Jorginho and Kepa on road to Chelsea redemption
Fulham 1-2 Chelsea
This turned into a day of redemption for Chelsea. Head coach Maurizio Sarri has returned from the brink, Jorginho took a positive step by scoring the winning goal and Kepa Arrizabalaga put his Wembley mutiny behind him.
It has been a strange 10 days for the club. Sarri had been close to the sack, but a second successive London derby victory moved his team two points off the top four with a game in hand and just five behind third-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
"We were trying to involve Tottenham in the fight," said Sarri. "And I think that now they are involved. So, better two teams for four places than three for one place."
The performances and results against Manchester City, Spurs and now Fulham have won around some of Sarri's doubters, while Jorginho offered encouragement that he could yet come good.
Unfairly cast as the poster boy for everything that had been going wrong for Sarri, Jorginho was booed on to the pitch as a substitute in the recent Europa League tie against Malmo at Stamford Bridge. He then missed a penalty kick in Chelsea's League Cup final shoot-out defeat by City.
However, having scored what proved to be the winner, Jorginho heard his name ring out from the visitors' end at Craven Cottage when he was replaced by Mateo Kovacic in the second-half.
"I'm very, very happy for him because today he scored," said Sarri.
"But my opinion about Jorginho is the same. He's a very great player, one of the most important in Europe in that position."
Fulham already appeared doomed to relegation before Scott Parker's appointment as caretaker manager, and this result leaves them needing a miracle to survive.
But Parker can be pleased by a second-half in which Fulham tested Sarri's decision to restore goalkeeper Kepa to his starting line-up a week after the Spaniard's refusal to be substituted.
Following an early wobble, Kepa justified his selection ahead of Willy Caballero, who had kept a clean sheet against Spurs, with some smart stops and Sarri can be satisfied with his handling of the situation.
"Kepa made a big mistake," said Sarri. "He paid for it with the club and the team. Now the situation is closed.
"There was only one other way, to put him out of the squad for the rest of the season, but Kepa is a man and understood, and reacted very well. I can kill him, but I don't think it is right. With another man I could have done it in another way, but I know him well.
"I spoke with him during this week and he understood. His behaviour during the week was really very good. His reaction today was really very good. I know very well the man. He is very clever, with a very good mentality.
"But now I know very well that Caballero is a very good goalkeeper and important man for our group and our dressing room, so I have to find space for him."
The decision to recall Kepa almost went wrong in the 18th minute, when the keeper spilt what should have been an easy take from Kevin McDonald's high ball into the penalty area. Fortunately for Kepa and Chelsea, Ryan Babel was not alive to the mistake and Fulham were then given a lesson in clinical finishing.
Just two minutes later, the visitors went ahead as Gonzalo Higuain showed the kind of predatory instinct that Babel had lacked. Antonio Rudiger swept the ball out to Willian, who played in the overlapping Cesar Azpilicueta and his low cross was fired into the net by the Argentine.
Kepa recovered from his early mistake to make a superb save from Aleksandar Mitrovic's volley, but Fulham equalised from the resulting corner, taken short to Babel, whose cross was converted by Calum Chambers at the back post.
Craven Cottage erupted, but any momentum gained from the equaliser quickly evaporated as Fulham fell behind once again in the 31st minute, when Jorginho scored his first Chelsea goal from open play.
A week after missing from the penalty spot, Jorginho curled a wonderful 20-yard shot past goalkeeper Sergio Rico, having won back possession in his own half.
Fulham appealed that a free-kick should have been awarded for Jorginho's challenge on Joe Bryan in the build-up to the strike, but the goal stood.
Jorginho also played a clever pass over the top of the Fulham defence from which Higuain should have scored, and the midfielder's contribution was recognised by the Chelsea fans when he was taken off with 22 minutes to go.
There was a late chance for Mitrovic to steal a point for the home side, but Kepa stopped his header and an offside flag ruled out what would have been an added-time goal by Ryan Sessegnon.
Of course there will be bigger tests for Sarri, Jorginho and Kepa, but they have all at least started on their roads to redemption.