Matches against Fulham always make me nervous. I started this blog in August 2010 and since then I've seen a grand total of zero comfortable matches against the Cottagers, Premier League or otherwise. The fact that Arsenal and Everton battled it out to a 0-0 draw at the Emirates on Tuesday only made things worse -- Chelsea had an opportunity to make some ground and that only upped the stakes. And high stakes only mean easy disappointment.
And so it was that I surveyed the first thirty minutes or so of the match with a sense of detachment that was almost fatalist. Oh what a surprise it was to see Fulham in control! How shocking it was to see Chelsea muddle about on the ball and get nowhere near Mark Schwarzer's goal! How original for David Luiz to see a long range shot balloon into hey wait a minute...
Oh right David Luiz is amazing.
I wasn't entirely fair above -- the Blues had settled down after the first quarter of an hour (although they might have been behind early had Bryan Ruiz not sent Sascha Riether's cross flying over the crossbar rather than into the back of Petr Cech's net) and Fulham weren't looking very threatening -- but the match still needed a moment of magic to liven it up. Fortunately, David Luiz was on hand to provide it.
That goal really did come from nothing. There was absolutely no threat when Eden Hazard fed the defender just inside the Fulham half, and it's really hard to blame their midfielders for not closing David Luiz down. It takes a madman to shoot from out there. Happily, David Luiz is gloriously insane, and he decided to go for it, producing the glorious goal .giffed above. And on his hundredth Chelsea appearance, no less.
If you spent the rest of the match watching that strike on repeat, you're not alone. Fulham did some dangerous-looking attacking type things, but that wasn't nearly as interesting as the David Luiz magic. There were a couple of nervy moments, with Urby Emmanuelson causing trouble and Cech called into action by Dimitar Berbatov, but despite the hosts applying the pressure, it was the Blues who scored the next goal.
Frank Lampard, still on 200 Chelsea goals, tried to imitated David Luiz's strike with a long-range free kick, smacking the ball so hard that Mark Schwarzer ended up taking it off the chest, leaving the Blues with a corner kick. And from the corner John Terry struck, stealing in behind Phillip Senderos to nod home Juan Mata's cross and make it 2-0 against the run of play.
Fulham very nearly replied with a penalty when Ruiz went down under pressure from Terry in the box, but Mike Dean -- somewhat harshly -- ruled that it was a dive, booking the Costa Rican for simulation. More good luck was to follow for Chelsea in the second half, although this time the Cottagers only had themselves to blame.
The hosts should have pulled one back from a corner kick, with Senderos escaping the defence's attentions to nod Giorgos Karagounis' delivery towards Cech's left-hand post. It's not at all clear whether the ball was going in (for my money it was going to hit the woodwork), but Mladen Petric was on hand to make sure that it wouldn't, the striker somehow clipping the ball over despite being six inches from the line when he hit it. Oh, and he was also offside. Not exactly the Croatian's finest moment, that.
Chelsea took it all in stride, controlling the game without playing particularly hard. There were a few moments when the front line might have done better, with none of Fernando Torres, Mata, Hazard and Victor Moses at the top of their game, but with a comfortable two-goal cushion there was no need to exert themselves. The next goal was made by a combination of Moses and Torres anyway, with the former forcing Schwarzer into a smart stop from his now-trademark right footed shot for a corner from which the latter provided an assist.
There's some thought that Terry shouldn't have finished off Torres' flicked header, which would have been on target, but the fact of the matter is that the ball wasn't struck particularly hard and Riether was on hand to clear off the line. Terry needed to come in to make sure of the goal, and that's exactly what he did, sending himself (along with the ball) flying into the back of the net to kill off the game and allow me to go back to .gif-watching.
All that was left was for Rafa Benitez to rest his overworked players, and true enough all of Ramires, Hazard and Mata were withdrawn over the game's final twenty minutes. From there it was plain sailing towards three absolutely vital points, with the Blues jumping into third place when Dean confirmed the 3-0 victory via a few jaunty blasts of his whistle.
We've had worse days at Craven Cottage, I'll tell you that much.