For forty-five minutes (and maybe a few more), it seemed that everyone's worst fears were set to be concerned. With only two day's rest following Chelsea's exertions in Istanbul, how could we hope to keep up with a Fulham that had spent that time being whipped into shape by Felix Magath, the only footballer manager in recent history who regularly violates the Geneva Convention to toughen up his players.
Jose Mourinho complained vociferously about the punishing schedule, but, curiously, he only made two changes from the Galatasaray match. Nemanja Matic for Frank Lampard barely counts as a change, either -- you get the feeling that the Serbian would be playing every second of every game if Mourinho had his druthers -- so it was really just Oscar coming on for Willian. And that didn't look as though it was working out very well.
It's not as though Fulham were controlling the game, because Fulham can't control games on account of being a little bit rubbish. But that they had the better chances*, that we couldn't run rampant through a midfield consisting entirely of World War II veterans, that we connected with about half of a pass in their third in the first half... yeah, that wasn't so good. The cameras kept cutting to Mourinho on the touchline, who appeared to be gently marinating himself in unfettered rage.
*Clint Dempsey should have opened the scoring after some weak play from Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic allowed Pajtim Kasami to get off a vicious cross, but the American nodded an open header well wide.
Fortunately, we got to the break unscathed, because the players seemed in dire need to time to both regroup and be yelled at. As it turns out, though, the manager didn't throw anything. His halftime message?
I decided not to speak because, if I start speaking about first half, I need more 10 minutes.
Anyway, the players got the message, stepping up in a big way after the interval. Eden Hazard, whom I've been seriously worried about jinxing, was back to his imperious best, daring Fulham players to try to make a challenge before giggling sublimely away. The Belgian made our first goal, receiving a pass from Andre Schurrle -- who had been, to that point, utterly diabolical -- before lifting a return ball over the defence. It was perfectly weighted, but Schurrle still had plenty to do. Which he did, beating Dan Burn with a header before slotting calmly beyond Maarten Stekelenburg.
The big criticism of Chelsea this season has been their failure to kill off games when they get the chance, but nobody will level that charge against the Blues today. Within 16 minutes of the opener, Schurrle had a hattrick. Yes, there was a quite spectacular Fernando Torres miss in there, but you can't complain when your team manages three goals in a quarter of an hour.
The second arrived just after the aforementioned Torres miss, which was notable mostly because it involved Hazard dribbling through five Fulham players and then playing an inch-perfect rabona to the back post where Torres contrived to head the delivery off Kieran Richardson and wide. Hazard being denied the assist of the season was upsetting, but he managed to provide a pretty good one within a minute or so, eviscerating the Cottagers defence with a pass that Schurrle gleefully slid home from a tight angle.
Torres made up for the miss (and an earlier chance when Stekelenburg hit him with a clearance) by setting up Schurrle's next goal, winning a long ball forward and slipping through the German for yet another neatly-taken goal. The match was only 68 minutes old, but it was well and truly dead.
Which is why no eyebrows were raised when some truly awful defending on a corner allowed Johnny Heitenga to scramble home a consolation from close range or Chelsea missing a slew of chances as the game drew to a close. You can only kill a match once, after all.
With Arsenal losing at the Britannia thanks to a Jonathan Walters penalty, the Blues are now four points clear atop the table, and it'll stay that way going into the international break. The little horses aren't doing so badly.
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