In the span of one week, Kepa Arrizabalaga has gone from villain to hero. Chelsea’s record signing was rightly criticised for his refusal to leave the pitch against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final. But on Sunday, he showed the quality that he possesses, putting together a collection of saves that ensured a 2-1 win for Chelsea and keeps their hopes of a top four position intact.
In truth, Chelsea fans will be left wondering why their goalkeeper was man of the match against a Fulham side that has the worst defensive record in the Premier League. Once again, Chelsea controlled the possession but created few chances, and their defence looked panicky, especially in the second half.
But the pattern of the match was seen from the start. For 15 minutes, both teams opened up and created chances. It was Chelsea who created the first chance just four minutes in when Gonzalo Higuain headed Eden Hazard’s cross wide of the post.
Minutes later, Cesar Azpilicueta was forced into a last-ditch block of a shot from Tom Cairney after Ryan Babel found him with a low cross.
It was Chelsea that finally took the lead 20 minutes in when Higuain showed his finishing prowess, expertly diverting a driven cross from Azpilicueta past the helpless Sergio Rico.
Fulham, though, looked unfazed and looked to get in behind the Chelsea fullbacks. Kepa was forced into the first major save to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic when Ryan Sessegnon’s cross was deflected into the path of the Fulham striker. Mitrovic caught the ball on the volley and forced Kepa to make a flying save to tip it over the bar.
Fulham were only kept at bay for mere moments. From the resulting corner, Chelsea’s defence fell asleep, and Calum Chambers found himself unmarked at the back post and simply needed to direct the ball into the empty net to bring the hosts level.
Jorginho put Chelsea ahead just after the half-hour mark. Hazard collected the ball on the left and drove at the Fulham defence before laying it off to Jorginho to side-foot from outside the area into the top corner.
Higuain should have put the game to bed just moments later when Jorginho’s pass caught the Fulham defence sleeping and sent him through on goal. But Higuain couldn’t quite control the ball and ended up blasting the ball over the goal.
Chelsea continued to threaten Fulham, but after 60 minutes, Fulham started to cause Chelsea a few problems in defence.
Kepa was called into action to make a few routine saves, but just before 90 minutes, his flying stop of a header from Mitrovic appeared to be the save that gave Chelsea all three points.
But Fulham had one more chance in stoppage time when Sessegnon found himself behind the Chelsea defence after a hopeful cross from deep. Sessegnon slotted the ball under Kepa for what appeared to be the equaliser, but Chelsea were saved by the offside flag from the linesman.