Joao Felix was sent off on his Chelsea debut as Fulham beat the Blues 2-1 at Craven Cottage to heap more pressure on Graham Potter.
Willian opened the scoring against his former club on 25 minutes with a deflected shot from inside the box before Kalidou Koulibaly equalized two minutes after the restart.
Felix, who had shown plenty of bright moments having been selected barely 24 hours after completing a loan move from Atletico Madrid, then lunged in on Kenny Tete and received a straight red card.
Fulham made the most of their numerical advantage as Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga failed to deal with Andreas Pereira’s 73rd-minute cross, allowing Carlos Vinicius to nod home the winning goal and send Fulham into sixth place. Meanwhile, Chelsea remain 10th, ten points outside the top four.
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JUMP TO: Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Post match quotes | Key Stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Felix’s Chelsea debut goes from sublime to ridiculous
It was all looking so good. Chelsea weren’t exactly dominating against Fulham but they had just equalized and Felix was at the heart of everything good about the Blues.
The 23-year-old had amassed six shots, four on target and produced some intelligent link-up play in completing 16 of his 21 passes, made all the more impressive by the fact he had taken part in just one training session after arriving from Atletico Madrid. One moment in the 58th minute changed everything.
There didn’t appear to be any malicious intent but in lunging for the ball near the halfway line, Felix made high, studs-up contact with Kenny Tete. Referee David Coote had no option to dismiss him. The repercussions for Chelsea are profound. The morale boost such an arrival could have on a beleaguered squad in a difficult period is lost.
An expensive loan — €11 million no less — just got a little pricier. And a three-game ban means he will now miss matches against Crystal Palace, Liverpool and the reverse fixture at home to Fulham. Felix has carved out an unwanted piece of history: he becomes the first player to receive a red card on their Premier League debut since Federico Fazio for Tottenham against Manchester City in October 2014.
2. Defensive blunders add more pressure on Potter
There was a gallows humor mood among the traveling supporters throughout this, best exemplified by the Chelsea fans singing “We are staying up” when Kalidou Koulibaly equalised.
This performance was actually an improvement on some of Chelsea’s more sterile showings of late. It says a lot about the desperation with which Potter wanted to inject some fresh attacking energy that Felix started after just one solitary training session with his new team-mates but he was lively before the moment of madness that led to his dismissal.
In fact, despite playing the final 32 minutes with 10 men, Chelsea finished here with more shots (20-8), more shots on target (10-3) and a much better xG (2.05-0.58). It was their defending which let them down. Both Koulibaly and Chalobah looked shaky trying to play out from the back while Fulham’s two goals were avoidable, particularly the winner. Kepa simply seemed to lose the flight of the ball as Pereira crossed, allowing himself to be caught under it and giving Vinicius the simplest of headers to win the game.
Chelsea’s lack of goals — 21 in 18 league games now — only underlines the importance of defensive stability but this was a seventh defeat in ten matches which heaps more pressure on Potter. The top four is disappearing from view and the sight of Potter making four simultaneous substitutions late on — while leaving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench when Chelsea needed a goal — only enhanced the feeling the new Chelsea boss is some way off knowing his best site. The fans sang “we want our Chelsea back” by the end.
Co-owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital insist they will support Potter but that resolve will be tested further if the fans fully turn on the head coach.
3. No Mitrovic, no problem as Willian and Fulham thrive
It appeared that Willian’s career at the highest level was over when tearing up his Arsenal contract prematurely to join Corinthians in July 2021.
Yet the 34-year-old has played a central role in Fulham’s resurgence after returning to the Premier League on a free transfer last summer and here he scored the opening goal which set the home side on their way to a fifth consecutive victory in all competitions . Willian spent seven years at Chelsea, immediately earning cult hero status after turning down Tottenham to join the Blues — and his contribution to the club is still remembered to the extent the away fans briefly sang his name shortly after kick-off.
That respect is mutual: Willian chose not to celebrate when his deflected first-half shot found the bottom corner, the Brazilian’s second goal in 12 matches. Fulham’s task was made harder by the absence of key striker Aleksandar Mitrovic through suspension, but wide-players Willian and Bobby De Cordova-Reid ably supported Carlos Vinicius. And as Fulham rise to sixth place, a special mention for Andreas Pereira, whose superb cross for Vinicius’ winner was his fifth league assist of the season — only Kevin De Bruyne (9), Bukayo Saka (6) and Christian Eriksen (6 ) have fun.
Best and worst performers
Best performers: Willian (Fulham), Bernd Leno (Fulham), Carlos Vinicius (Fulham).
Willian set the tone for a vibrant Fulham display, causing Cezar Azpilicueta all sorts of problems. Leno made a series of solid saves to repel Chelsea and was unfortunate to concede when another good stop from Mason Mount’s free-kick fell into Kalidou Koulibaly’s path. Vinicius worked tirelessly to offset Mitrovic’s absence and deserved his goal
Worst performers: Joao Felix (Chelsea), Trevor Chalobah (Chelsea), Kepa Arrizbalaga (Chelsea).
Joao Felix threatened to make a hugely positive start to his loan spell at Chelsea before a reckless tackle cost him dearly. Chalobah won just 29 per cent of his duels and contributed to the shaky feel to Chelsea’s backline with erratic distribution. Kepa’s error of judgment ended up making a bad night worse, putting Chelsea in a situation they found too tough to recover from.
Highlights and notable moments
Chelsea’s back luck gets worse as Willian’s shot deflects off Chalobah to get past Kepa.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) January 12, 2023
A fortuitous bounce gave Willian the goal and the lead, but the Brazilian striker played it cool after scoring against his former club.
After the match: What the players/managers said
Chelsea manager Graham Potter, on Felix’s red card: “There’s a reaction from the side and it’s a forward’s tackle, shall we say, and there was too much malice in it. I understand why he’s sent off. It’s another blow. The hits just keep coming at the moment. That’s how it is .”
Potter, on Kepa’s timing on Fulham’s second goal: “I never like to speak about individuals when we lose but the [second] goal itself is a frustrating one from our perspective.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Chelsea’s 25 points through their first 18 Premier League games this season are their fewest since the 2015-16 season where they finished in 10th place.
Fulham: A Sunday matchup against another surprise club, as they visit third-place Newcastle United.
Chelsea: Back to Stamford Bridge and welcoming Crystal Palace on Sunday.