The surprise that Guus Hiddink offered came in the form of the team sheet, which looked far too strong to be believable. With a second leg tie against Barcelona looming in the mid-week, it was widely accepted that many fringe players would be seen but the Dutchman chose to field almost the same leven that you would expect to see against Barcelona. Ballack did not start and Obi did and for me that represented the strongest midfield trio that Chelsea can play. After half-time Essien made way for Ballack, but that was the extent of rest and relaxation that Hiddink has provided the Blues with.
As a spectacle it helped matters significantly and the Chelsea that turned up were so different in character and attitude than the team that played Barcelona, that it was hard to believe that almost the same eleven had been repeated. For people who debate that strategy in football is overrated and it all depends on the players eventually, here’s proof that the world is grey.
Anyway, a brilliant move involving one touch play between many players was set for conclusion by Drogba with a simple finish for Anelka. This happened in the first minute. By the third minute Fulham had tested Cech for the first time. By the fifth, they equalized – through Nevland, who latched on to a long ball, found himself an angle to shoot under challenge from two defenders (and with no support) and beat Cech with the only shot he could have made.
Stung, Chelsea troubled Fulham again immediately after and Malouda reclaimed Chelsea’s league by finishing off a move that again involved the attacking trio.
The rest of the game did not quite carry the same momentum, but Chelsea did play some nice attacking football and Fulham provided enough of a fight to keep their fans hoping. The second half was topped off by a brilliant through ball played by Anelka to Drogba who made it 3-1, which is how the game ended.
Malouda continues to impress in his new life, Drogba keeps making a case for his continued greatness while Essien continues to show baffling loss of form. The other thing that hits you about Chelsea is there absolute inability to get any youngster to make the grade. Di Santo has made more appearances this season than season ticket holders but has never done anything that will catch the eye. Mancienne may be a possibility but Hiddink fails to show confidence in his ability to start or feature significantly for Chelsea. How come money has no role to play in the development of talent? Surely, the best talent pool, facilities and coaching can be assembled? What makes the economics of having an academy that consistently produces great players different from the economics of producing a winning team?
Fulham for their part will finish the season happy even if they have a bit of a stutter from now on. There are of course no obvious reasons to suspect a blip, but maybe the thought and talk of European action may cause the anxiety of anticipated overachievement. Hopefully not. Well done Fulham and hope Nevland recovers soon from his injury. He was on fire till he had to be substituted in the 35th minute.