‘Hi, my name is Enzo, and you are?’
By Paul Lagan at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea 0 v Fulham 0
Perhaps if names were printed on the front of their shirts, then Chelsea might been able to identify each other better on the pitch, as it was, for much of this high-octane derby with Fulham, which ended 0-0 at the Bridge, the Blues looked as if they need to work out who is who.
Fulham by contrast are a well-oiled machine and while they lacked the individual class of the home side, they more than made up with a superb work ethic, a solid ability to defend, and a classic turn of pace on the counter-attack.
Make no mistake, Chelsea have serious issues of identity and play.
The transfer window brought in more talent, but this misfiring squad has been this way for months, and it doesn’t look like it can be turned around quickly.
Wins are needed, not partial improvements in performance.
Fulham move up to sixth while the Blues inch above Liverpool to ninth.
Don’t expect that to remain this weekend.
The early exchanges were understandably energetic, with both sides attempting to dominate the ball.
While all the pre-match noise surrounded the inclusion of mega signings for Chelsea Mykhailo Mudryk and Enzo Fernandez, forever now know just as Enzo, Fulham were happy to just get on with their job.
And counter-attacking seemed to be the order of the day from Fulham boss Marco Silva.
But then the visitors gradually began to wrestle control of the ball and forced a few defensive errors from the home side’s defence.
Fulham looked like a team who had played together for a while.
Chelsea, a team with lots of individual talents on display, but certainly in the openly phase of the game, looking unsure what their game plan was other than to knock the ball around between them in defence.
Then tackles started to become a little heavy, and on 22 minutes, Joao Palhinha was yellow-carded by referee Stuart Attwell for a bit of lateness too on Mudryk.
A fantastic diving save by Kepa on 25 minutes foiled a wonder strike by Andreas, whose 25 yarder was arrowing toward the inside of Kepa’s net.
At the other end, on 32 minutes, attacking midfielder turned striker Kai Havertz slid into a great left byline pass from Mason Mount, but the German could not direct the ball home, instead sending it into Row Z of the Matthew Harding stand.
He popped up a minute later but could only nick the ball wide of Bernd Leno and his goal.
Fulham struck lucky a minute from the break when a terrific defence-splitter by Hakim Ziyech found Havertz. He took one touch before lobbing out-rushing Leno. But the ball rebounded off the left post and was cleared.
Head coach Graham Potter decided he had had enough of Mudryk and replaced him during the break with Chuckwunonso (Noni) Madueke, partly to give some support to left back Marc Cucurella but also to provide a consistent attack threat on the left.
Andreas was soon in Attwell’s book for a robust challenge on Cucurella. VAR had a look for a possible red card, but let the ref’s decision stand.
A last-ditch header from Kenny Tete denied Madueke a dream debut as the winger was about to head home from close range.
Chelsea started to drift aimlessly again, and Potter recognised this and opted to bring in Raheem Sterling and Cesar Azpilicueta. Off came James and Ziyech.
Right-footed Sterling took the left wing position with left-footed Madueke moving across to the right.
Conor Gallagher who had a couple of poor minutes vented his frustration with a poor challenge and justifiably ended up with a yellow card.
De Cordova-Reid took one for the team holding back Sterling, and was also shown the yellow.
When Enzo gave the ball away in midfield, Aleksandar Mitrovic tried an audacious kick from the halfway line.
Thankfully Kepa was duly alert to the effort and managed to take the ball from just under the crossbar an collect it safely.
A snap shot by Enzo on 82 minutes inched past Leon’s goal with the stopper well beaten.
Potter then brought on David Forfana for misfiring Mount.
Forfana should have scored minutes after coming on,latching onto a through ball by Gallagher, he rounded Leno, turned Isa Diop into the ground, but saw his goal-bound strike hacked away off the goal line by Tim Ream.
Ben Chilwell returning from injury got to play the last seven minutes, replacing Cucurella.
But nothing could be done to break the resilent Fulham defence and the game drifted to a draw that was the fairest of results.
Teams: Chelsea, Kepa, James, Silva, Badiashile, Cucurella, Gallagher, Enzo, Mount, Ziyech, Havertz, Mudryk
Subs: Bettinelli, Azpilicueta, Chilwell, Chalobah, Koulibaly, Chukwuemeka, Madueke, Sterling, D.Forfana
Fulham: Leno, Tete, Diop, Ream, Robinson, Palhinha, Reed, Andreas, De Cordova-Reid, Mitrovic, William
Subs: Rodak, Kurzawa, Tosin, Duffy, Cairney, Wilson, Solomon, James, Vinicius
Referee: Stuart Attwell