I can’t recall a time where I’ve been this satisfied after a defeat. Let Chelsea have their empty bragging rights, Fulham have been gifted a new lease of life and it’s all thanks to Scott Parker’s divine conception. Perhaps I’m getting a little too far ahead of myself, again, but I sincerely hope that we proceed to test our remaining opponents with the same level of courage, resolve and diligence.
For broad spells against Maurizio Sarri’s Champions League-tailing unit, it felt as though we had our club back. Parker was a dauntless stalwart in his pomp, a commander that ruled his domain with a presidential temperament. Of course, physically playing the game and dugout strategics are totally dissimilar environments, although the McDonald’s poster boy of yesteryear certainly has all the necessary ingredients to become an upstanding managerial figurehead.
In fact, Parker’s methods were gutsy, enlightening and original. Working so closely with Claudio Ranieri day in, day out obviously hasn’t altered his own stance and philosophy, because he clearly isn’t a woeful defeatist. If we’re going to fall to losses, plunge to the turf, purple faced, whilst kicking forcibly and screaming obscenely. Be awkward, be burdensome, be problematic. We may not be able to salvage our top-flight status, but reclaiming dignity and honour is still an achievable prospect.
Super Scotty’s Spirit
If that, particularly in the latter stages of the second period, is the brand of football that we’re likely to witness on a weekly basis under Parker, then I am completely sold. I believe that I speak for virtually every supporter in existence when I proclaim that Fulham were a different breed of animal with the former England international in the technical area. Chasing Chelsea, the Whites dug their heels in and shoved the visitors to the wire.
In stark contrast, Claudio Ranieri’s disjointed squad would have folded after Jorginho’s delicate finish, although Parker’s evidently earned the respect of those that very nearly snatched a last-ditch point from Sarri’s troubled Blues. Compelled by incisive sequences that were accompanied by an unyielding purpose, the rejuvenated spirit and devotion within the caretaker’s camp was exceedingly refreshing to behold.
Chelsea’s superiority came to prominence in fleeting flashes, but the Cottagers endeavoured to relinquish our guest’s persistent offensive ventures. Fulham took risks, fought against the odds and rallied as a cohesive unit to agitate our neighbour’s composure. Eager to capitalise on Chelsea’s perpetual complacency, our entire compliment hounded, probed and executed their personal responsibilities with utmost attention, consideration and perseverance. Wrong result, right application.
War of the Wings
The centre of the park was congested, so both outfits opted to appropriate the channels in their respective patterns and counter attacks. Fulham’s flanks have been disastrously fragile this season and we’ve perished as a result – Gonzalo Higuain’s customary opener culminated from the left channel. Cesar Azpilicueta prayed on our reluctance to pressurise and the adaptable Spaniard subsequently supplied the Argentina international with a pinpoint cross to assault.
Joe Bryan and Denis Odoi were regularly exploited by Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro, and if Chelsea’s end product from wide areas held a clinical sting, they could have found themselves in a more commanding position before the interval. Ryan Sessegnon and Ryan Babel, however, asked genuine questions of Chelsea’s fullbacks, queries that startled Kepa Arrizabalaga and his defensive colleagues. Aleksandar Mitrovic, fed by Sess’ adroit vision, forced Kepa to exhibit his reflexes with an exquisite volley. The corresponding corner led to our equaliser. Babel’s hoisted switch sailed towards an unmarked Calum Chambers at the back stick and parity was swiftly restored. Training ground routine: perfected.
Equality was short lived, though. Hazard waltzed infield from the parameter of the pitch to incorporate Jorginho, who stroked past a rooted Sergio Rico. After the break, proceedings were evenly poised and Fulham could and should have bitten back. The Whites explored both touchlines whilst advancing and peppered Kepa’s target. The ex-Athletic Bilbao stopper answered his critics with a series of assured saves, most notably in the 89th minute. Latching onto Odoi’s raking long ball, Floyd Ayite darted through a strained Antonio Rudiger and brushed the ball in Mitro’s direction from the periphery of the 18-yard box. Nominating a destination, the Serbian striker butted goal bound but Kepa, acrobatically alert and vigilant, clawed the 24-year-old’s destined header away from his vulnerable net.
Continue Composing, Cairney
Let’s talk about Tom Cairney again, shall we? Deployed within his preferred capacity, TC was an unremitting driving force behind Mitro’ and was arguably the most industrious midfielder on show down by the river. It’s staggering, but Ranieri had a seriously warped bias when it came to the Scotsman’s matchday inclusion. As a number 10, inhabiting pockets and pulling strings, he’s integral to our system’s prosperity.
Manipulating Chelsea’s shape, Cairney covered the length and breath of his department and was an ever-present outlet for his teammates to employ. TC’s imperious resourcefulness enabled the Whites to maintain a vibrant portion of possession for prolonged periods. Essentially, the 28-year-old’s a beneficial calming influence that’s capable of relieving pressure and heightening tempo almost simultaneously.
Pleasing to the eye and to the soul, the shackles are off and Cairney’s seemingly back to his glittering best. Rugged in challenges, a measured administrator of possession, our exalted skipper was the glue that fused expansive phases together. Withdrawn in the 80th minute for Luciano Vietto, Cairney soaked up the faithful’s enthused standing ovation. Productive, efficient, superlative, he’s an asset that must be trusted to compose and devise our rhythm and harmony in our remaining Premier League fixtures.
Challenger, Contender, Chambers
In our previous meeting against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Chambers was denied three times by Kepa and was undoubtedly our man of the match. On Sunday afternoon, at Craven Cottage, the 23-year-old makeshift midfielder disrupted the Blues’ stability, supported Tim Ream and Havard Nordtveit in the heart of our back four and, gloriously, registered his second goal of the 2018-19 campaign with an intelligent volley.
Remastered this season, Chambers flexed his box-to-box credentials against Sarri’s set-up. Absorbing pressure on the fringes of the 18-yard box, Chambers was an unmovable obstacle that Chelsea’s playmakers couldn’t penetrate. Recognised as a centre-half by trade, the Arsenal loanee’s innate defensive tendencies solidified the Whites’ rigid spine. Competing in a holding role in the engine room, Chambers is the ideal auxiliary defender.
Aerially, defending and attacking set-pieces, Chambers’ presence hindered his markers. Unable to restrain the adaptable enforcer, Chelsea allowed Chambers the space and time to connect to free-kicks and corners incessantly. It was a studied, dynamic 90 minutes from Chambers, a performance where connections and understandings were reaffirmed between he and his defensive/offensive colleagues.
McDonald’s Midfield Mediation
Marshalling alongside Chambers, Kevin McDonald was an observant anchorman that lifted morale and dismantled ominous counter attacks. ‘KMac’ may not be graced with dazzling trickery or searing pace, but he read and anticipated danger supremely and was a versed mediator at the base of Fulham’s central midfield trio. As ever, he’s an unsung hero and legend of the people.
McDonald’s leadership and experience kept Chambers in check and the duo are slowly forming a healthy partnership. Vocally tireless, the Scotland intentional was the familiar voice we needed in front of our porous rearguard. Chelsea’s craftsmen interchanged methodically in order to mutilate the Whites’ core shape, but McDonald stood firm in his hard-hitting duties and Chambers followed suit.
Yellow carded and visibly exhausted, the 30-year-old was replaced by Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa in the 62nd minute. McDonald reinstalled an identity into our matchday selection and his services were wholly appreciated by all in attendance. Parker wants his Fulham squad to play each encounter with pride and intent – McDonald epitomises that desire and aspiration, because he readily applies himself to every occasion where he’s involved. He’s one of the original ‘shithousers’, and it was a pleasure to see him rattle Chelsea’s cage with his no-nonsense, ruthless approach and discipline.