For the third successive Premier League match, Chelsea have dropped two points in a 1-1 draw. This time, Fulham was the team that denied them a victory, coming from behind to grab an equalizer after Chelsea took the lead early in the second half. Juan Mata put the Blues on top just after the stroke of halftime, but Clint Dempsey found an equalizer. Chelsea pushed hard for a winner in the final ten minutes, but David Stockdale and the Cottagers defense were able to hang on.
The first half was relatively uneventful, with Chelsea content to let Fulham give the ball away and Fulham content to put 10 men behind the ball when they did so. Dempsey had a good shot in the 9th minute from just outside the box, but Petr Cech made a great save. The visitors would have just one more good chance in the half, but it went wasted, with Orlando Sa missing an open header in the 14th minute.
Chelsea's best opportunity of the first half came just a minute after that miss, as Fernando Torres acrobatically controlled and volleyed from just inside the penalty area, but his shot went right into the chest of Stockdale. With Fulham putting everyone back behind the ball for the entire half, Chelsea struggled to break them down and settled for a lot of seemingly aimless crosses. The teams went into halftime tied up 0-0, with neither team looking obviously superior. Chelsea had more possession and more shots, but Fulham was obviously executing their gameplan to near perfection.
Just two minutes after the halftime whistle, they were forced to adjust it. Torres still hasn't scored in a very long time, but he built on his positive first half performance with an assist on Mata's goal. Controlling a ball that came into the penalty area, Torres backed down his defender and laid off the ball to Mata. The Spaniard hit a thundering shot into the back of the net, giving his team the lead on 47 minutes.
That lead lasted just nine minutes. Fulham's equalizer was both a very good team goal and a microcosm of everything that's gone wrong with Chelsea's season. All of Ashley Cole, John Terry, David Luiz and Petr Cech probably should have done a lot better on the move. Bryan Ruiz provided the assist with a cross after beating Cole easily and Dempsey provided the finish after going around Luiz. Terry was nowhere to be found, and Cech probably should have been able to get a hand to Dempsey's shot. That's not to take anything away from Fulham, who put together a good set of passes to set up the equalizer.
Chelsea brought Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba into the match as substitutes in an attempt to change the game, but they couldn't find a goal. Chelsea were well on top in the final 10 minutes and forced Stockdale into a number of saves, but none of them fell into the category of "spectacular." Whether you want to blame the manager, the players, or the ownership for not buying new players, there are some issues at Stamford Bridge. Once again, Chelsea just plain weren't good enough to beat an inferior opponent.
For more on the two teams, check out Fulham blog Cottagers Confidential and Chelsea blog We Ain't Got No History. We'll have coverage of this game and all of the other games from this round of fixtures in our Boxing Day Football StoryStream.