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A 17-minute hat-trick from Andre Schurrle moved Chelsea four points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League with a 3-1 win over Fulham.
The forward notched his second hat-trick of the season, having achieved the feat for Germany against Sweden in October, and doubled his Chelsea tally to six Barclays Premier League league goals in 2013-14.
The hosts had the better chances in the opening period, but failed to take them and were made to pay as the visitors moved up through the gears after the break. Schurrle, ably assisted by Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres, finished all three efforts clinically as Jose Mourinho’s side extended their unbeaten run to 13 league matches, despite John Heitinga's late consolation.
Victory, combined with Arsenal's defeat against Stoke City, opens up a gap at the top of the Barclays Premier League table, while Fulham remain rooted to the bottom after an eighth league match without a win.
After their midweek UEFA Champions League trip to Turkey, the Barclays Premier League leaders took their time to settle into the game and almost went behind in the third minute but Clint Dempsey missed a good chance. Pajtim Kasami forced his way past Branislav Ivanovic on the left and drilled a cross into the penalty area for the United States midfielder, playing the last game of his loan spell, but he could not direct his header on target from six yards.
Chances were at a premium for both sides in the first half, with only Kasami forcing a save from either goalkeeper with a low free-kick in the final five minutes that Petr Cech held easily.
Mourinho’s side quickly put their poor first-half display behind them as Schurrle opened the scoring seven minutes after the break. Hazard played a weighted pass over the top of the Cottagers’ defence for the German to run onto, he cut across Dan Burn and slotted past Maarten Stekelenburg from the edge of the penalty area.
Torres could have doubled the London side’s lead just before the hour after more excellent work from Hazard, but his header at the back post deflected wide off Kieran Richardson. With 65 minutes played, Schurrle added his second goal, with Hazard again involved. The Belgian escaped the attentions of Heitinga before rolling a perfect pass into Schurrle and he fired low beyond Stekelenburg. Schurrle's hat-trick was complete three minutes later as the forward made no mistake with a calm finish after being played in by Torres.
Felix Magath’s side netted a consolation with 16 minutes to play as Darren Bent knocked down a Lewis Holtby corner and Heitinga poked the ball beyond Cech from close range.
Fulham manager Felix Magath: "Chelsea were too good for us. They played very well, wanted to win and were the better team. There were some good situations for us in the first half but we are responsible for not playing so well.
"We will not stay up with this kind of defending and need to learn better. The biggest problem was that our captain [Brede Hangeland] was gone after a few minutes. If he could have played the whole game, we could have had a different result.
"You cannot ask for a win against the Premier League leaders, so the next games are the ones we will be looking to win.
"We hope that Hangeland will come back, which will stabilise us.
"Konstantinos Mitroglou should join us for the next game. If he gets used to the Premier League level, he can help us."
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: "At half-time, I told them nothing - nothing - not a word. I walked in, then I walked out. I don't know if anyone else gave a team talk. I was not inside the dressing room. The second half was a great reaction to the worst performance of the season.
"The second half was one of the best performances of the season. We moved the ball around well. If I could've made 11 changes, I might have done, but I could only make three - so I did nothing. Schurrle is cold in front of the goal.
"We have have four points more than Arsenal. The gap to Man City is a fake advantage. If they win their games in hand, they're top of the league. We're behind them."
|08 Mar 2014||v Cardiff (A)|
|15 Mar 2014||v Newcastle (H)|
|22 Mar 2014||v Man City (A)|
|30 Mar 2014||v Everton (H)|
|05 Apr 2014||v Aston Villa (A)|
|12 Apr 2014||v Norwich (H)|