Claudio Ranieri's return to Stamford Bridge ended in disappointing fashion as his Fulham side suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Chelsea, who returned to winning ways with a composed performance.
Fulham began brightly, but found themselves 1-0 down after just four minutes as Pedro calmly slotted the ball past Sergio Rico to net Chelsea's 1000th Premier League goal at Stamford Bridge. The Blues' dominance was largely unopposed for the majority of the first half, but a string of impressive saves from Rico ensured the score remained 1-0 at half-time.
Fulham showed signs of improvement in the second half, pressing high and committing men forwards in attack. Calum Chambers created several chances, but Kepa Arrizabalaga rarely looked under significant threat. Alvaro Morata wasted a superb chance to double Chelsea's advantage, before Ruben Loftus-Cheek managed to do so after combining superbly with Eden Hazard.
The visitors pushed for a goal, but Chelsea remained comfortable in defence and preserved their clean sheet as they sealed a 2-0 victory.
Key Talking Point
Chelsea's poor display during their last league match against Tottenham Hotspur raised a lot of questions, specifically concerning their midfield. Jorginho's defending was called into question, as was N'Golo Kante's attacking capabilities. However, the duo were back to their best against Fulham.
Pedro's first-half goal was a perfect example of Kante and Jorginho working flawlessly in tandem. Kante began behind Jorginho, with the Italian pressing further forward. Jorginho read the game perfectly and encouraged Kante to move forward and pressure Jean Michael Seri, and he did so with ease. Kante won the ball back, drove forward and gifted a simple chance to Pedro.
There were few examples of Fulham attempting to press Jorginho, meaning Chelsea's midfield maestro was free to pull the strings to perfection.
Starting XI: Kepa (6); Azpilicueta (6), Luiz (6), Rudiger (8), Alonso (5); Kante (8), Jorginho (8), Kovacic (6); Pedro (7), Giroud (6), Hazard (6).
Substitutes: Loftus-Cheek (7), Morata (5), Zappacosta (5).
STAR MAN - N'Golo Kante
Many have doubted Kante's suitability for Maurizio Sarri's preferred style of play. In a more advanced role, Kante typically has fewer chances to impose himself defensively, but is instead expected to make an impact at both ends of the field. Against Fulham, he did so expertly.
His sublime stamina ensured there was hardly a blade of grass that Kante did not cover. He was regularly seen behind Jorginho in defence, but showcased his ball-winning talents in more advanced roles also. He drove forwards well and even earned himself an assist with an impressive through ball to Pedro.
Fulham offered little pressure, but Kante was undoubtedly excellent, and fans took to Twitter to praise the World Cup winner.
So Kante breaks down the oppo in his advanced role, carries the ball and slips in Pedro for a goal. Heads exploding on Chelsea twitter 😳😳😂😂— Pete Borota (@Borotas_spirit) December 2, 2018
Kante is a god.— Chelsea In America (@CFCInAmerica) December 2, 2018
That's why Kante plays so high in midfield!! Pressured them, won the ball quickly and we scored! Love it. 🔥— Feroze Ali (@feroze17) December 2, 2018
WORST PLAYER - Marcos Alonso
Marcos Alonso's attacking prowess is highly regarded by many, but this was a frustrating performance from the Spaniard. He was guilty of playing some poor passes, and his crossing left a lot to be desired. He was occasionally caught out of position defensively and, with Emerson impressing in the Europa League, he cannot afford many more displays like this.
Key Talking Point
Former manager Slavisa Jokanovic faced a lot of criticism for his ever-changing defensive line. They have struggled in defence all season and, despite fielding the same defence for three consecutive matches, their problems persisted.
However, it is not just the defenders who are responsible for Fulham's defensive woes. The midfield was passive throughout, failing to put pressure on any of Chelsea's attackers until they approached Rico's goal.
They improved slightly during the second half, occasionally hounding Chelsea's midfielders. However, Fulham failed to maintain this level of intensity, and it ultimately cost them.
Starting XI: Rico (7); Christie (6), Odoi (4), Mawson (5), Le Marchand (6); Chambers (6), Seri (5); Johansen (5), Cairney (6), Sessegnon (4); Mitrovic (5).
Substitutes: Ayite (5), Kamara (5), Kebano (5).
STAR MAN - Sergio Rico
This was not Fulham's finest defensive performance. Chelsea, despite not being at their free-flowing best, could have easily found themselves three or four goals ahead in the first half had it not been for Rico.
The Spaniard was in inspired form, making several crucial saves to keep Fulham in the game. Rico denied Olivier Giroud a goal on many occasions and looked consistently alert to any danger. He had little chance of preventing Pedro's goal, but certainly should not be disappointed with his performance, and many fans were eager to praise Rico on Twitter.
Sergio Rico is the greatest keeper in the world— 𝔹𝕦𝕤𝕒𝕟𝕚 (@urghbusani) December 2, 2018
SERGIO RICO YOU'RE THE ONE YOU STILL TURN ME ON SPAIN WILL CALL YOU UP AGAIN— Ben Jarman (@bjarm_) November 24, 2018
WORST PLAYER - Denis Odoi
Given Fulham's defensive struggles, a trip to Stamford Bridge was always likely to be a tough challenge for Ranieri's side. However, Odoi's disappointing display made things that much harder, as the defender was guilty of playing several loose passes which invited wave after wave of pressure. If Fulham are to recover from this loss, they need to see improvement from Odoi.
As for Fulham, they will be keen to bounce back from their disappointing performance when Leicester City visit Craven Cottage on Wednesday.