Ten-man Chelsea fell to a first defeat against Fulham since 2006 on a frustrating night at Craven Cottage.

The Blues were the better team for much of the contest, and looked more dangerous in the attacking third than in recent away fixtures. Debutant Joao Felix played a big part in that, skilful and creative from the first whistle, but his night ended in disappointment when he was sent off shortly before the hour for a high tackle.

By that point Kalidou Koulibaly’s close-range finish had drawn us level straight after the interval, Willian having given the hosts the advantage against his former club midway through the first half.

The 10 men fell behind to Carlos Vinicius’ header, though, and while we battled hard a second equaliser proved beyond us.

The selection

Joao Felix went straight into the Chelsea starting XI after his paperwork was completed earlier today. The Portuguese’s inclusion was one of four changes to personnel Graham Potter made. He also altered our shape, switching to a three-man central defence with wing-backs.

Thiago Silva returned between Trevoh Chalobah and Koulibaly, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Lewis Hall at wing-back.

Denis Zakaria joined Mateo Kovacic in central midfield, and Mason Mount and Joao Felix played off Havertz in a typically fluid frontline.

Joao Felix off to a flier

It took Joao Felix scarcely a minute to show his class. A positive touch infield took him past Tim Ream, and he then picked out Havertz with a clear sight of goal. His effort was blocked, and though he was still able to tee up Hall, the left wing-back’s effort was too close to Leno, who saved with his feet.

Joao Felix then daintily flicked the ball over his namesake Joao Palhinha in the middle of the park. Such was the fear he instilled in our hosts two of their players, Antonee Robinson and Andreas Pereira, were booked for fouls on him before the quarter-hour mark.

Joao Felix dragged his first shot in anger wide of the near post after a free-kick he had won was eventually worked to him. He was also off-target with a volley, but the flag was up anyway.

Nonetheless, the spark he had injected into our team was obvious, and helped get the best out of Mount and Havertz, too.

Old friend returns to haunt us

Aside from a Vinicius shot wide, Fulham had created little of note by the midway point of an action-packed first half.

But they signalled their intent when Bobby Decordova-Reid smashed a shot against the crossbar after Chalobah misjudged a header in the wind.

Alas, the reprieve was temporary. Fulham stole possession by our corner flag and the resulting cross was glanced clear only as far as Willian, who cut inside his good mate Azpilicueta and went for goal. A healthy deflection off Chalobah took it past Kepa and into the net, via the right-hand post.

Joao Felix shot hard and straight at Leno in response. The keeper then needed good reactions and a strong right hand to palm Hall’s deflected volley behind.

With five minutes to go until the break, we created two more chances. Azpilicueta’s shot was deflected over after more good work from Joao Felix and Havertz, and then that duo combined. Havertz outmuscled Tosin Adarabioyo and laid it off to our new attacker, who didn’t waste time before getting his shot away, parried to safety by Leno.

Deserved equaliser

Going forward we had looked bright and probably merited a goal for our efforts. Though one didn’t arrive before half-time, we didn’t have to wait long to find the net in the second period, less than two minutes in fact.

That said, it didn’t hit the net! Hall won a free-kick wide on the left which Mount whipped goalwards. It thudded into the post, hit the diving Leno and fell to Koulibaly, who instinctively prodded goalwards. Though Leno got hands to it, he was still behind the line from the initial Mount effort. Goal-line technology confirmed the goal. 1-1.

The momentum proved short-lived as, in the space of a couple of minutes before the hour mark, our evening took a major turn for the worse.

Turning points

First, in starting a counter-attack, Zakaria pulled up in serious pain and had to replaced by Jorginho. Then, Joao Felix’s promising debut came to an abrupt halt when he was shown a straight red card for a dangerous tackle on Kenny Tete near the halfway line.

We responded well to the setback. Havertz and Mount, alone in attack now, combined, allowing the German to glide between Fulham’s centre-back pairing. As the angle narrowed, he tried to dink the ball over Leno, who stayed tall and saved with his face.

Our shape had seemed solid enough, but one teasing wide cross from Pereira found a hole in our backline and induced hesitancy from Kepa, who came but didn’t claim. Vinicius was left to head into an empty net.

With 10 minutes left, Potter made a quadruple substitution, and we reverted to a back four. Hakim Ziyech now supported Havertz, Cucurella was at left-back and Conor Gallagher and Carney Chukwuemeka were tasked with adding energy and quality to the middle of the park. It almost paid instant dividends but Chukwuemeka’s pass was a fraction behind Havertz.

The clock ticked down with Fulham holding on. In six minutes of time added on, the final chance fell Havertz’s way. Koulibaly’s long pass released him behind and he took his shot early, meeting it cleanly. His compatriot Leno was equal to it, though, so the west London bragging rights were Fulham’s for the first time in 21 games.

What’s next?

The Blues have another London derby this Sunday. We welcome Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge with kick-off at 2pm.

Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Kepa; Chalobah (Chukwuemeka 79), Thiago Silva, Koulibaly; Azpilicueta (c), Zakaria (Jorginho 56), Kovacic (Gallagher 79), Hall (Cucurella 79); Felix, Mount (Ziyech 80); Havertz.
Unused subs Bettinelli, Badiashile, Aubameyang, D.Fofana.
Scorer Koulibaly 47
Sent off Joao Felix 58
Booked Chalobah 36, Hall 62, Mount 76

Fulham (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, Adarabioyo, Ream (c), Robinson; Reed (Cairney 68), Palhinha; Decordova-Reid (Wilson 68), Pereira (James 90+3), Willian (Solomon 83); Vinicius (Chalobah 90+4).
Unused subs Rodak, Diop, Kurzawa, Harris.
Scorers Willian 25, Vinicius 73
Booked Robinson 9, Pereira 14, Leno 90+6

Referee David Coote
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