LONDON – There was a point on Monday, when a Domino’s pizza truck was parked next to Craven Cottage, when it became clear that Chelsea’s dire form in front of goal was beginning to transform from a constant narrative. to a point of ridicule
Domino’s, in an obvious (though potentially realistic) publicity stunt, displayed a digital billboard showing how many pizzas they had sold in the five weeks since Chelsea scored their last Premier League goal. It was about 10 million and counting. It was laughable — and a bit of schadenfreude for rival supporters — but the more traditional statistics about Chelsea’s goal drought make for grimmer reading.
Coming into Monday’s local clash with rivals Fulham, Chelsea have not struck in the league since a 3-0 win over Premier League strugglers Luton in August, despite the Blues creating chances. Chelsea’s five goals were tied for the second-fewest in the Premier League this season (only Burnley had fewer) and their 5.5% shot conversion was the lowest of any team, having failed to score in their previous 49 goals.
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As with last season under the ultimately sacked Graham Potter, Chelsea remained a team that created chances but rarely scored. They claimed a narrow 1-0 win over Brighton in the EFL Cup last week. Monday’s main task was to break that deadlock in the Premier League.
Chelsea did it, finally, as part of a much-needed 2-0 win on Monday that will come as a great relief. Who it came from — winger Mykhailo Mudric — will also come as a point of consolation.
Mudrik arrived at Chelsea last January in a deal that could reach €100 million as a sign of their permanent appeal, but in his next 23 appearances he became the poster boy for expensive signings who failed to make the grade at Stamford Bridge. Recently, Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino has put Mudrik’s mistakes down to confidence and a matter of psychology – a problem he decided to tackle by competing against his winger in a crossbar challenge game.
Pressed in the post-match press conference on why the manager had continued to pick Mudric despite his dry spell, Pochettino said he had his chance: “It’s about maturity. It takes time. There was a lot of change in the team when he got here, and It’s not easy to settle when you get into a team. It’s not hard when a lot of young players come into a team.”
“He has shown in his training sessions that he deserves it [the chance to play]Pochettino added.
Monday’s moment of redemption came 18 minutes later. The Ukraine winger produced a rare look of composure as he chested down a cross from defender Levi Colwill before calmly slotting under Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno for his first goal for Chelsea.
“It’s all about the design and the technique that you can give the young guys, to have confidence in themselves and feel comfortable and feel at home,” Pochettino said. “Like everybody, they should feel like they belong in this club. That’s what it’s all about [giving them] Time and finding the right people who can help.
It got even better immediately after the goal. As the old saying goes about London buses – “you wait ages and then two at a time” – Chelsea scored again seconds later. This time, Cole Palmer pounced on a sloppy pass from Fulham’s Tim Ream and slid a pass to Armando Broza, who managed to push the ball home to complete the quick-fire double. It wasn’t that pretty, but it was a goal.
“For us it’s about motivation, even when we lost and we didn’t win at the beginning of the season we were calm and kept believing,” added Pochettino. “Now we’ve won two games in the last two days, but we always want to improve and build belief and confidence because they have to feel that.”
Monday’s win does not mark the end of Chelsea’s struggles, however. They have more work to do before they can claim to have turned a corner.
Pochettino’s side still looked toothless in front of goal – Broza missed an early chance after scoring on Leno, and Enzo Fernandez failed to add a third when he presented a tempting one-on-one in the second half. Mudrik, despite his well-taken goals, has yet to spark much on the left and was taken off at half-time with a quad injury. There should still be concern about the lack of style and personality needed for consistent performance.
None of this is to mention the club’s league position. Despite this win, they are still only in 11th place, one point behind Manchester United and Chelsea will have their work cut out for them.
Defeats to West Ham and Nottingham Forest as well as a 0-0 draw with Bournemouth saw Chelsea arguably squander clear chances to pick up points. The schedule continues to get tougher: after the visit of Burnley, Chelsea then faces a grueling run against Arsenal (home), Brentford (home), Tottenham (away), Manchester City (home), Newcastle (away), Brighton (home). Home), Manchester United (Away).
“In football, you always have to be ready for everything,” Pochettino said. “This is Saturday [against Burnley] Going to be very difficult. After two wins it’s important to have a lift for the players, but we will continue to work.”
All these concerns can live for another day though. On Monday, Chelsea broke their deadlock and halted a worrying slide in the league. It cannot be mocked.