Date published: Sunday 2nd December 2018 1:51
Pedro’s early goal and a late strike from Ruben Loftus-Cheek saw Chelsea earn an unconvincing 2-0 win over Premier League bottom club Fulham.
Pedro struck after four minutes but the Blues’ performance lacked fluidity and they were relieved when substitute Loftus-Cheek struck eight minutes from time.
The performance of floundering Fulham, still with just one away point this season, illustrated the size of the task facing Claudio Ranieri.
Ranieri faces Leicester, whose improbable Premier League title win he masterminded, with Fulham on Wednesday, when Chelsea go to Wolves.
Meanwhile, next Saturday’s visit of Manchester City to Stamford Bridge represents a sterner test for Chelsea.
Ranieri was sacked by the Foxes nine months after the 5,000-1 title triumph.
The 67-year-old’s return to the Premier League saw the Cottagers’ seven-match losing streak come to an end, with a 3-2 win over Southampton.
This, his second match in charge, was a return to where the Italian came to prominence in English football, as Blues boss from September 2000 to May 2004.
And it was one of Ranieri’s former players who created the opening goal.
N’Golo Kante, key in Leicester’s memorable title win in 2015-16, showed his midfield bite to dispossess Jean Michael Seri.
Kante, criticised by Maurizio Sarri for his display in the previous week’s loss to Tottenham, strode forwards and fed Pedro on the right.
The Spain winger cut in on his left and drilled a low shot across goal into the bottom corner.
It was Kante’s second assist in 14 league games, as many as he managed in his first two seasons with Chelsea, as Antonio Conte’s shield in deep midfield.
Fulham, without former Chelsea forward Andre Schurrle due to a twinge, pressed well, but rarely threatened, bar Calum Chambers’ 25-yard shot at Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Sergio Rico stood upright to save from Olivier Giroud, who had been preferred to Alvaro Morata, and then blocked a dangerous Giroud-bound Mateo Kovacic cross.
There were missed-placed passes aplenty from both teams and little goalmouth action.
Ranieri, known as the Tinkerman for rotating his options at Chelsea, had wanted more.
He had promised to ‘tinker clever’ with Fulham, but needs must, and he made two half-time changes here.
Ryan Sessegnon and Stefan Johansen were withdrawn for Floyd Ayite and Aboubakar Kamara, sparking improvement.
Antonio Rudiger had to be alert to slide to redirect Cyrus Christie’s cross out for a corner. Chambers headed the resulting set-piece at Kepa.
Tom Cairney next teed-up Chambers, whose effort was parried by Kepa.
Chelsea could consider themselves fortunate it was not a more potent finisher than the on-loan Arsenal defender-turned-midfielder.
Morata replaced the ineffective Giroud and should have scored within three minutes.
Hazard’s shot was parried by Rico to Morata, whose volley went high and over when it should have ended up in the net.
There were brief moments of skill from Hazard. He surged forwards, playing a one-two with Loftus-Cheek before having the vision to find the England midfielder again.
And Loftus-Cheek netted a fierce drive to ease any late anxieties Chelsea might otherwise have had.
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