Chelsea 2 Fulham 1: Drogba and Kalou deliver victory after Africa Cup reprieve

29 December 2009 12:58

Never mind the ghost of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea came perilously close to coming unstuck against Fulham with The Special One looking down from Roman Abramovich's box.

Chelsea's comeback never in any doubt? Not when Zoltan Gera's opener inside four minutes looked like earning Fulham their first win at Stamford Bridge for more than 30 years.

That was until Ancelotti took a leaf out of the Mourinho handbook of inspired substitutions.

Rescue mission: Didier Drogba celebrates his equaliser for Chelsea

The former Chelsea manager is famous for his sweeping changes whenthings are not going to plan and having sparred with Mourinho in Milan,Ancelotti will have delighted in proving it is not only Inter's managerwho can change the game from the bench.

Ancelotti was not above jettisoning his diamond system in favour ofMourinho's preferred 4-3-3 to engineer the comeback that had more to dowith hard graft than high class.

Such tactical tweaks will have been noted by Mourinho on his firstreturn to Stamford Bridge since being ousted by Abramovich in September2007.

Ancelotti's first roll of the dice was to bring on BranislavIvanovic in the 65th minute, having strangely opted to start with PauloFerreira and Yuri Zhirkov as  his full backs. Daniel Sturridge was nextto be introduced in place of John Mikel Obi, who, on this evidence,will not be greatly missed when he departs for the Africa Cup ofNations.

The changes worked a treat. By the 73rd minute Chelsea were back onterms when Ivanovic's deep cross cleared Chris Baird, allowing DidierDrogba to power a header past Mark Schwarzer.

Top Gera: Fulham's Zoltan Gera scores the opener past Petr Cech

Two minutes and 16 seconds later the turnaround was complete.Salomon Kalou, desperately ineffective as Drogba's foil for much of thegame, wriggled into the box before driving a ball across goal forSturridge.

The former Manchester City player's strike was well saved by MarkSchwarzer but he could only parry the ball on to Chris Smalling's kneeand the defender's attempt to prevent an own goal succeeded only inblasting the ball into the net.

MATCH FACTSChelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech 6; Ferreira 5 (Ivanovic 65min, 7), Carvalho 6, Terry 6, Zhirkov 6 (A Cole 84); Mikel 5 (Sturridge 70, 5); Ballack 5, Lampard 6; J Cole 6; Kalou 5, Drogba 7. Booked: Drogba.

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer 7; Pantsil 8 (Etuhu 67, 6), Hughes 7, Smalling 7, Konchesky 7; Duff 6 (Riise 85), Murphy 6, Baird 6, Dempsey 6; Zamora 6, Gera 6 (Johnson 71, 6). Booked: Baird.

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Man of the match: John Pantsil  

It was desperately unlucky on Smalling, who turned in a magnificentdisplay against Drogba as understudy for the injured Brede Hangeland onhis first Barclays Premier League start.

Much has been made of what will become of Chelsea during Drogba'sabsence with Ivory Coast. But Ancelotti, having joked he would runaround the training ground naked if he went back on his promise not tosign anybody next month, may be hoping for an improvement in theweather.

The ease with which Fulham nullified Chelsea's midfield diamond inthe first-half necessitated the change after the break. It alsodemonstrated Chelsea's need for the marquee signing that eluded them inthe summer, a player of Franck Ribery's guile and trickery to producesomething out of the ordinary.

A player in the Ribery mould would certainly have asked morequestions of Fulham than Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Ballackmanaged for large parts of this encounter.

Having scored so early, when yet more uncertainly from RicardoCarvalho, John Terry and Petr Cech allowed Gera time and space to turnand score from close range, Fulham were always going to face a toughtask protecting their advantage.

Jumping for joy: Gera celebrates in front of Paul Konchesky

Despite being on the back foot for most of the opening period,though, Roy Hodgson's disciplined troops never looked like caving in toChelsea's constant if uncultured pressure.

But with the half-time change in formation, the warning signsstarted to become more frequent for Fulham. Kalou's ball across goalwhich slid through Aaron Hughes's legs, with Lampard lurking, causedhavoc until John Pantsil finally got the ball away.

Drogba, poor but at least energetic before the break, forcedSchwarzer to save at full stretch with a strike from the edge of thearea.

Fulham's defending became increasingly desperate as the sense ofbelief grew around Stamford Bridge. The quick-fire double from Drogbaand Smalling thus had a sense of inevitability, although to theircredit Fulham pushed forward as the full-time whistle approached insearch of the point their performance probably merited.

Kalou came close to adding a third in added time, his strike crashing off the top of the bar.

Special One: Jose Mourinho watches from the stands at Stamford Bridge

By then, Mourinho had left his seat, doubtless with plenty ofinformation to digest about how best to unpick his former Chelseacharges when they travel to the San Siro to take on Inter in theChampions League on February 24.

This performance is unlikely to have him quaking in his boots but hewill have been impressed by Ancelotti's ability to instill a similarlevel of team spirit among his troops as he achieved during his time atthe helm.

As for the incumbent, the ghost of Mourinho was not exorcised bythis display - not that Ancelotti seemed particularly concerned by thator the fact that a small group of Chelsea fans had chanted 'Come backMourinho' outside the ground as their hero passed by before kick-off.

With Chelsea's title challenge having faltered over the festiveperiod in three of the past four seasons, of far more importance to theItalian was exorcising the ghost of Christmases past.

 PICTURE SPECIAL: Jose Mourinho back Inter the old routine as he pays a Special visit to ChelseaBlues defender Ivanovic triggers Madrid interest: Real is my dreamLewandowski set for Fulham switch as Cottagers close in on loan dealHow Monday's Premier League action unfoldedCHELSEA FC

Source: Daily_Mail

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