Defence the best form of attack for Chelsea at Fulham

Posted by Phil Lythell

Ever since the West London derby became a regular fixture in the Premier League following Fulham's return to the top flight in 2001, the match has always held greater importance for the followers of the Cottagers. That was until this latest meeting.

Chelsea simply had to win this game to maintain their chase for Champions League qualification and the 3-0 victory fulfilled that aim perfectly. With a tough trip to Liverpool and Rafael Benitez's old stomping ground coming up on Sunday, the acquisition of three points at Craven Cottage was vital before the stormy welcome that awaits the Blues at Anfield.

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Not that the win was a given. Chelsea have had a wretched time on the road of late, with no away win since the 4-0 win at Stoke in January. That record is in stark contrast to the initial period of Benitez's reign that was characterised by winning performances on their travels, juxtaposed against stuttering displays at a mutinous Stamford Bridge. This adjustment to their fortune could not have come at a better time.

It helped that Fulham had virtually nothing to play for apart from local bragging rights. Even after this defeat, Martin Jol's men remain in the top 10 with no threat of relegation and no realistic hopes of attaining European football next season. It was the ideal time for Chelsea to make the trip to the banks of the Thames.

It also helps that Chelsea can field two centre-backs who retain an eagerness to get on the score sheet. David Luiz's strike was probably the sweetest-struck shot of the Premier League campaign and was a bolt from the blue after a start to the game that saw Chelsea create very few chances. The Brazilian briefly morphed into his compatriot Zico as his shot from 35 yards arrowed into the top corner just as the Blues were seeking some reward for a slow buildup of pressure on the Fulham goal.

It was no more than Luiz deserved for another imperious display, the like of which he is beginning to put in with regularity. This was his third game in seven days, yet there was not even a hint of fatigue and in each of those outings he has been little short of flawless. No doubt he will struggle to get rid of his error-prone reputation that he understandably earned during his first 18 to 24 months at the club, yet if he continues to contribute like he has in recent weeks, then he will become every inch the superstar that Chelsea hoped they had signed in January 2011.

Alongside him John Terry was equally as untroubled defensively, and while his finishing might be more prosaic than his shaggy-haired partner's, it was just as devastating. He netted only his second ever brace in the Premier League and both goals came from trademark headers. The first was firm and accurate after Juan Mata spotted the 32-year-old loitering by the back post and the second was a crucial intervention from a yard out that poked the ball over the line after Fernando Torres' header looked destined to be cleared off the line. Terry might not have fully won the trust of his manager, but he has netted five times in 2013 to show that he remains a genuine goal threat, even if his defensive powers might not quite be at the level of his heyday.

It was not a perfect team performance though, as Chelsea should have won by a greater margin. Victor Moses flitted in and out of the game and Eden Hazard was not his usual effervescent self, while Torres was willing without always making the correct decision. However, at this stage of the season a 3-0 away win is not to be sniffed at, especially when positive results are the only entertainment that the club and its fans are looking for.

Perversely, the only real disappointment of the evening was the limp resistance that Fulham provided. Arsenal visit Craven Cottage on Saturday as they seek to return to third place 24 hours before Chelsea's next fixture, and looking at Wednesday night's offering by the Cottagers, the Gunners should have little problem in getting the result they require.

Nevertheless, Chelsea will have to adopt that well-worn cliché that managers love to dish out, namely concentrating on their own performances. Maintaining a winning habit will see Chelsea safely home, irrespective of what any of their rivals do. Unfortunately, inconsistency has been the one consistent aspect of this season.

Roll on, Anfield.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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