Mykhailo Mudryk off the mark as Chelsea dazzle Fulham in 80 seconds

The recovery may be at an early stage, but the sight of a rampant Mykhailo Mudryk tearing through to score his first goal in English football, Armando Broja finding the net on his first start since recovering from a serious knee injury and Cole Palmer’s delicate passing bewitching Fulham’s defenders will only strengthen Chelsea’s belief in Mauricio Pochettino’s ability to coax the best out of their young talents.

This is an ambitious project, one dependent on how quickly a squad packed with inexperience can develop, and this could have been another difficult night for Pochettino. Fulham would have loved to have more fun at Chelsea’s expense. They must have had visions of João Palhinha dominating Moisés Caicedo and Willian running riot against his former employers.

Instead, Chelsea were in charge from the start, their football crisp and inventive, individuals winning their battles in every area. They displayed many of the best traits of a Pochettino side, their aggressive mindset allowing their creators to shine, and will feel there is more to come after moving up to 11th place with their first league win in over a month.

For Pochettino, there was proof that commitment will always pay off. Chelsea’s head coach has taken a special interest in Mudryk, working on the winger’s confidence, bonding with him on the training ground, and the Ukrainian has grown in recent weeks. Here, despite opening with a couple of erratic moments, Mudryk soared. After enduring such mockery since his £88.5m move from Shakhtar Donetsk in January, he stopped running down dead ends, exploded into life after 18 minutes and smashed his shot past Bernd Leno after controlling Levi Colwill’s flighted cross.

The only disappointment for Pochettino was a minor thigh injury forcing Mudryk off at half-time. Caicedo also departed late on with a sore knee, lengthening Chelsea’s injury list, though the visitors had the points in the bag by that stage. Settled by Mudryk’s opener, they followed it with another 80 seconds later, Broja marking a bulldozing centre-forward’s display by punishing more diffident defending from Fulham when he linked with Palmer and scored for the first time since suffering a cruciate ligament injury last December.

Armando Broja doubles Chelsea’s lead after mistakes from Tim Ream
Armando Broja quickly doubles Chelsea’s lead after mistakes from Tim Ream (right). Photograph: Tony Obrien/Reuters

All along the insistence from Chelsea has been about the data pointing towards a team moving in the right direction. If the results have not matched performances, though, perhaps that is only natural from a club who brought in so much youth. Chelsea have been naive at times and their struggles cannot only be explained by their goalscoring issues. Pochettino had also looked to infuse his team with more knowhow before this London derby.

Straight away came the sight of Caicedo setting the tone in defensive midfield, leaving two early reducers on Andreas Pereira, and Broja’s physicality causing problems for Fulham. It was as if Chelsea were powered by a determination to silence the taunts about last season’s plummet to third best in west London.

The worry for Pochettino, of course, was that Chelsea would rue not going ahead during a dominant opening spell. A sense of foreboding fell over the visitors when a loose touch from Palhinha sent Broja through in the second minute and the striker blazed high and wide after rounding Leno. Enzo Fernández also wasted a promising opening with a heavy touch, before two attacks faltered at Mudryk’s feet.

Yet Chelsea kept finding space behind Palhinha and Harrison Reed, Fulham’s midfielders. They varied their passing angles and attacked again when Caicedo switched the play to the left. Colwill had room to attack and Issa Diop misjudged the left-back’s ball, allowing Mudryk to storm through, control and give Chelsea a deserved lead.

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Fulham could not escape the traps being set by Pochettino. The ball went back to Tim Ream from the restart and the centre-back gave it straight to Palmer. Chelsea were making mistakes happen. Palmer, justifying his inclusion ahead of Raheem Sterling with an array of clever touches on the right, found Broja and a comedy of errors ended when Ream’s challenge rebounded off the 22-year-old and into the net.

It was unintentional, but Broja had made his own luck after replacing the suspended Nicolas Jackson. His ability to run the channels made life tough for Fulham and created space for others in blue. Fernández was in his element in an advanced position, almost scoring from 20 yards. Caicedo ran midfield. Conor Gallagher offered energy and intelligence in the middle. Palmer continues to look a smart signing from Manchester City.

Pochettino also enjoyed the hunger of Marc Cucurella, once again filling in at right-back. Fulham were lightweight in attack, though they improved in the second half. Carlos Vinícius headed over after coming off the bench and Robert Sánchez denied another substitute, Sasa Lukic. Yet Chelsea could point to Ian Maatsen hitting the post after replacing Mudryk. They dug deep, Thiago Silva and Axel Disasi protecting Sánchez’s goal. Perhaps they are growing up.

source: theguardian.com