Sarri admits Chelsea were a 'bit nervous' in securing derby-day victory
Chelsea 2 Fulham 0
Maurizio Sarri admitted his Chelsea team were "nervous" as they returned to winning ways in this derby without fully getting over their Tottenham Hotspur hangover.
An early goal from Pedro Rodriguez and a late strike from substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek were enough to ensure Chelsea bounced back from that defeat yesterday.
But this was no statement of intent, as Sarri's side had to be grateful to Kepa Arrizabalaga for keeping a clean sheet against the bottom club.
"About the performance, I think the result was important," said the Chelsea head coach. "We started well. At 1-0, I think the players had a very good level of application, but we were a bit nervous.
"Of course, it wasn't easy, the days after Tottenham, for me and the players, but I think we have thought too much about that match.
"So today, it was important to react. But I think the team reacted really very well in the Europa League [a 4-0 victory over PAOK on Thursday]. Today was more important, and I think in the minds of the players, there was only the result."
Calum Chambers could have scored three goals for Fulham. He had a shot well saved in the 16th minute, and Kepa did even better to keep out the on-loan midfielder after the break.
Having got in front of Marcos Alonso, Chambers headed Jean Michael Seri's corner towards goal, but Kepa did brilliantly to stop the ball hitting the back of the net.
The Spanish goalkeeper then produced another stunning save from Chambers after he had been teed up by Tom Cairney.
Chelsea were already a goal up before Chambers got a sight of goal, thanks to Pedro taking advantage of superb play from N'Golo Kante in just the fourth minute.
Kante had been criticised by Sarri following the defeat by Spurs, with questions raised over whether he was being played in the correct position.
But he responded brilliantly by robbing Seri and advancing towards the penalty area before playing in Pedro, who cut inside Alfie Mawson and finished expertly.
It was Kante's second assist of the season, which is as many as he had contributed over the previous two campaigns, and his performance was one of the positives for Sarri. "I think he played very well," said Sarri. "He defended very well. He needs, I think, to improve a little more from the tactical point of view, but it's natural.
"In the national team, he usually plays with the two midfielders. Last season, sometimes with two midfielders and sometimes with three, but in the same position. So, I think it's normal he needs to improve."
Pedro's goal was Chelsea's earliest in the league this season.
But they failed to dominate until Loftus-Cheek wrapped up the three points, following the move of the match.
Pedro exchanged passes with Eden Hazard before finding Loftus-Cheek, who had replaced Mateo Kovacic six minutes earlier.
There was no such joy for fellow substitute, Alvaro Morata, however, as he put forward his contender for miss of the season shortly before Loftus-Cheek scored. The striker blazed the ball over the bar from close range after Hazard's effort had been saved.
Olivier Giroud had been anonymous before being replaced by Morata and it was the Fulham manager, Claudio Ranieri, who was more encouraged than Sarri by his team's performance.
Ranieri said: "At the beginning, we gave a good present when we lost the ball and they scored on the counter-attack, but afterwards, we reacted very well. I wanted to see how we played, our philosophy, how we reacted and if we kept going. I think we did enough in the first half, but were much better in the second half with the two wingers."
Fulham won Ranieri's first game in charge against Southampton, but the 67-year-old said: "It's strange to tell, but I think we played much better today than in the Southampton match."
Asked whether he was interested in making a January move for his old Leicester City midfielder, Danny Drinkwater, who was once again nowhere to be seen for Chelsea, Ranieri added: "If I am interested, I won't tell you.
"I'm sorry. In this moment, my mind is only on my team and how I can help my players improve and play together to be a strong squad. I have time to understand what we need." (© Daily Telegraph, London)