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Chelsea 3-1 Fulham


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Chelsea F.C. 3-1 Fulham

Saturday 2nd May 2009, Premier League, Stamford Bridge, West London

Didier Drogba celebrates his goal with Michael Ballack, Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda.

Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba all found the net in an entertaining London derby at the Bridge.

Nicolas Anelka fired Chelsea into the lead after just 51 seconds to send Stamford Bridge into frenzied celebration, but Erik Nevland's equalising goal with just over three minutes on the clock soon changed the atmosphere. However, Florent Malouda smashed the ball home from close range to restore Chelsea's lead, and a second-half strike from the in-form Didier Drogba completed a convincing victory.

And in what was John Terry's 400th appearance for the club, it was appropriate for the Blues skipper to enjoy a typically imperious performance at the heart of the Chelsea backline as the team prepare for a crucial Champions League encounter with Barcelona.

With the prospect of a European night against the Catalans on Wednesday looming ever-closer, Guus Hiddink elected to make a number of changes to his squad, but it was the actual formation that received much of the Dutch tactician's focus; switching from his favoured 4-3-3 to a more traditional 4-4-2, with Drogba and Anelka operating as strikers with Malouda behind them. Michael Ballack and Branislav Ivanovic were relegated to the bench as the Blues shuffled their pack.

The game began at break-neck pace and it was the energy of Florent Malouda that crafted the opening goal. With just fifty one seconds on the Stamford Bridge scoreboard, the winger stole the ball out wide and exchanged passes with fellow France international Anelka. Receiving the ball back, he found Drogba with a delicate first-time pass and the Ivorian's lay-off to Anelka was inch-perfect - and Chelsea's top scorer made no mistake from five yards as he prodded beyond Mark Schwarzer.

But before the celebrating Chelsea faithful could sit down after celebrating the opening goal, parity had been restored. The hosts' defence was caught napping, allowing Erik Nevland to break through along the Fulham right after Alex had failed in his attempts to play the offside trap. Racing into the area, the Fulham striker lashed the ball into the bottom corner beyond the despairing dive of Petr Cech.

But there was no need for concern - Chelsea were back in the lead just after five minutes later. Anelka played Drogba into the area with a delightful slide-rule pass, and the Ivorian squared to the far post where Malouda's expert run had found him in the right position to lash the ball into the postage stamp of the goal at the Shed End. Once again, Stamford Bridge erupted into a cauldron of noise, but this time there was not to be a second goal conceded as Terry marshalled his defence - although a dipping volley from Nevland went just over Cech's crossbar as Fulham looked for another instant equaliser.

Drogba then had a goal wrongly chalked off for offside before Nevland was forced to leave the pitch after a hefty collision with John Terry. After a couple of minutes of treatment, the goalscorer was forced to leave the pitch to the sound of light applause from the home crowd. Diomansy Kamara came on in his place. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge had suddenly dropped as the game's tempo dropped dramatically as Chelsea looked to tighten up defensively.

Terry's challenge saw an effort from Zoltan Gera deflect wide of Cech's upright before former West Ham defender Paul Konchesky launched an effort wide moments later. Danny Murphy then tamely shot wide from outside the area before Malouda had a shot blocked. Anelka and Malouda were enjoying productive spells as part of Chelsea's attacking triumvirate, and it was the former who fashioned chances for Lampard and Michael Essien, but Lampard's chip and Essien's arrowed shot both fell agonisingly wide.

It was to be Essien's last contribution as he was taken off at half-time, as Michael Ballack entered the fray. With Hiddink’s mind clearly on Barcelona's visit to West London on Wednesday, Branislav Ivanovic came on to replace Alex, and Hiddink returned to a more familiar 4-3-3.

The quiet Lampard had a decent chance to add a third but after intricate play involving Drogba, Ballack, Mikel and Malouda, the England international held onto possession for too long and was tackled by the tenacious John Pantsil, who was providing the only form of resistance at the back for the visitors. Fulham certainly weren't looking like a side who had conceded just 15 goals away from Craven Cottage this term before today's game.

Drogba then crashed home his 13th of the season in some style, collecting Anelka's well-weighted ball into the box and then lashing it beyond Schwarzer. It was a typical finish from the Ivorian, who could have had a second had Lampard's passing not been uncharacteristically poor. Lampard was in fact not having a day to remember - his shooting had been wayward and the Chelsea vice-captain looked somewhat flat-footed amongst an athletic Chelsea midfield.

Kamara fired wide as Fulham looked for some brief respite, before Lampard had a freekick palmed over excellently by Australian goalkeeper Schwarzer. Drogba then poked wide after sliding in to connect with Anelka's pass from the right wing in a move that was similar to the Ivorian's goal against Liverpool last month, with Anelka beating his marker before passing to his striking partner.

It was to be the Ivorian's last major contribution to the game as he was substituted to a standing ovation from the Chelsea faithful - a goal and two assists for the Ivorian suggesting he is truly back to his best. Franco di Santo came on in place of the Chelsea number 11 as Chelsea played out the final 1 minutes without incident to claim an eighth win in ten under Hiddink in the Premier League.


The TalkChelsea.net Star Man award goes to...


Florent Malouda, Chelsea F.C.

The Frenchman enjoyed one of his most influential outings in a Chelsea shirt, and scored his seventh of the campaign to put pressure on second-placed Liverpool.

Match Fact - Chelsea's victory over Fulham is the first against their neighbours since a 3-2 triumph in 2005 when Hernán Crespo scored a magnificent winner from a Joe Cole cross.

Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, Alex (Ivanovic), Terry ©, A Cole; Lampard, Essien (Ballack), Mikel, Malouda; Anelka, Drogba (Di Santo)

Fulham: Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Dempsey, Murphy ©, Etuhu, Gera; Zamora (Dacourt), Nevland (Kamara)

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