Chelsea stayed clear at the top of the Premier League with a 3-1 win over west London rivals Fulham on Saturday. The match was all square at the break but a second half hat-trick from German Andre Schurrle was enough to get the win against a spirited and determined Fulham, for whom former Everton player Johnny Heitinga scored a consolation goal.
The win took the Blues to 63 points and with Arsenal losing at Stoke and Man City in League Cup action (they won the final 3-1 against Sunderland) it is now Liverpool chasing Jose Mourinho and co. The Reds and Arsenal both have 59 points and, although City can move top if they win their two games in hand, Chelsea are the bookmakers’ favourites for Premier League glory this season.
Things weren’t looking so great at the break here as Fulham, under new manager and renowned disciplinarian Felix Magath, put in a decent shift and managed to keep the Blues at bay. However, three goals from Schurrle in just 16 minutes at the start of the second period turned the game on its head and forced Fulham to open up leading to a more open and entertaining second half.
Eden Hazard, as so often this season, was the driving force and his pass over the top on 52 minutes put his German colleague through and Schurrle made no mistake in slotting past Maarten Stekelenburg in the Fulham goal. Just 13 minutes later Hazard again put Schurrle through with a nice pass and when Fernando Torres laid on the third just three minutes after that the game was effectively over.
The Cottagers, who are now four points adrift at the bottom having played more games than most of those immediately above them, have not won a league game since the first of January. They have taken just two points in eight games since then but they were forced to come out of their shells here and after 74 minutes they got one back after a corner caused confusion in the Chelsea penalty are and Darren Bent found Heitinga who slid the ball in.
There was to be no amazing comeback though, despite some bright moments for Fulham in the second half. Chelsea were, overall, well worthy of the three points and although they created little in the scrappy opening half their class eventually showed in a game in which they had 58% of the ball and managed more than twice as many shots as the home side.
The biggest cause of concern for Magath may not be the result, poor as it was, but the injury which forced Brede Hangeland off after just 16 minutes. Hangeland has missed much of the season through injury and his side have missed him badly. He could miss more games after a nasty clash of heads but his side missed their captain here.
For Chelsea, it was a job well done, ultimately, and another game ticked off as they close in on the Premier League crown.