LONDON — There was a point on Monday, as a Dominos pizza truck parked up next to Craven Cottage in the build-up to the game, when it became clear Chelsea‘s woeful form in front of goal was beginning to transform from a persistent narrative to a point of ridicule.
Dominos, in a clear (albeit potentially factual) publicity stunt, had a digital billboard showing how many pizzas they had sold in the five weeks since Chelsea last scored a Premier League goal. It was nearly 10 million and counting. It was humorous — and for rival fans a bit of schadenfreude — but more traditional stats about Chelsea’s goal drought make for more grim reading.
Coming into Monday’s local clash with rivals Fulham, Chelsea had not struck in the league since a 3-0 victory against 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, failing to score with their previous 49 attempts on goal.
Like last season under the eventually sacked Graham Potter, Chelsea have remained a team that creates chances but rarely scores. They claimed a narrow 1-0 win over Brighton in the EFL Cup last week. Monday’s premier task, then, was to break that deadlock in the Premier League.
Chelsea did that, finally, as part of a much-needed 2-0 victory on Monday that will come as a great relief. Who it came from — winger Mykhailo Mudryk — will come as a point of solace, too.
Mudryk arrived at Chelsea as a mark of their enduring appeal last January in a deal that could reach €100 million, but in his ensuing 23 appearances he became the poster boy for the kind of expensive signing that failed to make the grade at Stamford Bridge. Recently, Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino put Mudryk’s errors down to confidence and a matter of psychology – an issue he decided to fix by competing against his winger at a game of crossbar challenge.
When pressed in a post-match news conference on why the manager continued to pick Mudryk despite his dry spell, Pochettino said he had earned his chance: “It is about maturity. It takes time. There was a massive change to the team when he arrived here, and when you arrive to a team it is not easy to settle. When too many young players arrive at a team it is not solid.”
“He showed in his training sessions that he deserved [the chance to play],” Pochettino added.
Mudryk’s moment of redemption came after 18 minutes on Monday. The Ukraine winger flashed a rare look of composure as he chested down a cross from defender Levi Colwill before calmly slotting below Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno for his first goal for Chelsea.
“It’s all about the design and the strategy that you can provide the young guys, to trust and feel comfortable in themselves, and to feel like home,” Pochettino said. “Like everyone, they need to feel like they belong to this club. It’s all about [giving them] time and also finding the right people that can help.”
It got even better immediately after the goal. Like the old saying about London buses — “You wait for ages and then two come at once” — Chelsea scored again seconds later. This time, Cole Palmer pounced on a sloppy pass from Fulham’s Tim Ream and slid a pass through to Armando Broja, who just about managed to poke the ball home to complete the quick-fire double. It wasn’t as pretty, but it was a goal nonetheless.
“For us it’s about motivation, even when we were losing and we didn’t win at the beginning of the season we were calm and kept the belief,” Pochettino added. “Now we have won two games in the last two days, but we always want to keep improving and to build the belief and the confidence because they need to feel that.”
Monday’s victory does not mark the end of Chelsea’s struggles though. There is more work to be done before they can claim to have turned a corner.
Pochettino’s side still showed a touch of toothlessness in front of goal — Broja missed an early opportunity after rounding Leno, and Enzo Fernández failed to add a third in the second half when presented with an enticing one-on-one. Mudryk, despite his well-taken goal, still did not quite shine on the left and was taken off due to a quad injury at half-time. There should also still be concern over the lack of style and personality needed to produce consistent performances.
None of this is to mention the issue of the club’s league position. Even after this victory, they’re still only in 11th place, a point behind Manchester United, and Chelsea’s task will only get tougher.
Chelsea have arguably wasted obvious chances to win points at the start of the season, with away defeats to West Ham and Nottingham Forest, as well as an uninspiring 0-0 draw to Bournemouth. The schedule is about to get much tougher: After a trip to Burnley, Chelsea then face a daunting run of against Arsenal (home), Brentford (home), Tottenham (away) Manchester City (home), Newcastle (away), Brighton (home), Manchester United (away).
“In football, you always have to be ready for everything,” Pochettino said. “This Saturday [against Burnley] is going to be tough also. It is important for the players to have a lift after two victories, but we will keep working.”
All of those worries can live for another day, though. On Monday, Chelsea broke their deadlock and halted a worrying slide in the league. There can be no ridicule in that.