Kepa Arrizabalaga 8/10, Antonio Rudiger 7/10 as Chelsea hold off Fulham
LONDON -- Chelsea gained ground on Tottenham and Arsenal in the Premier League top-four race with a hard-earned 2-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage, courtesy of first-half goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Jorginho.
This was another win for Maurizio Sarri, delivered in difficult conditions against highly motivated opponents. Chelsea weren't at their best but they took their opportunities in the first half and showed plenty of resilience in the second. Tougher tests await in the Premier League's final stretch, but this was promising.
Despite scoring a nice goal Higuain had a less than totally convincing afternoon, and Chelsea still look too vulnerable in defence to fairly rudimentary long balls. Fulham created a lot of pressure in the second half and, with a bit more luck, would have stolen a point.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Sarri's decision to restore Kepa Arrizabalaga was vindicated by an impressive performance, while his five changes added some much needed energy to this team. There is still work to be done in the defensive phase though.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating.)
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 8 -- Almost embarrassed himself on his return to the team when he practically dropped the ball at Ryan Babel's feet in the first half, before recovering to smother it. Made two excellent saves to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic and also kept out efforts from Joe Bryan and Tom Cairney. Could do little about Calum Chambers' equaliser.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Has shown greater willingness to get forward for Sarri in recent weeks and one of his well-timed surges created the opening goal for Higuain. Almost set the Argentine up for a carbon copy of that goal later in the first half and was also solid in defence.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 -- Matched the physicality of Mitrovic in the air and on the floor. His recovery speed and instincts were also vital as Chelsea withstood spells of Fulham pressure in both halves, and he passed solidly even when denied time and space.
DF Andreas Christensen, 7 -- Imposed himself on Mitrovic from the outset, playing with a level of aggression few associate with his game. Generally reads the game impressively and blocked one dangerous Babel through ball aimed at Ryan Sessegnon. Did allow Mitrovic to get away from him late on.
DF Emerson Palmieri, 6 -- Unlucky to be dropped for Marcos Alonso against Tottenham, he showed both the good and the bad sides of his game. His speed, skill and comfort level on the ball helped Chelsea build and break in possession, but he was also caught horribly out of position on a couple of occasions.
MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- His uncanny ability to be first to loose balls steadied Chelsea as Fulham pressed hard in difficult conditions early on, and his speed in transition created opportunities for his team when the game opened up in the second half. Not his dominating best, but pretty good by any normal standards.
MF Jorginho, 7 -- His passing was sloppier than usual early on as both sides struggled with the wind and rain, but he soon settled into his work. Scored a great goal -- his first from open play for the club -- and also played Higuain clean through. Substituted in the 68th minute with the Chelsea fans chanting his name.
MF Ross Barkley, 6 -- Could not quite provide a response to Kovacic's superb performance against Tottenham. Was solid rather than spectacular in possession and never managed to test Sergio Rico or play a decisive pass, though he did help his team by tracking back to recover the ball several times.
FW Willian, 7 -- Managed to match Pedro's energy against Tottenham at both ends of the pitch and carried a consistent threat, particularly when working in tandem with Azpilicueta. Not clinical with his own opportunities in the final third but created plenty of danger.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 7 -- Lacked rhythm in the opening minutes and wanted an extra touch in the box when he only had time for one. Took his goal brilliantly though and almost scored another just like it soon after, but for a great Rico save. Strangely went for power rather than placement when Jorginho played him in.
FW Eden Hazard, 7 -- Always commands so much attention from opposition defenders and used it to great effect to create Chelsea's second goal for Jorginho. Was too often smothered when he went for goal himself though, only testing Rico once. Replaced by Pedro in the 73rd minute.
FW Pedro, 6 -- Came on for the final 17 minutes to provide fresh legs.
MF Mateo Kovacic, N/R -- Brought on to give Jorginho a much-needed rest, though he doesn't offer much protection to his defence.
MF Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N/R -- Showed nice moments in transition in a limited cameo in central midfield.