[Ratings & Video] Chelsea 1-0 Fulham: Essien returns a hero but exits the villain as Blues see off Fulham
Written by Joe Carroll.
Stamford Bridge saw the best and worst of Michael Essien on a night of contrasting fortunes for Chelsea as they clinched a 1-0 victory over Fulham.
Chelsea played host to their West London neighbours with the return of talisman Essien a big pre-match talking point. The powerful Ghanaian was a sight for the sore eyes of Blues fans who saw their side beaten by Liverpool on Sunday and he marked his return to first team action with a headed goal that is fast becoming a trademark. But a dominant Chelsea side were wasteful with a number of chances, and put their lead in jeopardy when Essien was sent for an early bath for a two footed tackle on Fulham’s Clint Dempsey.
Fulham do not have the best record against their local rivals and the “Otpa omens” were stacked firmly against them. Fulham have not won away from home in the league in over a year, nor have they beaten Chelsea in 46 years of top flight encounters. The writing was on the wall for Mark Hughes’ visiting side, however the opening 25 minutes did nothing to excite the expectant crowd as both teams lacked any purpose- the game struggling to see any clear cut chances until John Obi Mikel provided Mark Schwarzer with a comfortable save on 21 minutes.
And so it was to the relief of the home fans that Essien, after a two match absence returned to wipe away the woes of Sunday’s disappointment with the game’s opener. Whilst Didier Drogba lay writhing in the area (a fascinating tactical distraction perhaps?…) Solomon Kalou delivered a perfect cross from the left which the rising Essien met with a thumping and well placed header. It left keeper Schwarzer with no chance and gave Chelsea the lift this game so desperately needed.
With the comfort of a goal behind them, Chelsea felt it was time to truly express themselves and soon found themselves in the mood that has accompanied their climb and permanent residence at the summit of the Premier League. Florent Malouda had a long range effort that was saved by Schwarver, and Kalou had two chances before half time to at least double his side’s advantage.
The Ivorian received a Malouda cross from the left and swung a left boot that just wouldn’t stay down. The striker could maybe have controlled the ball first before letting fly, but their was no doubt that he should have found the net with his next effort. Kalou did superbly well to even get a sniff of goal, running at the Fulham defence at pace with the ball in his keep. From a tight angle though, his effort was a fraction wide and the half time whistle sounded along with a sigh of relief from visiting fans. Chelsea could have been home and dry.
The Ivory Coast international carried on in his role as tormentor with another chance as the half got under-way. Tip-toeing through a crowd of players, Kalou was unlucky to see his goal-bound shot cleared off the line. The remaining half an hour or so took on a familiar pattern for frequenting Chelsea fans, as the tide of attack from the home side ebbed and flowed with more purpose on each occasion. Frustratingly though, the killer goal just would not come.
Essien could have doubled his tally but was wasteful with a late effort but credit must be given to Schwarzer who seemed to enjoy denying the home team time and time again. The Australian keeper saved well from point blank after Malouda met an in-swinging corner.
With the game drawing to a close and Fulham having as little as a sniffle at goal, Chelsea fans were preparing to greet a good display and a much deserved three points. However the game will ultimately be remembered for the contribution of an African who will not be seen back at Bridge for at least another three games. With barely anything left on the clock, a loose ball in Chelsea’s half looked to have been won by Fulham’s Dempsey. But perhaps in an overly eager attempt to win the ball and thus protect his slender goal lead, the midfielder who had been excellent throughout lunged recklessly at the ball. It was not a malicious challenge, but it was dangerous and he was rightly ordered for an early bath.
Whilst the red card inevitably took the shine off an otherwise textbook Chelsea home performance, Ancelotti will be happy with his side’s display and the fact that they have reclaimed a four point lead at the top of the Premier League. As long as they can keep their excellent home record intact, then Chelsea can only go from strength to strength. Keeping 11 men on the field might also help.
Chelsea: Cech 6, Cole 7, Ivanovich 6, Terry 6, Bosingwa 6, Essien 8, Malouda 7, Mikel 7, Zhirkov 6, Drogba 6, Kalou 7
Fulham: Schwarzer 7, Kelly 5, Hangeland 6, Hughes 6, Briggs 5, Murphy 5, Duff 6, Etuhu 5, Dempsey 6, Davies 5, Dembele 5
What did you think of Essien’s Jekyll and Hyde performance?…Will Chelsea miss him more than usual?…Does the fact that they wasted so many chances worry you?…please leave your comments below…