In the first half, Fulham tried to hold a midfield position defensively, push up and press Chelsea high when they had the opportunity, and create chances from counters and set pieces.
In possession, Chelsea would again move forward on the wings with deep building against pressure, finding passes between lines for the advanced midfielders and Hazard (moving inside) and Higuain to combine, and early passes up the wings to create opportunities for early crosses into the box.
After creating but not taking advantage of early opportunities, Chelsea took the lead by moving forward on the right quickly from a free kick, where Fulham were unable to recover back quickly enough from holding their block in midfield. Willian took the ball forward, found Azpilicueta on the overlap, who played a low cross for Higuain to get across the front of Ream and finish first time.
I love these simple goals: the winger receives the ball, the fullback runs behind him, the winger passes to him and he crosses, while the striker times a run to escape his marker and score on one touch. Willian, Azpilecueta and Higuain performing this textbook play for Chelsea. pic.twitter.com/zJX9nzd2OB— Last Row (@lastrowview) March 3, 2019
Fulham were able to create a few opportunities by moving up as a team during counters and carrying the ball forward on the wings. If they played long and direct, they would often just give the ball back to Chelsea. Going up the wings allowed Fulham to get behind Chelsea’s advanced fullbacks and draw the central defenders out. On a few occasions they were able to draw both central defenders out and make Chelsea’s shape very flat moving back to their box, leaving spaces on the edge of the box and potential mismatches inside the box for Mitrovic to exploit against Chelsea’s midfielders.
Fulham equalized through a well-worked corner, where they played short to draw Jorginho out, leaving only Kante inside the box as a blocker for Fulham’s runners (freeing up Chambers). They also had Odoi blocking Emerson from behind at the far post to leave the space behind for Chambers to freely loop around and score.
Chelsea regained their lead from a counter attack, finished off by Jorginho, and had many more chances to extend their lead, but would ultimately go into the break just 2-1 ahead.
For the second half, Fulham switched to 4-3-3, with McDonald defensive midfielder, Cairney right-central midfielder, Chambers left-central midfielder, Sessegnon on the right wing and Babel on the left (wingers switched sides from first half). They began playing more short ground passes and building play from their own half, which allowed Chelsea opportunities early on to press high and recover the ball to counter, before dropping back later to defend from midfield.
This switch opened up more space for Jorginho with the ball, since both of Fulham’s advanced central midfielders would stay backed off of him (Cairney’s position playing off Mitrovic in the first half put him naturally close to Jorginho when defending), and so Jorginho could now begin to look to play forward passes with time and space on the ball —especially passes behind Fulham’s backline for Willian.
When Chelsea would build short form the back and Fulham would decide to push up and press high, Chelsea could play forward on the right and get behind Fulham’s midfield through Willian flicking the ball to Kante running behind (to play passes inside into space ahead of Fulham’s backline), or Willian could dribble inside and play the passes himself.
Chelsea could progress into Fulham’s box consistently with possession and were able to create a number of opportunities, but they didn’t extend their lead — keeping Fulham in the game. Fulham moved back to their initial formation with Anguissa replacing McDonald, and this allowed Cairney to go back to finding spaces behind Chelsea’s wide central midfielders to receive the ball and play passes behind for the wingers, while also preventing Jorginho (later Kovacic) from having space to break their attempts to press high and play forward with the ball.
Fulham continued to press forward, playing a number of balls into Chelsea’s box and creating a few opportunities to find an equaliser, but Chelsea were able to defend deep to maintain their lead and see the game out.
xG map for Fulham - Chelsea. Basically an even match, but Chelsea squeak through with the points. pic.twitter.com/I9XNpZB0fp— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) March 3, 2019
Chelsea created many chances to score and could have killed the game in the first half. With the lead but without the third goal to take the game away from Fulham, Chelsea were made to defend deep and Arrizabalaga was forced into making a number of important saves, as the game was kept alive until the final whistle.