Mason Mount provided the drive and Kai Havertz the ruthlessness in front of goal as Chelsea got the victory they needed to fire their push for a Champions League finish via the Premier League. Now to try and win the thing before the end of this season.
It was difficult to ignore the spectre of what was to come, namely Wednesday night’s Champions League semi-final second leg here against Real Madrid, but Chelsea were not distracted, taking care of Fulham with minimum fuss.
As so often this season Fulham were game opposition, particularly during a first half that they shaded, only to emerge with nothing. Once again, their achilles heel was their lack of cutting edge.
Chelsea showed them how. They produced the moments of class, those that served to make the difference, starting with Mount’s glorious piece of control and assist for Havertz early on. The German’s second featured a one-two with Timo Werner, another gliding run and another confident finish as Fulham felt their relegation worries intensify.
After a fifth defeat in six, it feels as though there is no way back for them and they became the latest opponents that Chelsea have shut out under Thomas Tuchel. Incredibly, this was a 17th clean sheet under the manager in 23 matches in all competitions.
Chelsea knew that the 1-1 at Real in the first leg was a fine result even if it could and should have been better, but the focus needed to be on the challenge in hand against a Fulham team that felt a body blow before kick-off. Brighton’s home win over Leeds had made their position even more precarious.
Chelsea enjoyed the perfect start and, although Havertz enjoyed his seventh goal of the season in all competitions, the breakthrough was mainly about the touch and vision of Mount. Thiago Silva sent a high punt up the field and Mount, watching it carefully and slowing down, pulled it out of the sky with velvet assurance.
Mount was simultaneously alive to the run of Havertz and his pass in behind Fulham’s last defenders released him. The German’s finish was true and Fulham had a familiar sinking feeling.
The visitors had not played for a fortnight, which gave them plenty of time to stew on the concession of that equaliser in the 97th minute at Arsenal. They brought no little intensity at the outset, Bobby Decordova-Reid helping to ignite their press, and they would spend a good amount of time on the front foot in the first half.
Antonee Robinson, the left-back, set the tone for them in the fifth minute. He won the ball high up, advanced and then unfurled a drive that Edouard Mendy had to tip over the crossbar. With Ademola Lookman also showcasing his quick feet and direct running, there would be further moments for them before the interval.
Tuchel had made five changes from the Real tie, giving Billy Gilmour a first start of the league season and using him, a little riskily, as the lone midfielder in front of the defence. Either side of him, Hakim Ziyech and Mount played higher up.
Gilmour was robbed by Josh Maja after 22 minutes, which led to Silva blocking a Decordova-Reid shot; from the corner that followed, Lookman extended Mendy. The Chelsea goalkeeper excelled himself in first-half stoppage time, too: Ola Aina teed himself up using his chest and his blast from the edge of the area deflected off Reece James. Mendy was moving in the opposite direction but he threw back a hand to block.
Fulham could feel hard done by at half-time, although Alphonse Areola needed to save smartly from Ziyech after Mount’s through ball and Werner’s low cross. Werner also drew a save out of the goalkeeper from a tight angle.
Tuchel made a slight tweak for the second half, dropping Mount back to the right of Gilmour, and Chelsea’s second quickly followed.
It was a move of razor-sharp incision, Havertz accepting a cross-field pass from Ben Chilwell and playing a give-and-go with Werner before shooting past Areola. The replays showed that Havertz had timed his run through Fulham’s last line to perfection.
Mount was moved again when Tuchel brought on N’Golo Kanté for Ziyech. He went to play in the spaces behind Havertz and Werner, and he did not miss a beat. Chelsea fans have wondered what Havertz’s best position is; Mount seems to have three or four.
Tuchel withdrew Mount on 76 minutes, his work more than done. So was Chelsea’s. Now for Real.