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Fulham 0-2 Chelsea


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mhstand1.jpgSunday 23 August 2009, FA Premier League, Craven Cottage Stadium, London

Didier Drogba's third goal of the new Premier League season set Chelsea on the way to victory over West London rivals Fulham.

In what was manager Carlo Ancelotti's first London derby of the new campaign, Drogba and his strike partner Nicolas Anelka were let off the leash as the Ivorian opened the scoring with a well-taken finish across Mark Schwarzer after being played through by a wonderful through-ball by Anelka. It was roles reversed when, ten minutes before the close of play, Drogba played in Anelka, who confidently rounded the Australian goalkeeper before shooting into an empty net.

Chelsea were rarely troubled by their neighbours, and goalkeeper Petr Cech was seldom called into action. Though it was not as impressive as their high-octane performance against Sunderland in mid-week, Ancelotti praised his team's performance, citing their "mature" display as the difference between the two sides. With maximum points from the Blues' opening three Premier League fixtures and a first clean sheet of the season to boot, confidence is sure to be high amongst the FA Cup holders as they prepare to host Burnley at Stamford Bridge - more than wary of the Clarets' victories over Manchester United and Everton in the space of five days.

The Italian coach elected to make a host of changes to the side that came from behind to defeat Steve Bruce's Black Cats at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday, with Ricardo Carvalho, Florent Malouda, John Mikel Obi and Nicolas Anelka all recalled to the starting eleven. Young defender Sam Hutchinson was joined on the bench by Michael Essien and Anderson Deco amongst others, and would come on to make his first senior appearance for the club since May 2007.

Fulham made only a single change to the team that won at Portsmouth on the opening weekend, with Andrew Johnson replaced by former Blues winger Damien Duff. Clint Dempsey moved forward to support Bobby Zamora, and it was the American who had the first sight of goal. With barely a minute on the clock, Dempsey swivelled and volleyed over Petr Cech's crossbar with John Terry quickly closing the Fulham forward down. Chelsea countered and a fine surge by Malouda was ended only by a well-timed John Pantsil tackle. The game had begun at a lively tempo, but it was Chelsea who went on to dictate the opening exchanges.

Passing the ball amongst their ranks, Chelsea fashioned their first real effort of the match on 12 minutes when Drogba won a freekick after a tussle for a high ball with Hangeland saw the Ivorian fouled by the Fulham defender. Michael Ballack stepped up to take the set-piece, but his aim was wide of the mark as his effort cleared the crossbar by a couple of feet.

Ballack then saw a headed effort ricochet off of Dickson Etuhu, who did well to deny the German space to meet a Malouda cross that had been floated in from the near flank. John Mikel Obi had earlier seen a sumptuously-hit volley fizz wide of Schwarzer's post with the Australian clearly concerned. A corner had found its way to the Nigerian, who, from a distance of thirty yards, powered a ferociously-hit volley a fraction wide of the mark. Chelsea were looking dangerous, but were finding it hard to break Fulham down, and tight - and incorrect - offside calls were frustrating Ancelotti's team.

John Terry saw an effort from distance go over the bar before the deadlock was finally broken on 38 minutes when Drogba converted. Carvalho passed to Lampard, who instantly combined with Frenchman Nicolas Anelka. The Chelsea number 39 had provided a sensational through-ball to Drogba for the Ivorian's goal in a 3-1 over their West London neighbours in May, and a similarly-executed pass allowed Drogba the room to break behind the Fulham defence. Drogba duly converted the chance and buried the ball into the corner of the net, beyond the outstretched leg of the goalkeeper, and Chelsea had a deserved half-time lead.

Fulham emerged for the restart with renewed vigour and it took a superb header from Carvalho to clear a long ball from Hangeland after Cech had come a long distance to fail to collect the ball; Carvalho excelled to head it behind for a corner with Dempsey bearing down on goal. At the other end, Chelsea almost found the net again through Drogba, who again combined with Anelka, only to see his effort on the turn from a very tight angle instinctively saved by Schwarzer.

After good play by the ever-involved Drogba and Lampard, Malouda volleyed wide of the far upright from outside the area, and the Frenchman latter ballooned a 25-yard effort over the crossbar on his weaker right foot. Lampard then shot wide after being played into space by Drogba, but Chelsea's worth ethic - dominant and controlling - was not being matched by the amount of clear-cut chances being created.

The visiting supporters were in good voice, however, and though their team were being denied by the industrious Fulham backline, Chelsea continued to push forward in search of the goal that would ensure the three points would be heading to the Stamford Bridge outfit.

That goal came with a little over 10 minutes remaining in the match. Ballack and Drogba played a glorious one-two, and the Ivorian returned the favour to Anelka by slipping the ball between the Fulham centre-backs and perfectly into the path of Anelka's perfectly-timed run. A simple touch around the goalkeeper and a finish into an unguarded net followed, and the game belonged to Ancelotti's team. Erik Nevland hooked a shot over Cech's crossbar from an acute angle and only alert goalkeeping by Schwarzer and a tight offside call denied Chelsea scoring a third goal - with the Australian first collecting a dangerous Drogba cross that was destined for Anelka's forehead, before looking on as a Ballack goal was prevented by both the linesman's flag and a wayward finish from the German.

But the game was already won and Chelsea now stand three points clear of Manchester United and Arsenal, with only Tottenham's superior goal difference keeping the Blues from topping the Premier League table. Liverpool find themselves six points behind Ancelotti's side ahead of their match against Aston Villa tomorrow evening - let's hope Martin O'Neill's side can keep it that way.

___________________________________________________________________

Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cech; Bosingwa (Hutchinson), Carvalho, Terry ©, A Cole; Ballack, Mikel, Malouda; Anelka, Lampard (Deco); Drogba

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Gera (Kamara), Murphy © (Baird), Etuhu, Duff; Dempsey, Zamora (Nevland).

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match was Chelsea's number 11; Didier Drogba

Fulham-Drogba.jpg

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