Mason Mount provided the drive and Kai Havertz the ruthlessness in front of goal as Chelsea got the victory they needed to continue their push for a Champions League finish via the Premier League. Now to try to win the thing before the end of this season.
It was difficult to ignore the spectre of what was to come, namely Wednesday night’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Real Madrid. Chelsea are sitting pretty after the 1-1 draw in the first leg away from home, even if the result could and should have been better. But they were able to narrow their focus and take care of Fulham, deepening their near neighbours’ relegation fears in the process.
As so often this season, Scott Parker’s team were game and positive opponents, particularly during a first half that they shaded, only to emerge with nothing. Their achilles heel was once again a lack of cutting edge and it is difficult to see how they preserve their top flight status from here. With four games to play, they are nine points from safety.
Chelsea produced the moments of class, the ones that served to make the difference, starting with Mount’s glorious piece of control that prefaced his assist for Havertz early on. The German’s second featured a one-two with Timo Werner, another gliding run and another confident finish. And that was pretty much that.
Better teams than Fulham have failed to unhinge Chelsea since Thomas Tuchel took charge towards the end of January. This was the manager’s 23rd game in all competitions and, remarkably, it brought a 17th clean sheet.
Mount had started on the left of a central midfield three, playing high up; he dropped into a deeper role to the right of Billy Gilmour, who made his first league start of the season, at the start of the second half.
Later he stepped forward again to operate in the space behind the strikers, Havertz and Werner. He was excellent everywhere. Versatility can sometimes be a curse, but not with him.
Havertz has yet to nail down a position since his £72m move from Bayer Leverkusen last summer but he menaced alongside Werner. He has not always looked like a perfect fit as a false nine and maybe being one of a pair up top could be the answer. Tuchel praised him for giving him a selection headache ahead of Real and it is plain that the quality is there. Some of Havertz’s touches were of the highest order.
The same could be said of Mount, and his work for the breakthrough goal took the breath away. Thiago Silva sent a high punt up the field and Mount pulled it out of the sky with velvet assurance. He was simultaneously alive to the run of Havertz and his pass in behind Fulham’s last defenders released him. Havertz’s finish had too much on it for the goalkeeper, Alphonse Areola.
Fulham showed plenty of intensity in the first half, pressing well and playing on the front foot. Antonee Robinson, the left-back, set the tone for them in the fifth minute when he won the ball high up, advanced on goal and unfurled a drive that Édouard Mendy had to tip over the crossbar.
Josh Maja robbed Gilmour after 22 minutes, which led to Silva blocking a Bobby Decordova-Reid shot; from the corner that followed, Ademola Lookman extended Mendy. The Chelsea goalkeeper’s best save came in first-half stoppage time. Ola Aina’s blast from the edge of the area deflected off Reece James and Mendy was moving in the opposite direction but threw back a hand to block.
At the other end Areola also saved smartly from Hakim Ziyech after Mount’s through ball and Werner’s low cross. The latter also drew a save out of the goalkeeper from a tight angle.
Chelsea’s second goal came at the start of the second half and followed a move of razor-sharp incision. First Havertz controlled a cross-field pass from Ben Chilwell. Then he played a give-and-go with Werner before shooting past Areola. The replays showed that he had timed his run through Fulham’s last line to perfection.
Mount was withdrawn on 76 minutes shortly after he suffered a heavy fall but, in Tuchel’s words, he should be “absolutely fine” for Real. The manager had similar feelings about the performance.
“It was the perfect match,” Tuchel said. “You can get easily confused between two big matches and also when you look at Fulham’s position because they are a complicated team to play.
“This was a big win and now we arrive for Wednesday with a clear mind.”