On the heels of a dismal performance against Middlesborough in the first leg of the Carabao Cup Semifinal, Chelsea was able to bounce back at Stamford Bridge beating their London rival Fulham 1-0. CFC manager Mauricio Pochettino needed a positive result today against Fulham after the embarrassment from earlier in the week.
It was a performance from the Blues that was far from convincing, dominant, or impressive. But the good news is this, Chelsea have won four of their last five Premier League games and are currently 8th in the table, just three points behind West Ham United who are in 6th.
Pochettino decided to go with almost the same starting 11 that was on the pitch against Middlesborough, the only change was that he put striker Armando Broja back into the starting 11, and moved right winger Noni Madueke to the bench. Palmer struggled in the Carabao Cup game earlier in the week playing more as a center forward than as a right winger or attacking midfielder which is where he usually plays.
For most of the first half, Chelsea played how they usually play, with a lot of possession, but boring, and poor in the final third when it was time to score. Although Fulham are a respectable side that are well coached under Marco Silva, defensively they are far from a brick wall. Regardless, CFC still was wasteful with the ball, as Broja’s lack of skill to hold the ball in the box is alarming.
But what Pochettino does deserve credit for is putting Palmer back on the right wing which made him look much more comfortable, in control, and at ease on the ball. While most of the first half Chelsea were lethargic, towards the end of the half Raheem Sterling drew a foul in the box that led to a penalty. Of course, Palmer stepped up and slotted his fifth penalty goal of the season in five tries.
Throughout the second half, the Blues had their chances, and their attack looked a bit more lively when Pochettino took off Broja and replaced him with Madueke in the 66th minute. But they were unable to add another goal to give themselves a more comfortable lead.
One of the best things that came from this match was the return of two players who have been out with injury for quite a while. In the 77th minute, Pochettino brought on left back and Chelsea vice-captain Ben Chilwell who has been out since September with a hamstring injury. Chilwell certainly provided a defensive presence that was needed toward the end of the game when Fulham was threatening to equalize.
He also brought on Carney Chukwuemeka who has been out with a knee injury since August, along with another youngster, defender Alfie Gilchrist who provided some defensive tenacity towards the end of the game.
Two players that deserve a shoutout for their performances are goalkeeper Đorđe Petrović who had four big saves and kept a clean sheet, along with midfielder Enzo Fernández who showed off his abilities with his good crosses and finesse passing that he needs to show more consistently to live up to the £107 million fee that CFC spent on him.
Pochettino also deserves praise for making good substitutions, sticking by his players that have been heavily criticized, and getting the team to bounce back, and continue this relatively good form that they are in with Premier League games.
The Blues will now have ten days off before they play three games in ten days when they play Middlesborough in the second leg of the Carabao Cup Semifinal, Aston Villa in the FA Cup on the 26th, and at Anfield to play Liverpool in an EPL game on Wednesday, January 31st.