ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
LONDON • Chelsea will consider this normal service resumed after last weekend's humbling at Tottenham, though manager Maurizio Sarri never gave the impression he was a satisfied man as he prowled the touchline yesterday.
This was a grind of a London derby against Fulham, a team attempting to instigate some much-needed defensive surety, which was only properly claimed late on when Ruben Loftus-Cheek's cameo yielded a fine second goal.
There had been anxious moments to endure up to then, with Chelsea showing the strain as their south-west London rivals threatened, albeit fitfully, to force parity.
Claudio Ranieri, while clearly far from content with the first defeat of his stint in charge, might actually pluck more positives than his fellow Italian.
While Fulham demonstrated a measure of resilience at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea's lack of fluency remains a concern.
Even in victory, the scowl worn by substitute Alvaro Morata during his 20 minutes on the pitch rather summed up their current mood.
And Sarri admitted they had to grind out the win, as Fulham were not only hard to break down but also had chances to equalise through Calum Chambers. He told BBC Sport: "Today was about the result. We gave more attention to the defensive phase to win the match.
"It was a very good reaction (to the Spurs game). Now we have to start to improve and play our football in a better way.
"In two or three weeks, they (Fulham) will defend very well and to play against them in a month will be a problem for any team."
At least he could not complain about a slack start. Fulham had been punctured within the first four minutes, the first time Chelsea had scored in the first 20 minutes of a league match since August.
The lead owed much to Fulham's generosity, with N'Golo Kante nipping in to win the ball before releasing Pedro, who finished with ease.
It was his second assist in 14 league games this term, as many as he had made in his first two years at the club and Kante played like he had a point to prove after Sarri's comments earlier in the week that he lacked the technique to play in a deeper midfield role.