World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez, signed in the dying hours on deadline day this past Tuesday, made his Premier League debut for Graham Potter’s Chelsea side but the midfielder couldn’t inspire his new teammates to produce more than a frustrating goalless draw with west London rivals Fulham, who defended valiantly with centre-back and captain Tim Ream in particular.
Chelsea again draw blank, this time against Fulham
After a fast, purposeful start without much in the way of clear-cut opportunities, Chelsea will argue they could’ve had a two-goal cushion to build upon heading into the break. Instead though, things were still goalless and it rather typified their defiencies in the final third this term.
An inability to score freely, coupled with defensive instability and a series of injuries, means they sat nine points adrift of the Champions League places after 20 league games. If surprise package Newcastle and Manchester United both win on Saturday, the gap will rise into double figures.
Marco Silva’s men, 2-1 winners over them at Craven Cottage three weeks prior, were quietly confident they could continue their steady run of form against a side headlined by new signings.
Slender 1-0 defeats by Carabao Cup finalists Newcastle and Europe-chasing Tottenham immediately afterwards hasn’t dampened team spirit, especially considering they already have more points this term (32) than the last time they were promoted to the top-flight (29).
As far as this contest was concerned, this matchup remaining goalless largely came down to captain and centre-back Tim Ream’s anticipation: his outstretched leg distracted Kai Havertz, who slid an effort over the crossbar at the far post after Mason Mount’s low ball across the box.
It was a move kickstarted by their new no. 5, British transfer record £105m signing Enzo Fernandez, who scanned from his deep-lying midfield role and sprayed a pass forward towards the box. Mount looked longingly, as if to say he knew the finishing touch should’ve been better.
As for the visitors, Andreas Pereira forced Kepa Arrizabalaga into a good diving stop. Meanwhile, fullback duo Antonee Robinson and Kenny Tete both advanced forward on encouraging runs down opposite flanks in the first-half – despite promise, neither was rewarded for their efforts.
Joe Speight on commentary heralded Fulham’s sense of quiet control midway through the first-half, but Havertz – deployed as a lone forward – should have opened the scoring after 44 minutes.
Hakim Ziyech, a surprise selection after his PSG loan move collapsed, fed the Germany international with a lofted ball goalwards. He beat Issa Diop’s offside trap attempt and chipped an effort over Bernd Leno, but the deft attempt cannoned back off the crossbar.
Chelsea were frustrated and it was a sign of things to come.
excitement for enzo, but also Minutes for Madueke
Early after the restart, it was another new signing making his mark as England U21 winger Noni Madueke – £30m from PSV last month – quickly became a nuisance for the Cottagers’ backline.
His direct running through midfield, tricky dribbling and creative impetus gave Chelsea a spark they rarely had, expecting more from £63m man Mykhaylo Mudryk, who came off at the break.
Tete was forced into an important last-ditch headed interception at the far post, with Madueke lurking behind him, after Reece James’ dangerous cross was asking to be met.
That was the fullback’s last notable action of the evening on his return from a troublesome knee injury, as Cesar Azpilicueta and Raheem Sterling were introduced on the hour.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, starved of true service throughout, tried his luck from distance having spotted Kepa off his line after Fernandez relinquished possession near the halfway line.
Moments later, Enzo nearly curled a wondergoal into the far corner from range as time ticked by and more substitutions were imminent. Would either side find the breakthrough?
David Datro Fofana, another of the Blues’ winter acquisitions (£10.2m, Molde) made his league debut in a promising cameo appearance while Brazilian winger Willian was warmly received by all four corners of Stamford Bridge after a quietly tenacious showing against his former team.
“I think we deserved the point, hard to come here and play well against Chelsea. It was a special night, spent seven years here and was very happy – as I am now with Fulham – a good reception from the fans who I respect, it was amazing.”
- Willian during his post-match broadcast interview
Leno was rooted to the spot and watched Conor Gallagher’s strike ripple the side netting, before charging out prematurely before Ream saved his blushes with a goal-saving block.
Gallagher’s lofted ball to Fofana saw Leno rush out of his area, the Ivorian swiftly rounded him and left an onrushing Diop sliding across the turf behind him, before shooting goalwards. Ream, not for the first time on the evening, was there in the nick of time to save Fulham’s blushes.
“It’s a team game, we work it every week – defend from the front, attack from the back. It was a fantastic team performance from the first to the last guy, can be very proud of a point here… disappointed maybe not having more than one.
On his goal-line clearance: I’m happy to keep a clean sheet, was in the right place at the right time, [for it] to preserve a point makes it better.”
- Spoken like a true captain, Ream refused to take much credit post-match
In stoppage-time, a goalmouth scramble in the Chelsea box saw Joao Palhinha fire wide before Sterling’s potentially dangerous cross was well claimed by Leno – the evening’s final action.
Much of the talk about Chelsea’s big-money winter acquisitions has seen them forced to make difficult decisions regarding their Champions League registration, with forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dropped from the squad to make space – a mere four months after joining himself.
They have a week to digest and debief plans before their next fixture, another London derby away to West Ham on Saturday lunchtime (12:30pm, Feb. 11). An away trip to Borussia Dortmund awaits four days afterwards, as the Champions League knockout stages begin.
Having recorded a trio of clean sheets for the first time since October, it’ll be interesting to see how Potter accomodates all these new players into his plans.
Naturally, some key players are also returning to full fitness – Mateo Kovacic (calf) and Joao Felix’s suspension – so tough decisions will need to be made.
Fulham stay sixth, though Brighton and Brentford – as well as Chelsea and Liverpool in 10th – all have games in hand over Marco Silva’s side. This was a well-earned point but failure to prevail means they may drop a few positions in the table, depending on other results this weekend.
Up next for them is an FA Cup replay away to Championship side Sunderland on Wednesday, before Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Wolves in the league round off the month on February.
Picture source: Getty Images