It was a tale of two halves at Craven Cottage. The west London derby began as a sloppy, cagey affair where neither side could successfully open up the game. Fulham, with their new manager, Felix Magath, looked in the mood for an upset, particularly in the opening minutes when on-loan Clint Dempsey glanced a point-blank header wide of goal.
Chelsea, for all the talk of lack of rest, played up to that billing. From top to bottom, tired legs led to poor first-touch and prevented the Blues from settling in to their short-passing game for any extended period of time. It did not help that the Cottagers were pressing to great effect, allowing Chelsea very little time on the ball.
The second half was a polar opposite of the first. The game settled down and Chelsea were able to start connecting passes and linking up one-twos in the wide areas. The Blues sped up their tempo and it paid dividends in the 52nd minute. Eden Hazard collected a pass near the halfway line, turned and floated a pass to Andre Schurrle as he sprinted up the right wing.
Smartly, he headed it first time in front of the path of Dan Burn, who couldn’t bring him down without drawing a red, and the German international did the rest, slotting the ball beneath Maarten Stekelenburg.
Hazard again pulled the strings on the second goal, biding his time before playing a through ball to Schurrle, who pounced past the Fulham back line, hitting the ball across the keeper and into the bottom corner. The third goal, the one that completed the German’s hat-trick, came from some grit shown by Fernando Torres. The forward out-jumped the much taller Burn to connect to a long ball, turned and delivered a perfectly weighted pass to Schurrle, who powered the ball over Stekelenburg.
In the span of 17 minutes, Chelsea’s No. 14 had his hat-trick and secured three vital points for the west Londoners. Jose Mourinho must have given a brilliant half-time team talk.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, Arsenal were delivered a massive blow to their title hopes by Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium, in a game that ended 1-0 to the home side. Chelsea now have a four-point cushion above the Gunners. After this weekend Manchester City will have two league games in hand as they look for silverware in the FA and Carling Cup competitions. Liverpool have began their game against Southampton at St. Mary’s and could move up to second with a win.
Chelsea will next travel north to Tottenham in match that will have huge Premier League implications for both sides, and should be a great one to watch.