Every Chelsea loss over the past few months was followed by all the usual words: words about working hard and paying attention, about staying confident and maintaining belief, about fighting for the manager, for teammates, and for the fans. Trouble was, those words — cliched as they may have been, like most interviews and sound bites in modern sports — were rarely followed through on the pitch, and so they got even more tiring and trite than usual.
Cesar Azpilicueta, the ultimate professional in his role as acting captain, was often the mouthpiece for what turned out to be empty promises, so he was perhaps happier than most to finally see them turn into the right actions — his celebrations in recent games (Pedro goal against Spurs comes to mind) would certainly support that notion. And so, following Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Fulham on Sunday, our first away win of 2019, Captain Dave was able to trot out a new set of cliches, the ones about consistency and momentum.
“It was an important game for us, because we were coming from a good game against Tottenham and we won that so we needed consistency. We were coming to a tough place, Fulham are fighting relegation, and in the first half we were much better, we controlled the game and we created a lot of chances to be more comfortable in the game.
“In the second half we expected a reaction from them, they did a very good second half and they pushed us a lot until the end and we were not able to control that. Sometimes in football you have to dig in and I am pleased with this because a few weeks ago we were not able to do this if things were not going our way, we were quite weak, so I am pleased because during the season you have to work and to suffer and on this day we went away with the three points.”
It was not a perfect performance from the Blues, but it was certainly good enough. If we had taken just one or two more of the multitude of chances created in the first-half, the match would’ve never been as close as it became in the second half.
One of the chances we did take was Gonzalo Higuaín turning in an Azpilicueta cross from the right (closer to the byline than Azpi’s standard deep crossing position a la the Morata-connection). Azpilicueta has been playing a much more attacking role this season than we’re used to — despite arriving at Chelsea as a right-back by trade, his best performances had come either as a lock-down left fullback or as a ball-playing central defender — but he’s slowly improving and growing into it. He could have even gotten a second assist, but Fulham goalkeeper Sergio Rico denied Higuaín with a great stop.
“It is something we are trying to improve on when we get into those areas, to try to find the right pass. Gonzalo is very clever in his movements and it is true that the two actions were more or less copy and paste. It was unlucky and it was a very good save with the second chance.”
Speaking of goalkeepers, at the other end of the pitch stood Kepa Arrizabalaga, whose apparent insubordination threatened to derail the season even more than it already was the previous weekend. But Kepa returned to the fold on Sunday and proceeded to put in a Man of the Matchs hift. Azpi, like most others who had spoken about this situation, is more than ready to move on from it.
“He made a couple of good saves. [The follow-up from the Wembley incident] is all done and now we have to be focused on the last two-and-a-half months we have.”
“We have important games coming up. We need from everybody, the squad is ready to fight for everything and we have been working really hard. Now we have to try to get to the targets that we want.”
These targets are the top four in the league and/or winning the Europa League. And then build from there.
“Now after the last results, Tottenham is in the race to make the top four, that is clear.”
“‘It is in our hands to make it possible, so we have 10 games remaining and now we have to fight. We have two games in the Premier League before the international break, we have to be focused on those, and two legs of the Europa League and let’s see where we can finish, but our aim as always at Chelsea is to try to finish as high as possible.”
-César Azpilicueta; source: Chelsea FC