Beating the noisy neighbours

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Claudio Ranieri returns to Stamford Bridge with Fulham

Chelsea beat neighbours Fulham 2-0, but laboured to finish chances in a game which went end to end but provided only odd glimpses of real entertainment.

Fulham fans outsang their rivals from the other end of the road, and Claudio Ranieri was given a rousing welcome back to his old home, but following a fourth-minute opener from Pedro – a left-foot dispatch after lively N’Golo Kante had pickpocketed an opponent in midfield – the anticipated floodgate opening never materialised.

The reassuring second goal came in the 82nd minute, when sub Ruben Loftus-Cheek latched on to a neat little pass by Eden Hazard in the Fulham area, in front of the Matthew Harding stand, and thumped the ball past Sergio Rico.

In between, Chelsea had the bulk of possession, but the Whites closed them down, defended doggedly and limited chances.

The Blues do not like early kick-offs; they never have. There’s a lethargy about games which begin at noon, the fans take a while to warm up and they are often bitty and stop-start.

Man of the match for Chelsea was goalie Kepa Arrizabalaga. He pulled off several close-range saves in the second half that might have allowed Fulham back into the game.

Morrie Sarri rang the changes from Thursday night’s Europa tie for the Blues, but Olivier Giroud remained up front. In the end it was almost exactly the line-up that lost to Spurs, giving defeated players a chance to atone.

When Giroud was replaced by Alvaro Morata with 20 minutes remaining, Morata staggered about like a drunk, to little effect. He really only came to anyone’s attention when he was booked for petulantly kicking the ball away at a free kick.

Sarri was relived by the result, but hardly overwhelmed by the performance. “I think today the result was very important,” he said. “We started very well, then at 1-0 the players on the pitch had a very good level of application and attention, but without killing the match. We needed to kill it before and I think we were a bit tense.

“Of course in the days after Tottenham it wasn’t easy for me and the players but we lost a match after three and a half months; that can happen. Today it was important to react. The team did that very well in the Europa League and today was important.

“In the mind of the players was only the result. At Tottenham 11 players played very badly and so I thought today it was natural to give them another chance.

“We could have done better in the offensive phase but we were tense. I think in the minds at 1-0 we wanted to keep the result. I think we were in control of the match. In terms of goal opportunities it was six two, so we were in control but a bit nervous.”