There were some promising signs of what the future might hold for Chelsea, with several new signings on show and old favourites returning from injury, but the Blues had to settle for a draw after going close to a winning goal on several occasions.
We hosted Fulham at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League on the day January arrivals Enzo Fernandez and Noni Madueke both made their Chelsea debuts, in addition to Reece James, Raheem Sterling and Ben Chilwell all returning to action.
It took some time for the game to pick up much in the way of a rhythm, but after Kepa Arrizabalaga had produced one impressive save to deny Andreas Pereira, it was the home side who kept coming closest to finding a breakthrough.
Kai Havertz threatened repeatedly, with only a last-ditch intervention by Tim Ream and the inside of the post preventing him from finding the net in the first half, before Conor Gallagher rippled the side-netting and David Fofana looked like he had scored a brilliant first Chelsea goal, only for his effort to be cleared off the line by Ream.
There were three changes to the Chelsea starting line-up from the draw at Liverpool last time out, with three of our January signings involved from kick-off, while Reece James made just his second appearance since going off injured against AC Milan in October.
James slotted in on the right side of the defence in place of Trevoh Chalobah, in the only change to our back line, as Thiago Silva, Benoit Badiashile and Marc Cucurella continued in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga. Thiago Silva captained the side.
In midfield, the departed Jorginho was replaced by our newest signing Enzo Fernandez, who was given his debut by Graham Potter at the earliest opportunity, just days after signing for the Blues from Benfica. He was joined in midfield by Mason Mount and Conor Gallagher.
Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech continued in our attack, but were joined by Mykhailo Mudryk, who started his first game for Chelsea after coming off the bench at Anfield.
There was plenty going on at Stamford Bridge ahead of kick-off, with Cesar Azpilicueta presented with an award to mark his 500th Chelsea appearance, after he became the first overseas player to reach that landmark for the Blues at Anfield in our previous match.
New signing Enzo Fernandez was presented to the Stamford Bridge crowd ahead of his debut, and there was a moment of applause for the supporters to show their appreciation for Jorginho, who left for Arsenal on transfer deadline day following four-and-a-half years at Stamford Bridge.
On the brink of kick-off, there were also banners unveiled at both ends of Stamford Bridge paying tribute to Academy graduate Reece James on his return from injury.
There were a couple of early sparks for Chelsea, both involving our new signings. First, Fernandez did well to spread the play out to James on the right with space to run into, although he was ultimately caught by former Blues winger Willian, before Gallagher and Mount combined impressively in midfield to feed Mudryk on the left, but his return to Mount was just too far ahead of his new team-mate, allowing Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno to rush out and smother the ball.
Our biggest threat early on definitely seemed to be from the wide areas, with James overlapping Ziyech on the right and Mudryk finding space on the left, but it wouldn’t quite fall our way to create a clear chance in what was a fairly quiet first 15 minutes by both teams.
In fact, the closest we came to an obvious opportunity to open the scoring during that period came from Fulham’s own making, as a wayward defensive header just outside the box sent the ball back towards their own goal and Havertz came close to capitalising on the resulting confusion. The German thought he had gone even closer when he met a brilliant Thiago Silva ball over the top with a clever flick on the outside of his boot, but Leno got a toe to it and then the linesman’s flag was raised anyway.
However, for all that we had started to look the most likely to find a breakthrough, it took a brilliant save from Kepa to keep things goalless at the other end. Fulham broke quickly after winning the ball in the air following a free-kick deep in their own half, feeding the ball to Andreas Pereira outside the box. He spun towards goal with his first touch before firing a powerful drive low at goal, but Kepa stretched across to claw it away from the bottom corner.
Growing into the game
The offside flag was starting to become a frequent annoyance for the Chelsea players, particularly Havertz, who was caught out by Fulham’s line again as he tried to control a good pass from Mudryk, the Ukrainian winger showing a taste of the skill and pace that had prompted Chelsea to sign him as he cut in from the left flank.
It was becoming difficult for the Blues to find a rhythm on the ball, as twice good opportunities to launch a counter were ended by cynical Fulham fouls, with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Pereira both somehow avoiding cards from the referee.
Shortly after that, Havertz continued to edge ever closer to a goal. First he was at full stretch at the back post to meet Mount’s pass across the face of goal, but a crucial touch by Tim Ream altered the flight of the ball at the last moment and prevented the German controlling his effort. He then made the next opportunity himself, pressuring Ream as he pursued a bouncing ball and getting a toe to it, which wrong-footed the keeper but bounced just wide.
Kai close again
Havertz must have been starting to wonder just what he would have to do to get on the scoresheet in this game as he went a whisker away from opening the scoring once again, right on the stroke of half-time. It would have been a fine Chelsea goal too, as Badiashile did brilliantly to anticipate a Fulham pass and step in to intercept, before playing a clever pass forward to Mount. He flicked the ball towards Ziyech before the Moroccan faded a beautifully weighted pass over the Fulham defence ahead of Havertz.
This time the German’s run was perfectly timed to beat the offside trap and he watched the keeper rushing out and defenders sprinting to the line as he waited for the ball to bounce, before lifting a chip over them all. Painfully, though, the ball came back off the top of the near post and spun crazily across the goalmouth before being hooked clear by the visiting defenders.
There was a change at half-time by Potter, with one new arrival making way for another, as Noni Madueke came off the bench to make his Chelsea debut in a straight swap on the left flank. The young winger was almost involved straight away, as Mount flicked on a James cross with his head, but Leno was on his toes and came off his line to claim it comfortably on the edge of his six-yard box.
It was certainly a more lively start to the second half than we had to the first, as Decordova-Reid then flashed a ball across the face of Kepa’s goal, and a further spark was added when Pereira flew in to a challenge on Cucurella. The Fulham midfielder was only shown a yellow card following a VAR review, but could count himself doubly lucky it wasn’t his second booking after avoiding censure for a cynical foul on Fernandez in the first half.
Although the momentum was swinging slightly in our favour, Potter made further changes in pursuit of the opening goal. The first was obvious as James, who our head coach had said before the match wasn’t yet ready for 90 minutes following his injury, was replaced by Cesar Azpilicueta, while the other saw Raheem Sterling return from a month out injured for Ziyech, taking up position on the left wing as Madueke moved across to the right.
Sterling tried to make things happen straight away, coming inches away from finding Mount free in behind with a clever pass. It was another sign that Chelsea were increasingly in the ascendancy – Kepa hadn’t been called into action since the opening seconds of the half – but we just needed that moment in the final third to open things up and provide the first goal.
It perhaps tells you the way momentum was shifting that Fulham’s best effort of the second half was when Mitrovic tried to lob Kepa from the halfway line, with the Spaniard getting back to his line in plenty of time to pluck the ball off the crossbar.
As we entered the final 20 minutes, that goal still eluded us, although Fernandez lifted the atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge when he went close to a brilliant goal on his debut, firing a curling first-time shot which beat the goalkeeper but flew just wide of the left-hand post.
Many of those inside the Bridge thought the first goal had finally arrived with just over 10 minutes left, when Ream poked a low Madueke cross away from danger, but only as far as Gallagher on the edge of the box, whose first-time shot rippled the side-netting.
Next up to be left with his head in his hands was David Fofana, who had come on to make his second appearance for Chelsea. It looked for all the world like he was going to score a fantastic first goal for the club when he raced onto Gallagher’s ball over the top and took it around the keeper Leno and then centre-back Issa Diop before shooting left-footed, but Ream slid in just in time to clear it off the line.
It seemed Chelsea couldn’t come much closer, after one shot cleared from under the crossbar and another coming back off the post, and indeed we didn’t, as a match which showed glimpses of what the future might hold for the Blues with several new signings on show and others returning from injury ultimately ended with a frustrating goalless draw.
It is eight days until Chelsea's next game, when we are back in Premier League action, away at West Ham United at 12.30pm on Saturday 11 February.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Kepa; James (Azpilicueta 60), Thiago Silva (c), Badiashile, Cucurella (Chilwell 84); Fernandez; Ziyech (Sterling 60), Gallagher, Mount (D Fofana 75), Mudryk (Madueke h-t); Havertz
Unused subs: Bettinelli, Chalobah, Koulibaly, Chukwuemeka
Booked: Gallagher 64
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, Diop, Ream (c), Robinson; Reed (Cairney 90+1), Palhinha; Willian (Wilson 75), Pereira (Kurzawa 90+4), Decordova-Reid (Solomon 75); Mitrovic (Vinicius 90+1)
Unused subs: Rodak, Adarabioyo, Duffy, James
Booked: Palhinha 22, Pereira 59, Decordova-Reid 67, Marco Silva 84, Wilson 90+3
Referee: Stuart Attwell