The short journey to Craven Cottage proved a fruitful one in 2004/05, as we detail in the next feature retelling the story of that legendary season...
‘Wow! They are the top team, a great team. We were played off the park.’Chris Coleman
Do clubs from the capital have it tougher in the Premier League than those outside of London? On the one hand, there are the local derbies to contend with – typically around 10 per season – with the added intensity that comes with such occasions, both physically and mentally.
However, when the fixtures computer is kind to a club, as it was to the Blues in 2004/05, having so many neighbours, no matter how noisy, could have its benefits; between 3 November and Boxing Day, the Blues were required to travel outside of London twice. Both games were in other competitions – Newcastle in the Carling Cup and Porto for a Champions League dead rubber – and it was during this time that Chelsea made the most of our capital gains to seize control of the Premier League title race.
After progressing past the Toon Army, helped by another stunning solo effort from Arjen Robben, the Blues made the short journey across west London – steps we would retrace a few weeks later in the League Cup – to take on Fulham. The need for victory was emphasised by the other local clash that had taken place earlier in the day – a 5-4 victory for Arsenal against Tottenham Hotspur which Jose Mourinho suggested was an ‘ice hockey result’.
In the event, Chelsea’s opening goal against the Whites wasn’t too dissimilar to a Wayne Gretzky slapshot, although it probably more closely resembled Colin Montgomerie’s trademark ‘fade’ tee shot out on the golf course. Frank Lampard’s right foot acted as the club head, delivering a vicious, swerving strike from a free-kick which left Mark Crossley rooted to the spot (celebrated top).
How Chelsea were not ahead before that owed much to the burly Fulham keeper; how the lead was not extended more a question of referee Uriah Rennie’s interpretation of the rulebook.
It was already fairly evident, even at such a relatively early stage of the season, that anything to find its way past Petr Cech would have to be pretty special. Step forward Papa Boupa Diop, who larruped a blockbuster volley from all of 30 yards. Craven Cottage erupted.
It was the Senegalese midfielder’s first goal for the club, two years on from his scrappy effort against France at the 2002 World Cup – what was it about the colour blue?
The Fulham matchday programme for the game included a table which pitted Bouba Diop and Claude Makelele’s stats against each other. The man known as The Wardrobe had attempted 16 shots prior to this game, finding the target with just three of them; Makelele just one shot off target. However, with a pass completion rate of 85 per cent and 89 per cent of tackles won, Maka comfortably came out on top in the categories which mattered to Mourinho.
The buzz word in football at the time was ‘bouncebackability’, a term coined by Crystal Palace boss Iain Dowie which was soon added to the Collins English Dictionary with the definition: ‘The ability to recover after a setback, particularly in sport.’
It was not something Chelsea had needed to concern themselves with too much, having trailed only once in a Premier League game. But this was the first time under Mourinho that we had been pegged back after taking the lead – how would the boys respond? The answer: instantly and emphatically.
In what was becoming a recurring theme, Robben was the source. Fulham’s defence committed two sins when attempting to clear the ball. The first, was that there was too little distance on Mark Pembridge’s headed clearance; the second, and arguably greater, was to pick out the slippery Dutchman.
One drop of the shoulder sent two defenders to the turf; his feet were then simply too quick for those in the Cottagers’ rearguard who had managed to remain upright. The only person who could have stopped Robben from scoring was Frank Lampard, who swung his boot at the ball only to discover his team-mate had got there first.
Fifty years earlier, in Chelsea’s first championship-winning year, the Blues benefited from a goal which was officially recorded as a ‘Froggatt and Milburn shared own goal’ – the only joint own goal in professional English football. Had Robben’s timing been a split-second off, the Blues may have been responsible for another ‘double’ goalscorer.
The winger’s celebration hardly made it clear. There was barely a flicker of emotion on his face as he casually jogged towards a jubilant Chelsea dugout – even a bear hug from Steve Clarke couldn’t entice a smile out of the Dutchman. In reality, no player in the division was in hotter form and the message seemed to be: ‘Did you expect anything less?’
William Gallas’s header gave us an advantage which was soon to become unassailable, courtesy of Tiago. The Portuguese midfielder was a vital cog in this well-oiled machine and, although this part is often forgotten, a scorer of some of our most spectacular goals throughout his only season in west London.
Here was another: a link-up down the left with Robben, who delivered a backheel into his path on the edge of the box; then, a jink past the tired Fulham defender followed by a fierce low drive into the far corner.
‘It’s great to see everyone scoring, not just the forwards,’ said John Terry. ‘We get goals from the back, from midfield, from the wide men – from everyone except Paulo [Ferreira] and Maka. I don’t think Paulo’s ever scored, and Maka’s never even scored in training! That’s the challenge for the rest of the season: Paulo to score in a game, and Maka just to get one in training!’
The last word, however, goes to Chris Coleman, who was sitting in the opposition dugout and helpless to stop his side receive a derby-day drubbing.
‘They're the best team we've played, better than Arsenal,’ said the Welshman, who started his managerial career as a 32-year-old after his playing days were ended following a car crash. ‘We were played off the park. We couldn't get a kick of the ball. There is a simplicity about Chelsea's game and every player in every position is comfortable on the ball. We were out of our depth.
‘When Robben plays like that, he's the best player in the world. I have watched him a couple of times this season and he is a special player. I told my defenders not to worry because they've only got to play him twice more this season and then it's over. I'm just glad we don't have to play Chelsea every week.’
- By Richard Godden - Chelsea matchday programme editor
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