Sunday’s most forgettable local derby was also the first to take place, as a somewhat flat Chelsea side sleepwalked to a 2-0 victory over their west London rivals.
Claudio Ranieri’s Fulham put up a spirited performance and are displaying more backbone than they previously did under Slavisa Jokanovic, but a lack of cutting edge in the final third was telling as the Blues banked their seventh clean sheet in 14 league matches.
Maurizio Sarri’s side never got out of second gear but, as we will discuss, the emphasis was on solidification at Stamford Bridge rather than a gung-ho attacking display that owners of Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso would have yearned for prior to kick-off.
We round up all the goals, assists, Fantasy talking points, manager quotes and injury news from the Sunday lunchtime kick-off.
Chelsea 2-0 Fulham
- Goals: Pedro (£6.3m), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (£5.2m)
- Assists: N’Golo Kante (£4.9m), Eden Hazard (£11.0m)
If Eden Hazard‘s (£11.0m) owners had been told before kick-off that the Belgian playmaker would emerge from an encounter with the division’s leakiest defence with six FPL points, the vast majority would have been fairly underwhelmed.
In the end, Hazard’s excellent assist for Ruben Loftus-Cheek‘s (£5.2m) 81st-minute strike came as something of a blessed relief on what was another frustrating afternoon for the Belgian’s Fantasy investors.
Assist or not, a significant percentage of the FPL managers who own Hazard would perhaps have seen enough to jettison the Chelsea talisman with the Fulham game having been seen as a “last-chance saloon”.
Given the number of premium options elsewhere with better form and/or fixtures, pocketing the £11.0m needed for Hazard’s services would go a long way in funding moves for the likes of Raheem Sterling (£11.5m), Harry Kane (£12.3m) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.9m).
There were flashes of promise, however: Hazard producing several darting runs in from the left flank and a number of cute passes, one of which should have resulted in an assist when Olivier Giroud (£7.7m) spurned a presentable opportunity midway through the first half.
One of Hazard’s four shots should also have culminated in a “Fantasy assist”, too, with substitute Alvaro Morata (£8.8m) blazing over the rebound after the Belgian’s effort was parried by Sergio Rico (£4.4m).
The Belgium international’s only other shot on target was a direct free-kick that was fired straight at Rico.
The portents were promising ahead of kick-off, with Giroud named in the starting XI over Morata – the French striker having been on the pitch for all seven of Hazard’s Premier League goals this season.
A third-minute goal from Pedro (£6.3m) also boded well for a fruitful afternoon of attacking returns ahead, though Fulham didn’t capitulate as they have done on several occasions this season and had opportunities to level the scores themselves before Loftus-Cheek’s late clincher.
The chastening 3-1 defeat to Spurs last weekend played a part in Maurizio Sarri’s thinking this week and was perhaps the chief reason why the Blues didn’t cut loose after Pedro’s opener, as the Chelsea boss explained at full-time:
I think that we were a little tense. We defended a little better than in the last match, of course. We can do better in the offensive phase, but today the result was more important.
We gave more attention to the defensive phase today in order to kill the match and got a very good reaction for the level of application and attention.
Now we have to start to play our football in a better way.
Pedro made only his second start in nine Premier League matches and registered more shots on target than any other Chelsea player, though regular rotation with Willian (£7.4m) surely awaits the former Barcelona winger over a packed December schedule.
The same is true of the hit-and-miss strike duo of Giroud and Morata, as Sarri confirmed after the game:
They need to find continuity. Morata had a good period, Giroud is in a good period so we need more continuity. But I think its very normal to sometimes play Morata and sometimes Giroud, we have to play every three days so it’s normal.
Giroud didn’t do a great deal to further his case for more game-time, wasting that aforementioned chance provided to him by Hazard and then prodding at Rico from a Cesar Azpilicueta (£6.3m) cross.
Security of starts is something we’ve taken for granted in the Chelsea defence this season, with Kepa Arrizabalaga (£5.5m) and the Blues’ entire back four all making the team for the 14th league match in a row.
While Sarri is not renowned for his rotation, there may be rests ahead in December for a number of his backline.
Though he banked a seventh clean sheet in 14 matches and remains the leading points-scorer among FPL defenders, Marcos Alonso (£7.1m) was well below-par against Fulham and was hauled off on 78 minutes.
Sky Sports reported that Alonso had been withdrawn with a minor knock (yet to be confirmed by the club or other media outlets) though to the observer it looked purely tactical due to the left-back’s poor display, with the premium defender having failed to make a single key pass or deliver a successful cross all afternoon. Alonso also looked vulnerable defensively, with much of Fulham’s attacking play coming down Chelsea’s left flank.
While Alonso remains high on our watchlist and still represents relatively good value for money (only Trent Alexander-Arnold is returning more points per million spent among outfielders this season), it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him rested against Wolves on Wednesday evening – particularly with Manchester City to come on Saturday.
Mateo Kovacic (£5.8m) was pictured with an ice pack on his leg after being substituted, meanwhile, though Sarri merely said the Croatian was “a bit tired” after the game.
The club did confirm that Ross Barkley (£5.8m) missed out with a knock, however.
Loftus-Cheek could deputise at Molineux if either player is unavailable, with Sarri praising the youngster at full-time:
In the last few weeks, he solved me problems. I was really very happy after the Europa League match because I think that was his best performance from a tactical point of view. Today I felt Kovacic was a bit tired and I put him on without problems.I was sure about his impact on the match.
Sarri also praised another midfielder, N’Golo Kante, someone who he had criticised after the defeat to Spurs:
I think he played very well. He defended very well. He needs to improve a little more tactically but that’s natural. For the national team, he usually plays with two midfielders. Last season sometimes with a two and sometimes with three, but in a central position, so it’s normal that he needs to improve.
Today he was better when the ball was on the other side of the pitch, I remember only one mistake in the first half. With the ball on the other side he has to stay close to Jorginho otherwise for us it’s a big problem. Jorginho is well able to make passes through the opponents but he’s not so good in the defensive phase with open spaces.
Kante supplied the assist for Pedro’s goal after winning the ball in midfield and was noticeably prominent in attacking situations in the first half, racking up more final third touches than Kovacic and Giroud.
Another defensive-minded asset who caught the eye from an attacking perspective was Fulham’s Calum Chambers (£4.2m), who was once again used “out of position” in central midfield.
Chambers had more attempts on goal than any Fulham player and three of his side’s four shots on target, including a header from a corner that was well saved by Kepa.
Ranieri said of the on-loan Arsenal player’s display:
He played very well. He’s a good midfielder because he understands what I want and, also, when he has the ball, he moves it very quickly and in the right way. I’m very very surprised.
Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.6m), the most-bought FPL forward of Gameweek 14, didn’t have any meaningful attempt on goal but easier tests await in the coming weeks.
Mitrovic was paired up front with Ryan Sessegnon (£6.0m) in the first half, though Ranieri’s diamond formation was abandoned at half-time in favour of his more customary 4-4-1-1.
I tried to play with a diamond to close the central midfield for the Chelsea players because Chelsea want to pass the ball to Hazard, Giroud, Pedro and then from there attack the space or make one-two straight away and for this reason, I play with the diamond.
When you concede a goal from the beginning, it’s difficult. I changed the diamond at half-time and played with two wingers to make some problems to them and I think it was a good choice.
Tom Cairney (£4.8m) was a creative spark for Fulham in behind the striker(s) – creating three chances in total – and is perhaps a name to monitor as a budget-freeing, fifth-choice midfielder ahead of the Cottagers’ excellent run of fixtures from Gameweeks 17-20.
Andre Schurrle (£5.9m), meanwhile, missed the game as a precaution after he “felt a twinge” in training on Saturday.
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso (Zappacosta 78′); Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic (Loftus-Cheek 67′); Pedro, Giroud (Morata 70′), Hazard.
Fulham XI (4-4-2 diamond): Rico; Christie, Odoi, Mawson, Le Marchand; Chambers, Seri, Cairney (Kebano 76′), Johansen (Ayite 45′); Mitrovic, Sessegnon (Kamara 45′).
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