The first half was a dull and disappointing half from a Chelsea viewpoint. Major talking points were Chelsea not capitalising on the mistakes of the nervous Fulham goalkeeper Stekelenburg as well as hardly mustering shots of meaning on goal.
Jose Mourinho was seen screaming “Fernando! Fernando! HERE! HERE!” calling out Fernando Torres who was lazily caught out of position, and pointing to an area of the pitch where he should have been while the team was containing Fulham.
It could easily be seen that the team wanted to conserve their energy and stroll past their neighbouring rivals, but their direct approach gameplay requires the team to be involved heavily in off- the- ball movements.
The major problem here was that due to the weary midweek schedule that saw Chelsea play Galatasaray in adverse away conditions, they simply did not have that zeal or stamina to execute their game plan.
This was mostly because defensively, Fulham were better than their usual abysmal performance in the first half; else Chelsea with 50-60 per cent of their usual style would have beaten them in the first half itself.
Again, Chelsea could not get their talismanic playmaker Eden Hazard on the ball.
The first half saw major possession dominated in the defensive midfield region where the Blues’ defenders and central midfielders passed the ball without ideas. Chelsea’s front four were largely not involved in attacks of meaning considering the fact that Fulham were sitting deep and understandably looking to contain their table-topping rivals.
In fact, Chelsea’s vulnerability was showcased when Fulham attacked on the break as Felix Magath had chosen an experienced side for Fulham. However, the Blues’ defence was in top form and did not let the first half slump affect the score-line as it ended 0-0.
Well, it was clearly a change- in- tactics situation as the second half was visibly different and much better than the first half.
Mourinho’s usual direct approach style of play was sacrificed for maybe the first time. It was also because Chelsea realised that they are going to have so much possession that concentrating only on containing and attacking as the only two ways to get a result would be a failure.
There was clear departmentalisation of work duties. It was no longer Matic, Terry and Cahill passing the ball around, it was Oscar passing to Hazard who created chances. Andre Schurrle was playing further up the field, on level with Torres but from the wings, whereas Oscar went deeper and played as a deep lying playmaker, a position which demands him to use his technique of holding the ball, which for a youngster of such a frail frame can be pretty demanding.
But Oscar shone brighter than the stars. Matic and Ramires worked hard behind him and Oscar with his improved passing and lesser running could easily find Hazard, Schurrle and Torres in space.
If Oscar shone brighter than the stars, Hazard and Schurrle shone brighter than Oscar! Both of them were playing in their preferred positions with equal freedom; with Hazard occupying the advanced playmaker role while Schurrle playing a free role as the second striker along with Torres who was playing as an out-an-out centre forward.
Jose Mourinho’s basic requirement of his players was containing their opposition whenever they lose possession, which the Blues did very easily as it looked clear that Fulham were exceptionally low in confidence while attacking.
Thus the defensive midfielders focussed on shielding the back four and the attacking midfielders focussed on creating chances for Torres or Schurrle by occupying different positions on the pitch.
This was very observable as work rate and sheer power which Chelsea like to show off in their games was not used in this match. The focus of the attacking midfielders was to dribble an opponent and pass the ball around in space, not to run around with the ball or having an acceleration in the pass speeds from the defence to the attack as the ball travels from Terry to Torres i.e. trying to execute Brazilian football at a time when energy levels are a bit low.
As both Oscar and Hazard were playing as playmakers they could easily preserve their energy and simply use their acceleration to beat players, similar to Mata but with more defensive potential on offer, as with any hint of a Fulham counter Attack, a 4-5-1 flat formation was established within seconds.
Fernando Torres offered Andre Schurrle the luxury of not facing a centre back. Fulham full back Richardson was terribly out of position most of the time and the centre halves were more focussed on marking Torres as he is a traditional striker and Schurrle is a variable forward who is more known to operate from the wings.
The German international took full advantage of weak positional awareness of the Fulham full backs Richardson and Reither, and drifted in many times unnoticed. Now it was even clearer that Andre Schurrle is technically a forward player while Willian is a midfield player as the former is extremely dangerous with his forward runs in order to get behind the full backs and drift in.
The adopted formation in the second half (Hazard and Schurrle playing free roles to provide width whenever required.)
Major factor of this half was Eden Hazard, as the Belgian controlled the game so well that we could see a future legend growing inside him. That Rabona cross by Hazard was one of the highlights of this half.
This game play was a refreshing change as Chelsea looked to be clinical and kill the game on their own, if it is believed from Andre Schurrle’s post match MOTM speech that Mourinho did not tell them anything special to do during the half time break but just perform to their potential.
We saw players playing intelligently and not wasting possession in the final third as Mourinho finally seemed to have struck a chord with the mentality of the team. It is just a matter of time that the Pundits get really excited to predict the score-line of a Chelsea game as the second half offered a lot of promise.
With Jose Mourinho poised to get the best out of the best young talent in the world, Eden Hazard, will the Blues win the much coveted and long awaited Premier League Title? Probably fan-favourite Jose would say, “We’re just focussing on the Spurs game next week.”