If you cup your hand around your ear and listen hard enough, you can still hear a cacophony of glorious Fulham chants reverberate through various nooks, crannies and artisan nonsense shops in SW6, all thanks to you, the Whites’ ardent, unwavering, irrepressible faithful. Cam Ramsey takes a look back.
We didn’t even realise that our cocksure lodgers, who love to indulge themselves in false fandom, were home, but that’s not to discard the fact that we did fall to a 2-0 defeat at the ‘dog track’, of course. There’s certainly a whiff of change in the air, however, and Sunday’s Premier League encounter certainly spooned us up a true taste of what life could be like under Claudio Ranieri’s command – win or lose, the Whites are up for a scrap.
Now, I know that our minds are now transfixed on Wednesday’s Leicester City clash, but as we’re yet to ram our musings and observations down your throats, here’s what stood out, other than Aboubakar Kamara’s obvious gym obsession, from the Cottagers’ spirited performance at Stamford Bridge.
Danger Man Chambers
Who would have thought it, with all the attacking flair in our starting XI, it was none other than Calum Chambers, utility extraordinaire, that had us gasping for air after forcing Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga to make three vital saves throughout proceedings. Slowly but surely, the Arsenal loanee is becoming an indispensable presence in our matchday set-up.
Chambers, naturally, is a defender by trade, although he’s floundered this season at centre-half and as a full-back for the Cottagers. Although, remarkably, it’s evident that the 23-year-old possesses a cultured right boot and isn’t afraid to shoot on sight when presented with an opportunity to pull the trigger in the final third.
On the parameter of the 18-yard box at both ends of the pitch, Chambers unleashed two deft efforts at the Blues target and asked substantial questions of Kepa’s agility and concentration – if the young Spaniard wasn’t such an impressive stopper, Chambers could have registered a superb brace. Aerially adept, Chambers also propelled a piercing header towards Chelsea’s goalmouth following a precise corner, however Maurizio Sarri’s sprawling 24-year-old ‘keeper was somehow equal. A hattrick of impending chances spurned.
Within Ranieri’s midfield department, Chambers’ fundemetal responsibilities are to blanket the back four and intercept the opposition’s threatening phases, but the former England U21 international spanned the length and breadth of the turf against the Blues, and whilst his distribution occasionally baffled all, including himself, in attendance, he’s gradually morphing into an observant, dynamic, box-to-box component.
Catalyst Captain Cairney
Watching Tom Cairney glide, spin and pivot away from the likes of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic was a joy to behold. The Scotland international, grappling a trio of Europe’s most revered, efficient playmakers for the ball, conducted himself magnificently and didn’t appear outclassed or overawed by any conceivable stretch of the imagination.
Chelsea’s midfield contingent are masters of their individual professions and were poised to disrupt and dismantle wherever and whenever possible. But with TC manipulating the fabric and flow of the match in his team’s favour, those who dared to disposes the intricate 27-year-old spent their afternoon chasing his illusive shadow.
Cairney’s teammates were noticeably tentative with the ball at their feet and snatched at elementary passes, which hindered our foothold in the game. Our enigmatic skipper, though, retained the ball industriously and was ultimately one step ahead of his encroaching adversaries, and his stature as a recognised metronome stood firm in a highly-strung central zone that was predominantly dictated by Chelsea’s tampering protagonists.
If scrutiny is to befall the ingenious catalyst, however, he has to become a tad more greedy, especially when there’s a clear route to goal. Jinking inbound from the left touchline midway through the opening 45, Cairney weaved through Chelsea’s attempts to dislodge and could have dispatched a rasping projectile from the periphery of the penalty area. But as Cairney’s accustom to incorporating his teammates, he elected to habitually offload the ball, this time to no avail.
Grossly Unprepared Seri
Jean-Michael Seri’s dexterous exploits have nosedived since our loss at Manchester City and that’s not a reality that we’re relishing whatsoever. Lauded for his proficient attributes, the Ivory Coast international was systematically targeted by Kante and co. and was ruthlessly strangulated to our disservice.
Denis Odoi issued Seri an atrocious hospital pass, taken stock of that, but when Chelsea press, hustle and hound in such a domineering manner, why is he trying to trap the ball for a prolonged period when he knows damn well that he’s going to be harassed almost simultaneously? Rotate possession tirelessly in the engine room and do not rest for a millisecond. Chelsea’s early opener, from Seri’s perspective, was a prime example of how you should not present yourself on the planet’s most cutthroat domestic stage.
Once unhinged, the 27-year-old feebly pursued the assailant and subsequently resorted to chop and grate at the carrier’s legs, but even that failed to halt Chelsea’s advancements towards our target. Typically, you could argue that Seri’s not involved to employ hard-hitting challenges, but when we need every member to invest each fibre and sinew of their being, the former OGC Nice craftsman simply wasn’t prepared to commit himself to the cause as an auxiliary ballast.
Reliant on his visionary expertise, Seri rarely unlocked Chelsea’s resilient system and lagged in vital areas of the offensive third. Seri’s outing was summarised, in a nutshell, when he shaped himself for an audacious half-volley. Misjudging the balls trajectory, Seri wielded a flailing boot and skewed the ball into orbit. Ultimately, he should have tamed it in order to conservatively extend Fulham’s scarce visit to Chelsea’s penalty area. But as we know, he’s no stranger to absolute screamers, in fairness.
Christie’ll Catch ‘Em
Pitted against Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso, Cyrus Christie had his afternoon’s work cut out even before he rolled out of bed on Sunday morning, however the Republic of Ireland international contained and limited the influential duo throughout the tie and exhibited a steely intent to stamp his mark upon the right channel.
Hazard is a shape-shifting innovator and even the slightest swivel of the hips could dazzle the hardiest of full-backs, but Christie wasn’t mesmerised by the Belgian trailblazer’s hypnotic deception. Rugged in his personal duels with Hazard, the 26-year-old held his enigmatic opponent at arms length when shielding possession and also restrained him accordingly. Hazard operates in acute margins, and the robust right-back did his damnedest to shackle the diminutive menace, who couldn’t orchestrate as a result.
Freed in advanced positions, Christie endeavoured to forge himself pockets to work within, no matter how minuscule they may have been. His final product was often wayward, but his willingness to aid Ryan Sessegnon, who was initially deployed on the right side, and the 18-year-old’s half-time replacement, Kamara, was admirable and imperative.
We’ve incessantly harped on about continuity recently and how important it is for the squad to form a unity. Christie is definitely warming to his top-flight surroundings and is learning week after week how and when to explore the right channel. In previous weeks, Christie’s tactical awareness has also been flagged as an Achilles heel of his, but under the ‘Tinker Man’s’ astute supervision, he’ll soon flourish into a worthy disciplinarian of his trade.
Commendable Work Rate
What’s certainly distinct, since Ranieri took the reins, is that Fulham have acquired a grit, a determination, and a desire to battle to the death, even if reward has drifted out of sight. 1-0 down within 4 minutes, shoulders and heads would have drooped a month ago, but the lads, barring a minority, weren’t ready to accept defeat so soon.
We needed a relentless solidity at the back to stunt Chelsea’s calculative combinations, and as the Italian boss has instilled a collective dependency, Fulham held their shape under a barrage of encumbering sieges, particularly towards the latter stages of the first-half, and snuffed out problems before they could be devastatingly capitalised upon. Maxime Le Marchand’s lapse that allowed Ruben Loftus-Cheek the space to crash home Chelsea’s second was virtually the only tangible structural blemish in the second 45.
It’s not necessarily what Fulham accomplished on the ball that’s striking, it’s what we did out of possession for large spates that caught the eye. Chelsea would meticulously appropriate the flanks as a viable means to breach our rearguard, but we were swift to double up as they approached and shepherded them into unprofitable corridors. If Chelsea did split the back four, we’d retreat briskly and forcefully to dash their efforts to widen the deficit.
Rivalry aside, we have to remember that Chelsea are begrudgingly one of England’s most successful clubs that are also in a relatively rich vein of form, and as we’re currently rock bottom of the standings, we would have had to ride out a turbulent storm, regardless of circumstances. Yes, we fell victim to another defeat, but we riled one of the divisions ‘big boys’ and goaded them ragged. We’re languishing, but we’re nowhere near a spent, lacklustre force. Refreshingly, for a second consecutive week, the positives drastically outweigh the negatives.