might have brought them level in the early stages of the second period but the striker blazed over at the back post after a patient move unlocked the Chelsea defence. The lively Luke Harris went close with a low drive from distance and it was the prodigiously-talented Welsh teenager who levelled matters with a moment of magic ten minutes into the second half.

Harris, who has featured for Steve Wigley’s under 23 side already this season, gave another reminder of his unerring eye for goal when he curled a majestic right-footed finish into the far corner from 20 yards as Chelsea foolishly stood off him. The gripping contest appeared to have tilted towards the visitors again midway through the second period when Soonsup-Bell was brought down by Araujo in the area. The striker and Lewis Hall squabbled over who should take the spot-kick with the latter prevailing, only for Borto to pull off a brilliant diving save.

Substitute Michael Olakigbe then won Fulham a penalty at the other end and Harris blasted it straight down the centre of the goal to put the hosts ahead. But the young Whites couldn’t hold on to claim all three points as Luke Badley-Morgan’s cross was superbly controlled by Soonsup-Bell who turned to thump a terrific finish in off the crossbar. The only surprise was that the frantic finale didn’t produce a winner – but perhaps it was fitting that this pulsating contest ended all square.

FULHAM UNDER 18s (4-4-2): Borto; Tanton, de Fougerolles, C. Robinson, Araujo; McCoy-Splatt, Dibley-Dias (Okkas 90), Lanquedoc, Harris; Sanderson, Wildbore (Olakigbe 65). Subs (not used): McNally, Works, Caton.

BOOKED: Tanton, de Fougerolles.

GOALS: Wildbore (11), Araujo (23), Harris (55, pen 76).

CHELSEA UNDER 18s (4-1-3-2): Adegoke; Olise (Abu 88), Tobin, Hughes, Silcott-Duberry (Badley-Morgan 71); Hall; Webster, Andersson, Thomas (Mendel-Idowu 78); Flower, Soonsup-Bell. Subs (not used): Merrick, Tiemcani.

BOOKED: Webster.

GOALS: Andersson (6, 33), Soonsup-Bell (30, 85).

Parker proud of Fulham’s spirit

Scott Parker insisted he was proud of Fulham’s fight despite a 2-0 defeat in the local derby against Chelsea, which leaves them on the brink of relegation from the Premier League.

The Fulham boss remained defiant afterwards – insisting he wasn’t giving up on a remarkable escape act – but praised his players for their spirited display at Stamford Bridge.

“We’ll try and win four games now, that’s the aim,” Parker told his post-match press conference. “I’m proud of the performance, the courage we’ve shown against a top side. We knew the challenge. Over the last few weeks, we fell a little bit short, maybe it’s the pressure.

“I thought we were back to where we needed to be to try and win games in this division, but there’s no denying, in certain moments we lacked in certain areas. I do believe we can win games with that performance. Chelsea conceded one shot on target against a Real Madrid team, they have an abundance of quality. There is no other option, it’ll start on Monday night, we’ll go and try and win a game against Burnley. That’s our main focus.

“We faced a lot of challenges last year with this group and got promoted. I asked the team to focus on today, and give their best, and until the curtain comes down, that will always be the case.”

Parker was pleased with the performance of young midfielder Fabio Carvalho, who was rewarded for a fine season with Fulham’s under 23s by being handed his senior debut off the bench.

“Fabio came off the bench, he’s been nothing short of brilliant in training. The last 10 days, he really went about it and that’s the reason he came on. He settled in, but like all young players, he was probably on the fringes of things, but I felt he could bring something – score us a goal, bring a little bit of magic. I make decisions that I feel is best for the dynamic of the team.”

Havertz double finishes off Fulham

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.

BOOKED: Zouma.

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.

BOOKED: Aina.

REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicester).

VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Darren England (Doncaster).

Fulham’s Last Chance?

Fulham’s trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday night presents possibly their last chance at mounting an improbable escape from the drop zone. Relegation isn’t mathematically confirmed, but survival from this position feels as though it would be miraculous. Any scenario that sees Scott Parker’s side vaulting out of the bottom three almost has to include a surprise win in the blue half of SW6. So, how can Fulham defeat Chelsea – something that has only happened eleven times in 86 meetings since 1910 – to extend their survival hopes?

You have to go back to 2006 for the last time a Fulham were victorious in the local derby. Chris Coleman’s tactical masterclass, which saw Steed Malbranque memorably nullifying Claude Makele, and Luis Boa Morte grabbing the iconic winner in the first half was all the more notable for the fact that it was just one of only five defeats Chelsea suffered on their way to lifting the Premier League title at a canter. Coleman’s side ended an eighteen game, 27 year barren run in the local derby to joyous and chaotic scenes on the pitch after the final whistle – creating memories that are still fondly recalled by all of the Fulham faithful.

A win at the weekend feels imperative as Parker’s side have lost form at precisely the wrong time of the season, sitting seven points behind Brighton and Hove Albion with five games to go. Eddie Nketiah’s last-gasp – and controversial – equaliser for Arsenal was a real kick in the teeth and Parker must now plot another surprise victory to go with the ones at Leicester, Everton and Liverpool. Doing so against a Chelsea side reenergised by the arrival of Thomas Tuchel is a serious task.

Since Tuchel took charge in late January, Chelsea have seen an upturn in form, drawing 1-1 in the Champions League semi-finals with fellow Super League villains Real Madrid on Wednesday night. The German likes to line his men up in variations of the 3-4-3 formation, with Rudiger, Thiago Silva and Christensen forming a solid base at the back. This trio, which swaps Zouma for Silva if the ageing Brazillian is unfit, has conceded just 9 games in 22 games under Tuchel, in all competitions. This is even more impressive when considering that five of these goals came in a bizarre 5-2 loss against fellow strugglers West Brom, in what can only be described as a surreal Sam Allardyce special.

Therefore, to understand how to break down and beat Chelsea’s high defensive line, we must use the loss against the Baggies as a case study. From re-watching the goals, and other significant moments, from the highlights, it is clear what Allardyce sent his side out to do. West Bromwich Albion didn’t give the centre backs any space, latching onto their mistakes as they utilised short passing. Their wingers, Pereira and Phillips, pressed high into the space left behind Tuchel’s flying wing backs, allowing the midlands men to outnumber the defenders when on the attack whilst simultaneously helping to silence Chelsea’s attack as Alonso and James were pinned back. Big Sam also exploited the Blue’s high defensive line, which left them incredibly exposed to long balls over the top – an astonishing oversight as this and set pieces are the Bionic Man’s signature moves.

Despite the early red card for Silva, which forced Tuchel to substitute Ziyech for Christensen to maintain the three at the back system, it is clear what Parker must do to exploit the opposition’s systematic frailties. Therefore, I propose that Parker once again deploys the 5-2-3 formation, to which we have now become accustomed. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek unavailable against his parent club, to which many will breath a sigh of relief, and Tom Cairney still recovering from injury, it seems as though there is little option but to drop the number 10 role anyway. Therefore, here is my proposed line-up:

Perhaps controversially, I would suggest dropping Mitrovic. Many have criticised Parker for the Serb’s lack of involvement this season, something which I partly agree with, however, he is very much a player whose performance is dependant on his opposition. His lack of pace may hinder Fulham’s counterattacking ways against such a solid defence, therefore I propose that he should be introduced in the second half, once the front three has worked the opposition’s tired legs.

However, without Mitrovic, who brings some creativity to the line-up, Anguissa should once again be selected after his Arsenal comeback. This may be a risk as Chelsea’s pressing could catch the Cameroonian international off guard – especially should he expose his trait of taking too many touches – but, as stated in my previous article, he adds a creativity from deep (when the system is suitable) which is unrivalled from the players which are currently available. This may be especially important if Parker does look to utilise a counterattacking system. Although, if Anguissa shows that he is more of a liability than an asset, he too should be swapped, with Lemina and Reed offering a robust midfield, if lacking a spark.

The wing backs may prove to be the most crucial component of this system, with West Brom’s own confidently disrupting Chelsea’s system. Therefore, Tete and Robinson would look to remain high up the pitch to limit Chelsea’s numbers going forward. Robinson’s pace also offers an outlet down the left hand side through which Fulham can burst up the pitch, even if his crossing leaves a lot to be desired. Lookman’s crossing, however, is impressive and should be exploited to try and score from set pieces – a long time weakness of Fulham’s – although Andersen, Tosin and Anguissa offer an aerial threat, as does Mitrovic.

Little can be said about Fulham’s defence, other than hopefully Tosin can regain his form, which has been uncharacteristically dodgy as of klate. However, Chelsea pose a large attacking threat, even with Werner not in the rich goal scoring form that he showed at Leipzig. Werner, like Bamford, appears to be a volume striker, taking multiple opportunities to score. Therefore, Scott should look to deploy a low block, stifling the pace advantage that the German possesses and limiting through balls, cutting his threat. This would also force Chelsea to attempt long shots, something that their other attacking talents possess the ability to do but is still much more unlikely to yield rewards from – especially with Anguissa and Reed hunting them down.

How do you feel about the match and this line-up? Can the Whites break the Chelsea curse at the Bridge and prove that there is only one team in Fulham?

Parker proud of ‘heroic’ Fulham

Scott Parker praised his Fulham side for defending ‘heroically’ as the Whites were narrowly beaten by Chelsea in the west London derby having played more than 45 minutes with ten man.

The home side were so close to holding on to a precious point against their near neighbours, even after Antonee Robinson was given his marching orders for a reckless tackle on Cesar Azpilicueta in the dying seconds of the first half. Fulham’s brave resistance was only broken by Mason Mount’s winner with ten minutes to play. Parker, although desperately disappointed with the defeat, felt his team were excellent in nullifying Chelsea’s star players. He told his post-match press conference:

I thought we defended heroically. We defended very, very well really and it is a shame that they got their noses in front. You’re playing the clock a little bit second half. You get to 78 minutes and you’re thinking, can we hold on?

But overall I’ve got nothing but admiration for my team for the way they played. Certainly first half we limited them, and 10-15 minutes before the sending off we were well in the ascendancy. We missed a big chance with Cavaleiro, and when you’re us with those chances against these sorts of teams, they need to go in. And then the sending off changes the game, obviously.

Parker avoided overtly criticising referee Peter Bankes for his decision to send off Robinson – and admitted he would be discussing the incident with the American international in the coming days.

The reaction of my players, they seemed very shocked that the ref was going to give a red, but I honestly don’t know and I wouldn’t want to comment because I haven’t seen it to make that real judgement. I’ve just left the changing room so I’ve not seen it. The game becomes a lot different for us.

Where we were growing into the game, we really got to grips with Chelsea and caused them some real problems, and Antonee was at the forefront of that with the way he was playing. He defended very well and certainly was a real outlet for us, so of course that changed the game.

I want every single one of my players to play right on the edge, I want to be aggressive, I want to be competitive. And at times when you are on that line, sometimes players may step over that. If that’s the case today then that’s the way it is. Antonee will learn from that and understand that. Without being on that edge, we’re not going to be competitive. It’s disappointing because it’s probably a needless tackle but we’ll go again and dust ourselves down, and get ready now for United.