Kai Havertz was the Chelsea hero at Stamford Bridge today with a well-taken goal in each half, further cementing our place in the top four and extending our winning run against Fulham in the league to a club record seven games.
The German netted early in the first and second periods, with both goals owing plenty to their creator. Mason Mount set up the opener after exquisitely controlling a long pass, and shortly after the restart Timo Werner supplied his compatriot once Havertz had brought the ball down. Touch and timing were key.
In most home games under Thomas Tuchel the Chelsea goalkeeper has had little to do, but that was not the case against a Fulham side fighting for their lives. Edouard Mendy made three genuinely superb first-half saves to keep the Cottagers at bay, with one to keep out former Blue Ola Aina on the cusp of the interval as impressive as it was important.
Havertz’s second in the 49th minute helped us control the tempo a little better in what was a high-octane west London derby. Hakim Ziyech and Werner might have notched goals of their own but this was another commanding home performance from the Blues, who are six points clear of West Ham in fifth, for now at least.
It sets us up very nicely indeed for the visit of Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Tuchel freshened up his Chelsea side with five changes to the midweek starting XI, and a new shape. Billy Gilmour was positioned in a deep-lying role in front of the back three in his first league start of the season, with Mount and Ziyech ahead of him in support of Havertz and Werner. The wing-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell provided width as usual. It ended up looking something like a 3-3-2-2, although a more familiar 3-4-3 after the second goal.
Fulham were unchanged from their last game a fortnight ago at Arsenal.
That extended rest showed in the early minutes as the Cottagers pinned us back. As well as winning a couple of corners, it took a flying fingertip save from Mendy to deny Antonee Robinson a blockbuster of an opening goal.
Our neighbours’ dominance proved short-lived as Chelsea’s fluid frontline, regularly containing four players in attacking central positions, began to find space.
Mount had already seen one cross-shot nearly find Werner when he sublimely teed up Havertz on 10 minutes. The initial artistry was in an immaculate first touch as Mount plucked a long Thiago Silva pass out of the sky. He followed that with a through ball that was begging to be converted. Havertz obliged with a calm finish under Alphonse Areola.
We kept our foot on the gas in search of a quick second. Ziyech had a shot blocked, and then Havertz put the ball in the net again from a Mount pass, only for the offside flag to be raised.
The intensity remained high. Back Fulham came, showing the sort of purpose that has caused so many Premier League teams problems this season, even if their points tally does not prove it.
Captain Thiago Silva blocked Bobby De Cordova-Reid’s fierce strike, and midway through the half Mendy displayed expert reflexes to keep out Ademola Lookman low to his right.
By now the Blues were happy to play on the break, seizing on any misplaced Fulham passing. One error allowed Mount to slip in Werner, who unselfishly squared to Ziyech. His shot was too close to Areola. Werner had an effort of his own saved by the Fulham stopper sixty seconds later.
The final action of the half came in added time, and nearly resulted in an equaliser. Robinson’s cross fell to Aina, who chested and volleyed goalwards from 20 yards out. Again Mendy came to our rescue, reacting sharply as a small deflection off James diverted the ball’s trajectory.
Fulham had certainly served notice of their threat, so scoring a second goal in the second half felt important.
We only had to wait three minutes to do just that. This time it was Havertz who balletically brought a long pass under his spell before rolling the ball square to Werner. He took his time, looked up and slipped in Havertz, who had carried on his run. The first-time finish past Areola was typically cool.
It made it four Premier League goals for the season for Havertz, while the supplier Werner moved into double figures in the competition for assists.
By now our shape had reverted to a more conventional 3-4-3. Shortly after the hour N’Golo Kante replaced Ziyech and joined Gilmour, a calm presence throughout, in central midfield.
Mount moved into the front three and shook off a heavy landing to play on. He was in the thick of things as another neat Blues move ended with James nearly finding Werner. Tammy Abraham then came on for Mount, and Marcos Alonso for Chilwell was our final change.
In truth our second goal slightly punctured Fulham's efforts, although they kept plugging away in search of late drama. It was not forthcoming, with our defence proving miserly again, racking up a 17th clean sheet in 23 games under Tuchel. It looks like we will not be contesting this derby in the Premier League next season.
Real Madrid! The second leg of our Champions League semi-final is set to be a cracker. Kick-off is at 8pm on Wednesday 5 May.
Chelsea (3-3-2-2): Mendy; Christensen, Thiago Silva (c), Zouma; James, Gilmour, Chilwell (Alonso 81); Ziyech (Kante 66), Mount (Abraham 76); Havertz, Werner.
Unused subs Kepa, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Anjorin, Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic.
Scorer Havertz 10, 49
Booked Zouma 41
Fulham (4-4-2): Areola, Aina, Andersen, Adarabioyo, Robinson, De Cordova-Reid, Anguissa, Lemina (Carvalho 78), Lookman, Cavaleiro (Onomah 78), Maja (Mitrovic 81).
Unused subs Rodak, Tete, Ream, Hector, Odoi, Bryan.
Booked Aina 90+4
Referee Kevin Friend