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Rafael Benitez’s watched his second consecutive goalless draw as interim manager of Chelsea in the west London derby against Fulham. Three days after Benitez's first game in charge of the Blues against Manchester City ended without a goal, his side slipped further off the pace in the Barclays Premier League.
As on Sunday against City, Chelsea could have lost against a Fulham side who had the better of the chances.
From the start Chelsea struggled to cut open their organised opponents. There was not much width from the home side and they struggled for tempo, despite the best efforts of Eden Hazard. David Luiz's free-kick was the first shot at goal after 25 minutes but it went over.
Some speedy football from Oscar created a real chance just before the half-hour but Fernando Torres's shot on the turn from Cesar Azpilicueta's cross was straight at Mark Schwarzer. Chelsea were beginning to get round the back and more than one cross prompted more than one desperate lunge.
And after a goalless first half, there was another crucial tackle shortly after the restart when Mahamadou Diarra stopped Oscar finishing off Hazard's pass. But Chelsea could have fallen behind twice in quick succession inside 10 minutes, an offside flag rescuing them after Dimitar Berbatov timed his run on to Diarra's flighted ball, and Petr Cech saving from John Arne Riise following a flowing breakaway.
Ramires and Giorgios Karagounis both sent shots too close to either goalkeeper before Juan Mata was brought on, Ryan Bertrand making way. Fulham sent on Chris Baird for Diarra before Mata’s corner was glanced wide by Branislav Ivanovic. Torres, Oscar and Hazard then missed a great chance to strike after fine harrying from Azpilicueta.
Berbatov helped win a dangerous free-kick that got David Luiz cautioned before composed play set up Riise for a fierce drive Cech only just repelled. In between that, Kerim Frei replaced Karagounis.
Torres found some space with just over 10 minutes remaining but his angled volley after good chest control was cleared by Aaron Hughes. Frei had a penalty appeal turned down before Marko Marin was handed his Premier League debut in place of Hazard and Mladen Petric came on for Hugo Rodallega.
Chelsea spent the closing moments camped in the Fulham box but despite a succession of blocked shots and other near misses, they could not force a breakthrough.
Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez: "Why can't we [overhaul the top two]? It's still a long way to go. We have to keep going. We'll have chances. Remember, last season when City were ahead and it was 'easy'? Then they needed to win their last game. It's a long, long competition.
"The main thing is to win games. If we do, we'll be there and we can win competitions. We need to start doing that and the confidence will come back."
"It wasn't easy for [Torres], or [Eden] Hazard or Oscar. We were on top of them [Fulham], regaining the game higher up the pitch, and might have won it in the last minute."
"You cannot be satisfied when you haven't won these games. [Manchester] City are a top side, a team with a lot of options. Today, I saw a lot of positive things, sustaining the attacks and regaining the ball very high.
"I didn't like the two chances we gave away on the counterattack, and when we didn't move the ball too quickly, but it's a question of time. We've only had a few training sessions. We need more time."
Fulham manager Martin Jol: “Before the game we knew that it would be difficult, but, on the other hand, you know that it could be difficult for them as well if you can frustrate them, keep a clean sheet first half and then maybe do something in the second half. And that is exactly what happened.
“Then after 80 minutes we had two possibilities to nick it so it was disappointing in that sense but I don’t think we can be too upset because it’s a draw away from home. Although, I am disappointed that we didn’t get the three points, because we need them.”
“In the second half they put a lot of pressure on us, but we had Dimitar Berbatov who was almost unplayable and he linked things up so that other players could support.
“After the game everyone was saying that Berbatov was fantastic, and he was fantastic but the other players worked ever so hard. We lacked a bit of rhythm with a couple of players like Giorgos Karagounis and Mahamadou Diarra, but that’s because it’s his first game back. But, as a team, as a group, I thought they did ever so well.”
“We played them here twice last year and got two draws, one in the League Cup and one in the League, so I knew that we are a difficult team for them to play against.
“If you keep a clean sheet it’s always difficult [for the opposition] because they have to take the initiative and that meant we could try and get them on the break. We did that and we could have nicked it by doing that which would have been bad for them but great for us.”
|01 Dec 2012||v West Ham (A)|
|08 Dec 2012||v Sunderland (A)|
|23 Dec 2012||v Aston Villa (H)|
|26 Dec 2012||v Norwich (A)|
|30 Dec 2012||v Everton (A)|
|02 Jan 2013||v QPR (H)|