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Chelsea back to winning ways as Mason Mount sinks 10-man Fulham

Jacob Steinberg
·4-min read

It will become clear in due course if this victory represents a turning point for Chelsea. The worry, however, is that it merely masked the flaws in Frank Lampard’s game management. The challenge was to break Fulham down after Antonee Robinson’s dismissal set up a second half of defence versus attack and the pressure on Lampard was rising before Mason Mount shattered the tension, producing the kind of decisiveness largely absent from Chelsea’s attacking play.

Another inquest was on the cards before Mount summoned fine technique to drive home a low volley with 12 minutes left, securing Lampard a second league win in seven games. Uninspired for long spells, Chelsea spent a lot of time running down dead ends. They were profligate when openings did appear and although their patience was rewarded in the end, Chelsea’s struggle to capitalise on their numerical advantage was a concern.

As it was, the narrative was shaped by little moments, from Alphonse Areola’s soft punch landing at Mount’s feet to Fulham going down to 10 men just before half-time. As Scott Parker rightly argued, his side were starting to dominate before Robinson leapt into an ill-advised challenge on César Azpilicueta in the 44th minute. The left wing-back’s aberration came moments after Ivan Cavaleiro had wasted an opportunity to give Fulham the lead and the mood changed once the USA international departed, paving the way for Chelsea to grind their way to victory.

Related: Fulham 0-1 Chelsea: Premier League – as it happened

Perhaps Chelsea, who are up to seventh, deserve credit for wearing Fulham down. Perhaps this will spark a recovery. Yet it is hard to be sure given how accomplished Fulham were in restricting Lampard’s side. “The players approached it really well,” Lampard said. “With 10 men the challenge was can we take advantage of this? It wasn’t easy. The spirit of the whole team was great.”

Eventually Fulham cracked, tiring as time wore on. However their defending and organisation impressed, especially as Lampard was slow to make attacking substitutions.

It was not until the 65th minute that the Chelsea manager made his first change, removing Jorginho from midfield and putting Tammy Abraham alongside Olivier Giroud up front. Ten minutes later he brought on Timo Werner, who demonstrated his lack of confidence by missing a glorious chance to make it 2-0 in added time, and Callum Hudson-Odoi, whose cameo suggested that Lampard had made a mistake with his starting line-up.

It felt too sedate from the visitors during the early stages, even if a deep-lying pivot of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic established control in midfield. Chelsea needed more imagination to prise Fulham apart and it was hard to detect a pattern to their attacks at times.

Fulham’s Antonee Robinson is shown a straight red card for a challenge on Chelsea’s César Azpilicueta just before half-time
Fulham’s Antonee Robinson (right) is shown a straight red card for a challenge on Chelsea’s César Azpilicueta just before half-time. Photograph: John Walton/PA

In fairness there was a logic to a conservative starting XI, even though many Chelsea fans were disappointed to see Jorginho filling in for the suspended N’Golo Kanté instead of Billy Gilmour. Expecting Fulham to provide an awkward test after holding Tottenham, Lampard wanted leaders on the pitch. Kurt Zouma made way for Antonio Rüdiger, partnering Thiago Silva in central defence for the first time this season, and Giroud replaced Werner.

Giroud had Chelsea’s first chance, testing Areola with a swerving drive after good work from Mount. Yet Chelsea did not do much with their possession. Hakim Ziyech’s passing radar was off and Christian Pulisic did not justify his inclusion over Hudson-Odoi on the left.

Although Mount hit the bar and Rudiger tested Areola, Fulham looked comfortable. The hosts grew into the game and should have led after slicing Chelsea open on the break, only for Cavaleiro to fire over.

It was a pivotal miss. Soon Robinson was jumping recklessly into a challenge with Azpilicueta, who made the most of the contact. Peter Bankes, the referee, instantly brandished a red card and there was no VAR reprieve. “I’ve not seen the red card again,” Parker said. “It definitely changes the game. We’d got to grips with Chelsea.”

Going down to 10 men was the last thing Fulham needed after being given two days to prepare for their trip to Spurs in midweek. Fatigue was a concern given that Parker’s squad had also been hit by a Covid-19 outbreak recently. Fulham felt the lactic acid rising. Parker could only make one change from the draw with Tottenham, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek ineligible against his parent club.

Yet Fulham defended heroically. Abraham came on and sent two headers off target. At the other end, there was almost a calamity, Silva bailing out Édouard Mendy after a mistake presented Cavaleiro with an opening.

Lampard turned to Werner and Hudson-Odoi. The latter made an impact, twisting on the right and crossing. The ball reached Ben Chilwell and when Areola clawed the left-back’s cross out Mount was on hand to settle the contest, if not the debate about Lampard.