Chelsea stride on, a Champions League final in sight and the qualification for next season’s competition ever closer as they close in on securing a top-four finish. Fulham, by contrast, are heading back whence they came. The Championship beckons, unless something extraordinary turns up.
For Thomas Tuchel, this was another vindication of his unfussy coaching style. A ninth win in the Premier League since he arrived, with just the one defeat, this victory was achieved with just the requisite amount of effort required for when Real Madrid are turning up to play one of the most important game’s in the club’s history on Wednesday night.
There were rests for more mature players such as captain Cesar Azpilicueta, given the amount of running he will be expected to do tracking back and forth in that semi-final, and Jorginho, given the evening off so as to patrol the midfield with more energy on Wednesday. N’Golo Kanté only came on to add a touch of stability for the final third of the game.
Kai Havertz scored his first Premier League double as Chelsea cruised past neighbours Fulham on Saturday evening
It was arguably the German’s best performance in a Chelsea shirt since his mega-money move from Bayer Leverkusen
The Blues find themselves in a commanding position in the race for top four following their routine victory over Fulham
The 21-year-old put the Blues ahead after finishing off Mason Mount’s well weighted through-ball at Stamford Bridge
The risks Tuchel took were calculated, the sense of control never relinquished. Billy Gilmour might have been overwhelmed, asked to hold midfield alone at the age of 19 and having not started in the Premier League since January. Yet Chelsea had enough to get by.
It helps when you have Kai Havertz playing himself into form, his goalscoring clinical and his joie de vivre now apparent in his play. And it’s pretty useful when you have Mason Mount delivering a superb performance which had Fulham bewildered and bedazzled.
Yet all round, Chelsea just look comfortable these days, disciplined and structured. You don’t expect nasty surprises. Tuchel has ironed out all the wrinkles.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Mendy 8; Christensen 7, Silva 7.5, Zouma 7; James 6.5, Gilmour 6, Mount 9 (Abraham 76 6), Chilwell 8 (Alonso 81); Ziyech 6 (Kante 66 7), Werner 6.5; Havertz 8.5.
Subs not used: Arrizabalaga, Jorginho, Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi, Azpilicueta, Anjorin.
Goals: Havertz 10, 49
Manager: Thomas Tuchel
Fulham (4-4-2): Areola 7; Aina 6, Andersen 5, Tosin 7, Robinson 5; De Cordova-Reid, Anguissa 6, Lemina 6 (Carvalho 78 6), Lookman 7; Maja 5.5 (Mitrovic 81), Cavaleiro 6 (Onomah 78 6).
Subs not used: Tete, Hector, Odoi, Rodak, Ream, Bryan.
Manager: Scott Parker
Referee: Kevin Friend 7
Though Fulham did stretch them at times and though they play with the heart of a team that seem to believe they could stay up, the timing of Chelsea’s goals was brutal. Both were scored at the start of each half and they simply crushed all the naïve belief that Fulham could muster, stamped it into the ground and buried it dead.
Fulham played with energy, intensity and no little spirit. They had tested Edouard Mendy more than once early on, the Chelsea goalkeeper’s one-handed save from Antonee Robinson’s blistering shot the highlight of an extraordinary opening by the relegation strugglers, which saw them force a succession of corners.
Their problem is that, having seized the initiative in the game, they conceded it at the first sign of attack.
Scott Parker’s men showed lots of energy and industry but were unable to find a cutting edge against their west London rivals
Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech couldn’t get his name on the scoresheet after being denied by Alphonse Areola
Ademola Lookman saw his fierce low strike tipped away by Edouard Mendy as Fulham chased for a way into the game
Thiago Silva sent a simple long ball into the opposition half. Admittedly, Fulham couldn’t necessarily have legislated for the brilliance of Mason Mount, who must be a player-of-the-season contender.
In one exquisite moment of control, he killed the hopeful, high ball from the Brazilian dead. In doing so, he bewildered Joachim Andersen and Ola Aina, who were suddenly too deep and allowing Mount too much space, having assumed he couldn’t possibly execute such a precise touch so quickly. Mount then simply fed Kai Havertz, who took a touch and put Chelsea in the lead.
This is what a relegation season looks like for an idealistic young team: lots of vigour and youthful expression punished at the first opportunity.
Havertz then slotted home four minutes into the second half after beating the offside trap to put Chelsea in a strong position
The 21-year-old Chelsea star wheels away to celebrate after slotting home the hosts’ second of the encounter
The German forward doubled his Premier League tally on a comfortable afternoon at Stamford Bridge
Havertz then had a goal disallowed on 17 minutes and Hakim Ziyech should have doubled the lead on 39 minutes, played in by Werner for a clear strike on goal but was denied by the excellence of Alphonse Areola. But Fulham refused to be overwhelmed.
The continued to battle away, exposing Thomas Tuchel’s decision to let 19-year-old Billy Gilmour hold the midfield all alone in his first Premier League start since January 3rd. As such they almost had their reward.
Ademola Lookman executed a quick and superb strike across goal, which Mendy had to tip wide and then, as half time beckoned, Aina lined up a shot outside the box. It deflected off Reece James and Mendy was called on again, demonstrating admirable agility by changing his stance at the last moment due to the change of direction and pushing the ball away.
Mason Mount was able to continue after landing on his back following a challenge near the end on Saturday
But hope is swiftly snuffed out when you’re relegation fodder. All the exuberance of what was doubtless an inspirational half time team talk from Scott Parker was extinguished within three minutes of the restart.
Ben Chilwell played the sweeping cross-field ball to Havertz, who touched it inside to Werner. Then came the moment of sheer class: Werner’s neat touch to play the ball into the box and Havertz’s delightfully timed run to beat the offside trap. He touched the ball in for his second goal of the evening, survived the VAR review and had Chelsea fully in control of the game.
There was a brief scare for Wednesday’s Champions League semi final against Real Madrid on 68 minutes when Mason Mount fell awkwardly, jumping for the ball under challenge from Mario Lemina, falling flat on his back. But he returned to play with the usual enthusiasm, no long-term harm done, though he would be replaced by Tammy Abraham on 75 minutes.
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side are now six points clear of fifth-placed West Ham with four games left
Chelsea were in cruise control mode. N’Golo Kante had come on for Ziyech to add more stability. They simply had to gather the three points and get through without injury so as to turn their minds to the chance of making a Champions League final.
They did so admirably, never truly challenged as the energy in Fulham began to wane. The away team never gave up the fight and indeed continued to force corners. But they faded away gradually as their feint hopes slowly dissipated and they began the long retreat back to the Championship.