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Chelsea 1-0 Fulham: Cole Palmer penalty earns Blues derby bragging rights



(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

A cool conversion from Cole Palmer was enough to see Chelsea past Fulham 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon.

Three Premier League points on the board is exactly what Mauricio Pochettino needed after the Blues had sunk to a shock defeat in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final in midweek, although the trademark indecisiveness and profligacy was imprinted on the hosts’ performance.

It was fairly languid start to the game from both sides, with neither settling into a consistent tempo on an especially chilly afternoon in west London. Kenny Tete escaped an early yellow card for simulation, while Enzo Fernandez was trying his best to force the issue – a few incisive passes coming to nothing and a shot on goal blocked in the first ten minutes.

The hosts started to gain a foothold thereafter. A sustained spell of pressure kept the Cottagers pinned in their defensive third, but Chelsea patience was giving way to ponderousness in the decisive moments. When they did fashion half a yard, Conor Gallagher leaned back and rifled an attempt from the edge of the box over the bar after tenacious, combative play from Fernandez and Moises Caicedo.

(Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Fulham’s forays forwards almost exclusively focused on the left flank in the early going, perhaps targeting Levi Colwill who was again deployed in an unnatural position. Chelsea’s number 26 was handling it with the minimal of fuss, though, with a crunching but fair challenge on Harry Wilson typifying his resilience.

The Blues would have their best opportunity so far on the twenty minute mark. Armando Broja peeled away from his marker to meet a Fernandez cross, only to power a header just wide at the near post. The movement and alertness from the Albanian was encouraging even as the Stamford Bridge faithful bemoaned another miss, and Fernandez was clearly at the races.

Djordje Petrovic was called into action for the first time just after the midway point of the first period, comfortably holding on to a low drive from Andreas Pereira. The big Serbian would have to come up with a big save just a matter of moments later, making a smart stop at the near stick to deny an overlapping Wilson.

At the other end Chelsea’s indecisiveness continued to permeate their efforts, with Broja declining an advance on goal and Cole Palmer getting away a tame attempt that was easily gobbled up by Bernd Leno. Tete was also keeping the veteran experience of Raheem Sterling particularly quiet.

Murmurs of discontent were starting to brew in the home crowd as the half drew to its conclusion. A nice moment of recognition for Willian as a former Blue was the only thing that suspended the sense of disquiet. For all the love he received from the stands, the love was altogether more tough on the pitch for the Brazilian with Malo Gusto planting a foot on top of his ankle after overrunning the ball. A yellow was shown to the Frenchman, and the Video Assistant Referee did take a quick look.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Just as it looked like we were heading into the interval goalless, Sterling was adjudged to have been hacked down by Issa Diop in the box after a cute reverse pass from Palmer had set him clear. Palmer could only duly oblige in typical fashion, planting the ball into the bottom right corner from twelve yards and completely changing the complexion of the fixture with what was effectively the final action of the first period. The goal seemed to lift everyone’s gloom, not least Pochettino who had been especially irate until that point.

That goal for Palmer means he now stands alone for the most goals scored by a player aged 21 or under in a Premier League season for Chelsea, and he looked in the mood for more immediately after the break. Broja failed to get a shot away after some nice play from the Englishman, so he took matters into his own hands and bended an effort over the crossbar.

The Pensioners were pushing for daylight on the scoreboard, and only the post denied that coming to fruition shortly afterwards with Sterling crashing an header off the woodwork after yet another sumptuous delivery into the box from Fernandez.

Proceedings were starting to open up, with the away side next to launch an offensive. Willian’s shot was blocked by Axel Disasi – by an illegal hand, they protested – before Raul Jimenez would launch the ball into orbit via his head. Another striker it wasn’t happening for was Broja, who met a low drive from Gusto but failed to enact a meaningful connection towards the target. Fernandez went into the book after that for winning the ball cleanly from Tom Cairney – answers on a postcard.

Palmer continued to dazzle, starting a move on the hour mark by flicking the ball over Antonee Robinson and playing in Gusto, only for Fulham to desperately clear away. It’d only get as far as the ex-Manchester City starlet, who sent one curling just wide of the far post. Marco Silva would respond by being the first to turn to his subs bench, with Timothy Castagne and Bobby Decordova-Reid on for Tete and Wilson.

(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Pochettino would respond in kind, with Armando Broja’s tough day at the office coming to an end when replaced by Noni Madueke. The latter was almost in on goal instantly, if not for the anticipation of Leno to snuff out a ball in from Sterling. Madueke would turn provider moments later for Colwill, who would blaze harmlessly over from twenty yards.

The next attempt fell the way of the Cottagers. Andreas Pereira managed to run in behind Thiago Silva and square for Jimenez, but his scuffed shot was met by a strong hand from Petrovic. Perhaps seeking some defensive solidity, the Chelsea boss turned to Ben Chilwell, whom received a very warm reception as he made his return from injury.

A slew of Chelsea yellow cards in quick succession demonstrated how fraught the game was becoming, with the Blues having to dig in to protect their lead. They didn’t have to do much to protect it from Jimenez’s next attempt, however, with the Mexican trying from his own half but failing to connect properly. Gallagher showed him how it was done, striking the ball sweetly on the half-volley from the edge of the box but clipping the post.

Into the final five minutes, and Willian threatened to break Blues hearts with a free kick that was far too close to comfort but not near enough to Petrovic’s goal. The game slowly petered towards its conclusion, with Madueke forcing Leno into a low save in stoppage time. Pochettino ran down the clock by introducing Alfie Gilchrist and the returning Carney Chukwuemeka – with the former making two exceptional late clearances – and that was enough to kill the contest and bag Chelsea a much-needed win ahead of a big second leg against Middlesbrough in the cup.