Unrest grows as Chelsea draw a blank again
Chelsea 0 Fulham 0:There was no thunderous booing for Rafael Benitez to endure prior to kick-off here, but acceptance in new surroundings must still feel like a pipe-dream. A goalless draw against local rivals has cast Chelsea further adrift in the title race and prolonged their mid-season lull.
The disgruntled support merely made their feelings known after the final whistle instead, the interim first-team manager and his players departing with jeers ringing in their ears. This club is wallowing in disquiet at present.
Quite what Roman Abramovich made of this is anyone’s guess. The oligarch has now seen a team that had brimmed with attacking intent over the campaign’s early weeks splutter through a six-game winless league run, with this a second successive stalemate devoid of any real bite in four days.
The Russian watched on from his executive box high up in the west stand, sinking further into his seat as the contest petered out and the inevitable late chants for the departed Roberto Di Matteo echoed into the night sky.
Benitez is striving for that elusive blend of defensive solidity and attacking flair. They had registered a first clean sheet in 11 matches against Manchester City on Sunday but just a solitary shot on target all afternoon.
The response here was to rest Juan Mata, one of this team’s more consistent threats over recent months although perhaps leggy in the last week, and Mikel John Obi.
But the rejigged team still stuttered in attack. They were tidy enough in possession, but all that early-season zest had fizzled out to be replaced by uncertainty in the final third.
The first half, with Fulham understandably content to contain, drifted aimlessly.
Cesar Azpilicueta posed Fulham some problems down the hosts’ right flank but Chelsea over-elaborated in the middle.
Too many in their number are suffering crises of confidence and the atmosphere was subdued in the tedium.
Fernando Torres fired in a shot on the turn, the effort scuffed through Aaron Hughes’ legs, but Mark Schwarzer was untroubled.
The visitors had threatened on occasion, the influential Dimitar Berbatov gliding away from Oriol Romeu at times who was cautioned for one heavy tackle.
Chelsea were grateful an assistant referee’s flag wrongly checked Berbatov in his stride as he collected and prepared to convert from just inside the penalty area.
Likewise they could be thankful John Arne Riise subsequently failed to spot the striker free in the centre having been liberated gloriously by Giorgos Karagounis.
Benitez was increasingly edgy in his technical area, his exasperation eventually forcing Mata into the fray. His first involvement was to fire in a corner but Ivanovic’s header was weak.
At the other end Riise unleashed a fine shot at Petr Cech’s near post that the goalkeeper did well to turn away.
For the visitors, the returning Kerim Frei’s scuttling runs unnerving defenders. Much here was encouraging for Martin Jol. For Benitez, the reality is very different.