Mason Mount struck late against 10-man Fulham to settle this west London derby in our favour and secure a first league win in four.
The midfielder’s second Premier League goal this season was clinically converted with 12 minutes remaining and capped an enterprising individual performance from Mount.
Chelsea were the better team for vast swathes of a tightly-contested derby at the Cottage, although we did have the advantage of playing the entire second period with an extra man after Fulham’s Antonee Robinson was shown a straight red card for dangerous play on the stroke of half-time.
Clear chances proved hard to come by throughout against a well-organised home side. Mount crashed a shot against the crossbar in the first half and sub Tammy Abraham had a good headed opportunity saved before Mount eventually breached Fulham’s defensive barricade. Edouard Mendy didn't have much to do as the Blues battled hard to earn a clean sheet despite a couple of scares.
Our first 1-0 away victory in the Premier League since December 2018 extends our winning run against Fulham to seven in a row and makes it 19 games unbeaten against our nearest neighbours.
Frank Lampard made three changes to the side that started our last league outing a fortnight ago, with one of them enforced because of N’Golo Kante’s suspension.
Jorginho replaced the Frenchman in the heart of midfield and there are also starts for Olivier Giroud in attack and Toni Rudiger at the back. They come in for Timo Werner and Kurt Zouma respectively.
Reece James was available again after injury and named on the bench.
Mounting an early threat
Chelsea looked to take the game to our opponents from the off on a chilly evening beside the Thames. In the fourth minute, Azpilicueta did well to win a corner which was played in low to Mount. His shot was threatening but blocked.
The 22-year-old was involved in our next attack of note, skilfully crafting a shooting chance for Giroud on the edge of the box. His sweetly-struck half-volley was tipped wide by Alphonse Areola, protecting the Hammersmith End goal in the first half.
Fulham’s Robinson, a summer arrival from Wigan who almost joined AC Milan this time last year, showcased his threat from left wing-back on the quarter-hour mark. Darting past Azpilicueta, he centred dangerously with Rudiger in the right place to intercept, and then block not one but two shots on goal, Ademola Lookman and Robinson the men thwarted.
Rudiger was at it again soon after, impressively holding up Ivan Cavaleiro at the end of a Fulham break that took them dangerously close to our goal.
We quickly reasserted our dominance and started moving the ball with real pace and purpose. Midway through the first half, Hakim Ziyech had a decent strike saved after a cushioned Giroud pass, and then on 25 minutes we so nearly broke the deadlock.
The first cross from Azpilicueta was cleared only as far as Chilwell on the opposite flank. He sent a teaser over which Robinson could only invitingly head into Mount’s path. He returned it with interest and thudded the crossbar.
It needed another good Areola save to stop Rudiger crowning his bright start with a goal. His header was destined for the corner until the Fulham keeper intervened.
Bad miss and worse tackle
We should have been punished for our profligacy as half-time approached. Robinson and Lookman neatly combined to take Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva out of the equation and allow the former to burst into space down the left once more. He found Kenny Tete whose cushioned first-time pass to Ivan Cavaleiro was asking to be converted. Instead the Fulham frontman fluffed his lines.
It went from bad to worse for the Cottagers barely 60 seconds later as Robinson flew into a tackle, high and late, on Azpilicueta. Referee Peter Bankes showed red and replays only backed up his decision.
The Blues would be playing the second half against 10 men.
Dominance of possession and territory translated to a number of early corners but no clear openings. Even a man light, Fulham, having conceded three goals in their past six matches, would be a tough nut to crack.
On 62 minutes, Giroud put a very good chance past the post but the offside flag spared his blushes anyhow. Lampard then brought Tammy Abraham on for Jorginho and moved to two up front. Our no.9’s first involvement was to head a wonderful Rudiger cross straight at Areola. Pulisic then narrowly failed to reach a Ziyech delivery.
Fulham had barely been in our half since the red card, but disaster nearly struck with a little over 20 minutes remaining. Azpilicueta intercepted a quick free-kick and played it back to Mendy, not realising the keeper had come off his line. He touched it as far as Cavaleiro who tried to find the unguarded net, but thankfully Thiago Silva could block.
With a quarter-of-an-hour to play, Lampard shuffled his pack for the final time tonight. On came Callum Hudson-Odoi and Werner, and off went Ziyech and Giroud.
It paid almost instant dividends, although it was two starters who initiated the 78th-minute breakthrough. Chilwell worked hard to manoeuvre a crossing position and his delivery worried Areola enough to palm it away. It ran only as far as Mount who perfectly placed a powerful shot past a couple of white shirts and into the net.
Relief, and just reward for an energetic midfield showing from Mount.
We defended our lead effectively and could have added to it in stoppage time, Azpilicueta and Werner both missing the target when well placed, but a gritty, patient showing with a touch of class when it mattered ensures we will be taking all the points back down the Fulham Road.
We are on our travels again on Tuesday night, further afield at Leicester City. The Blues will head to the King Power full of confidence.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Mendy; Azpilicueta (c), Thiago Silva, Rudiger, Chilwell; Kovacic, Jorginho (Abraham 65), Mount; Ziyech (Hudson-Odoi 75), Giroud (Werner 75), Pulisic.
Unused subs Kepa, James, Emerson, Gilmour.
Scorer Mount 78
Booked Ziyech 72, Thiago Silva 82, Azpilicueta 90+3
Fulham (3-4-3): Areola; Aina, Andersen (c), Adarabioyo; Tete, Reed, Anguissa, Robinson; Decordova-Reid (Kamara 83), Cavaleiro (Onomah 79), Lookman.
Unused subs Rodak, Hector, Odoi, Kebano, Ream, Bryan.
Booked Decordova-Reid 69
Sent off Robinson 44
Referee Peter Bankes