LONDON – Chelsea bounced back from their first Premier League defeat of the season to see off local rivals Fulham 2-0 on Sunday, with goals from Pedro and Ruben Loftus-Cheek putting the gloss on a mixed performance.
The home side dominated possession at Stamford Bridge and scored early through Spanish forward Pedro, but struggled to find their rhythm and looked shaky until substitute Loftus-Cheek settled their nerves with a late second.
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri enjoyed a dream start to his tenure in England, but a chastening 3-1 defeat to Tottenham last week stung him badly, prompting a series of post-mortems with individual players.
Sunday’s hard-fought win lifted Chelsea into third place above Spurs, in action against Arsenal later in the day.
The home side, welcoming former manager Claudio Ranieri back to Stamford Bridge in the Fulham dugout, were quickly into their stride against their neighbours and were ahead inside four minutes.
N’Golo Kante – publicly criticised by his manager for his positioning in the match against Spurs – was instrumental in the opening goal, dispossessing Jean Michael Seri in the middle of the pitch and feeding the ball to Pedro on the right side of the penalty box.
The winger stepped inside onto his left foot and fired the ball into the far corner.
Pedro’s strike was Chelsea’s 1 000th Premier League goal – they are the third club to reach the landmark after Manchester United and Arsenal.
Chelsea dominated the remainder of the first half, with Sergio Rico saving smartly with his feet from Olivier Giroud shortly before halftime, but they failed to convert their dominance into clear-cut chances.
Fulham started the match rooted to the foot of the table, but lifted by last week’s victory in Ranieri’s first match as boss, which followed six straight Premier League defeats.
Ranieri made two substitutions for the second half, bringing on Floyd Ayite and Aboubakar Kamara for Stefan Johansen and Ryan Sessegnon.
Fulham, playing with more urgency, twice went close to an equaliser through defender Calum Chambers.
Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga kept out Chambers’ header 10 minutes after the break before the loose ball was cleared off the line by Pedro.
Then midway through the second half Kepa palmed away a powerful shot from Chambers.
Chelsea had a chance to seal all three points when Rico could only palm an Eden Hazard deflected shot into the path of substitute Alvaro Morata, but he skewed the ball horribly.
The Spanish forward was spared further embarrassment when England international Loftus-Cheek finished a lovely move by driving into the net from the right-hand side of the penalty area in the 82nd minute.AFP