Fulham stalemate frustrates Blues

Chelsea 0 Fulham 0

The result means Chelsea are yet to win or score under their new manager; and while a point against champions Manchester City last Sunday may have been deemed acceptable, a similar result against derby rivals Fulham added to the feeling owner Roman Abramovich has made a mistake sacking Roberto Di Matteo.

Benitez admits there is plenty to work on. “Everybody here is disappointed at the end so we have to give credit to Fulham who worked very hard but these are the games you have to win and cannot lose.

“We controlled the majority of the game — they had two chances on counter-attack. We have to improve and score goals, but they got bodies behind the ball and it’s not easy.”

The result leaves Chelsea seven points behind leaders Manchester United. And should the Blues suffer another setback at West Ham on Saturday, Benitez could find himself in serious trouble before the ink on his contract has even dried.

It really was miserable fare; in fact the only time Stamford Bridge woke up at all in the first half was after 16 minutes when, as on Sunday, they chanted in memory of Di Matteo.

Benitez made a few surprise selections by leaving their best player this season, Juan Mata, on the bench — using defender Ryan Bertrand on the left instead — and favouring Oriol Romeu ahead of Mikel in the holding role. But although his decisions made Chelsea less penetrable, it didn’t make for an entertaining evening.

The only time Chelsea got anywhere near goal in the first half was when the otherwise anonymous Fernando Torres turned in the area but fluffed his shot, sending it weakly towards goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

It was no real surprise to hear a smattering of boos at half-time — and the second half was equally tedious, although as Fulham began to realise the points were there for the winning, they at least carved out some chances.

With Dimitar Berbatov up front and the clever Karagounis in midfield, Martin Jol’s side always had a surprise or two in store — and full-back John Arne Riise twice forced Petr Cech into saves.

Chelsea could have won it too — Torres at last provided a moment of magic with an acrobatic shot cleared off the line by Aaron Hughes — but that was a rare, rare highlight.

Benitez must find a way to get goals out of Torres — or to find a way of replacing him in January if Roman Abramovich can be persuaded to finally give up on his golden boy.

Of equal concern is the dire form of £34m Eden Hazard who was substituted here by Benitez — just as he was on Sunday — having barely touched the ball all match.

Some of the defensive woes appear to have been addressed — even with John Terry still injured — but Chelsea’s midfield balance is gone from over-attacking to over-defensive in the space of a week. Isn’t that what Chelsea fans feared when Benitez took over? Keep an eye on Upton Park on Saturday. This could turn ugly.

CHELSEA: Cech 6, Azpilicueta 6, Ivanovic 7, Luiz 6, Cole 7, Romeu 7, Ramires 6, Hazard 5 (Marin 83), Oscar 6, Bertrand 6 (Mata 63; 6), Torres 5.

FULHAM: Schwarzer 6, Riether 6, Senderos 7, Hughes 7, Riise 6, Duff 7, Diarra 7 (Baird 64; 7), Sidwell 8, Karagounis 7 (Frei 74), Rodallega 6 (Petric 84), Berbatov 7.

Referee: Anthony Taylor.

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