Although a 0-0 draw was arguably a just result in a rather tepid West London derby at Stamford Bridge, Fulham can rightly say that if there was to be a winner, the European champions could not argue too much had it been the visitors. Indeed, had John Arne Riise managed to score either one of his two opportunities after half-time, then the Cottagers could well have been returning to Craven Cottage with a famous three points.
Coming into the match, the fear was that Martin Jol’s creaking back-line, shorn of the services of Brede Hangeland once more due to suspension, would struggle to cope with the pace and trickery of the likes Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, not to mention Fernando Torres. However, Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez surprisingly chose to leave Mata on the bench while Hazard, Oscar and Torres were all subdued, partly due to their own lethargy and partly due to a superb defensive showing from Fulham.
Indeed, it was a display that starkly contrasted with some of the carefree defending we have seen from the Cottagers under Jol. However this time, having been bullied at the weekend by Stoke’s aerial power, the central-defensive pairing of Philippe Senderos and Aaron Hughes was magnificent. It has to be said that in Torres they were facing a striker who is shorn of all confidence at the moment, yet to go to Stamford Bridge and keep a clean sheet is good in any season – particularly this one when only a few weeks ago everyone was raving about the Blues’ attacking talents.
Of course, to subsidise for Fulham’s impressive defence, the Cottagers’ attack lacked the sparkle that we associate with them. While once again Dimitar Berbatov was majestic in his touch and control of the ball when in possession, his strike partner Hugo Rodallega failed to acquit himself very well on a rare start for the club and it seems certain that the return of Bryan Ruiz to full fitness to play alongside Berbatov cannot come quickly enough for Jol.
However, with two home games to come against Tottenham and Newcastle – fixtures that the Cottagers will be confident of getting results in under the lights of Craven Cottage – a point away at their local rivals left both the Fulham staff and fans extremely satisfied indeed.
In those two upcoming matches, Jol will hope to see a lot more of Kerim Frei. After recovering from surgery in the summer and going out on loan for a spell at Championship side Cardiff, Frei returned to the Fulham first team against Chelsea from the substitutes bench and proceeded to cause havoc with his direct running and electric speed. While much has been made of Alex Kacaniklic’s form this season, a fully-fit and firing Kerim Frei would be yet another asset for Fulham’s attacking talents.
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