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Fulham 1-3 Chelsea Prem 28 1314 The Guardian

last updated Sunday 02nd March 2014, 2:24 PM

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Dominic Fifield at The Guardian
Fulham (0) 1 Chelsea (0) 3

They had been craving an instant impact from a German in these parts, though Fulham might now suggest the scriptwriters rather muddled their thinking. André Schürrle, a peripheral figure at Chelsea, on his third start since New Year's Day, emerged from the visitors' initial lethargy to settle this derby and propel his side four points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

His hat-trick, scored in 17 second-half minutes, was devastating, a lesson in ruthless finishing to remind Felix Magath that the crushing weight of this division is heaped upon Fulham.

Chelsea had previously seen only flashes of this quality from the man prised from Bayer Leverkusen for £18.7m last summer, but displays such as this illustrate the true strength in depth to their attacking options, even with the lack of strikers in the ranks. They are imposing when those creative spirits behind the frontman ally bite with invention, the interplay between Schürrle and Eden Hazard too much for Fulham.

The German's movement has always been clever but it was his finishing that truly caught the breath. In slamming home his third goal in that madcap period just after half-time, when the hosts utterly disintegrated as a defensive force, Schürrle doubled his tally for the season.

"It's something I expect from him," said José Mourinho. "He's in a learning process in relation to the Premier League, up against teams who fight. It's difficult for him to play 90 minutes for us, doing things he's never done in his life, but what I expect from him is cold blood. In front of goal, he's not the kind of guy where the goal becomes very small. He normally scores. He sees the keeper's reaction, he can score with right or left, and is a good finisher. This is what I expect from him."

Schürrle performed here, albeit only after that dismal opening period, when Fulham had the bustling energy and the visitors had been dreadful, all over-hit passes, slack tracking and laboured movement. That midweek trip to Istanbul clearly had an effect, even with tweaks made to the starting lineup. Mourinho had been so disgusted he had refused to speak to his team at the break, apparently for the first time in his career, ensuring the onus was on his players to mount their own revival. Hazard and Schürrle stepped up thereafter, with Nemanja Matic more influential in the centre, and quality duly told.

Their opening goal exposed Fulham's frailties. Schürrle, having collected a throw-in from Branislav Ivanovic and found Hazard, was allowed to dash, unchecked, into the home half to collect the Belgian's return pass. The home substitute Dan Burn was flummoxed by a clever header across field, which bought the forward space in which to charge, and he finished calmly through Maarten Stekelenburg's legs.

"I've seldom seen a goal like that first one, where Schürrle runs the whole field and nobody tackles him," Magath said. "He can run 90 metres without contact? I have never seen this before." The absence of Brede Hangeland, who had departed after a clash of heads with Kieran Richardson, was keenly felt.

The goal settled Chelsea. Hazard bamboozled Fulham with those trademark outrageous flashes of skill, and Fernando Torres went close to converting a staggering rabona - a cross sent over with his right foot wrapped around the back of his standing left leg - and the home side were suddenly exposed. They could not quell Hazard's threat and when he was allowed to advance into enemy territory his pass was perfect for Schürrle, having eased off Burn, to score a second across the exposed Stekelenburg.

The hat-trick was secured while Fulham still quaked at the brutality of it all, Torres beating the beleaguered Burn in the air and then spinning a pass into space. Schürrle, played onside by Johnny Heitinga, eased on to the ball and dispatched it gloriously with his right foot. Displays like this remind Chelsea that they secured a gem from Bayer Leverkusen last summer. He will have more to offer in the run-in.

Fulham must find some inspiration of their own in their final 10 matches to avoid the drop and - even with nothing more than Heitinga's consolation upon which to cling, after the visitors dithered at a corner - they can be mildly encouraged by their initial industry.

There had been balance to their opening period, even if glimpses of goal were fleeting. Burn failed to make contact from point-blank range and Steve Sidwell blazed high when well placed. Clint Dempsey nodded wide in the opening three minutes. "But today nothing happened," said Magath. "Nobody expected us to win, but we did not play like a relegated team in the opening 45 minutes."

There are more winnable contests than this in the weeks to come, not least at Cardiff on Saturday. The German can still have his impact. Fulham must hope it is as memorable as that made by his compatriot.

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