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Blanks for Benitez's Blues as Chelsea held by Fulham at the Bridge

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fernando_torres2The stats at the end of the game will say that Chelsea had 17 shots on the Fulham goal, with 13 of them on target, but the truth of what was another soul sucking affair at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night was that the Blues looked nothing like European Champions and none of those 13 efforts ever looked even remotely close to ruffling the back of the Fulham net. In fact, the only entertainment on the night was provided by the fans, who continued to voice their adoration for sacked manager Roberto di Matteo, and their hatred for his replacement Rafa Benitez as Chelsea produced a second straight 0-0 draw at home, this time in the company of West London rivals Fulham, in a game that never threatened to feel like a local derby. The best chance of the game fell Fulham's way, but John Arne Riise failed to make a good connection with Gorgios Karagounis' pass. The point for Chelsea does take them back to third place though, albeit on goal difference, courtesy of Swansea's 3-1 victory over West Brom. The Chelsea fans will find some cheer in the fact that Albion's only goal was scored by Romelu Lukaku.

Benitez made two changes to the side that played the dull uninspirsing game against Manchester City at the weekend with John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata dropping to the bench with Oriol Romeu and Ryan Bertrand getting the nod in their place. That also meant that Gary Cahill continued to warm the bench while Branislav Ivanovic continued at center-back alongside David Luiz, while Cesar Azpilicueta enjoyed an extended run at right back. Ramires partnered Romeu in the middle of the park, while Oscar and Eden Hazard were tasked with providing the ammunition to the misfiring Fernando Torres.

Fulham meanwhile made three changes to the side that was beaten at Stoke City at the weekend with the experienced trio of Mahamadou Diarra, Hugo Rodallega and Damien Duff all getting a game. Duff incidentally has plenty of good memories of his time at Stamford Bridge, and was obviously keen to impress on his return as was another former Blue, Steve Sidwell. The two big absentees though in the Fulham line-up were playmaker Bryan Luiz and center-back Brede Hangeland, making them a considerably weakened unit. They did though have the guile of former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov upfront.

Sadly for both sets of fans, the first half was a bit of a non-strarter with neither side even remotely threatening to score. It was Chelsea who unsurprisingly bossed possession, but did little with it, with Juan Mata's absence more than a little conspicuous. The Blues also flirted briefly with their new direct approach with a few crosses and long balls making their way to Fernando Torres, but in fairness to the Spaniard he was rather starved of any quality service. There were no complaints about his work rate though, and one could sense a change in his fortunes if Mata was introduced later in the game.

Fulham for their part did register a shot on target with Hugo Rodallega hammering one powerfully straight at Petr Cech from distance. It was no surprise though that the half ended the way it started, very much nil-nil.

Chelsea showed a lot more verve and energy at the start of the second half with Brazilian wonderkid Oscar proving to be a handful around the Fulham box, but it was the away side who should have scored when John Arne Riise found himself with time and space at the back post, but failed to land a good contact on his shot.

Chelsea looked to up their tempo by bringing on Juan Mata for Bertrand, a decision which may not have been necessary had the Spaniard started the game as he probably should have. The Spaniard's first telling contribution was to find Ivanovic from a corner, but the Serbian defender could not get enough purchase on his header.

Back up the other end, Riise got a much better connection on his second effort after being played through by substitute Karim Frei, but Petr Cech was on hand to deny the Norwegian. Frei soon found himself on the floor in the Chelsea penalty area after a challenge from Ramires, but a decision from the referee in his favour was not forthcoming.

There was an increased urgency from Chelsea as the time ticked away, but Torres' half-volley was cleared to safety by Aaron Hughes, while there was no one really getting on the end of the odd half-chances that the Blues were creating.

The game rather predictably ended in a goal-less draw, and depending on how one wishes to see it, Rafa Benitez' reign at Stamford Bridge has started with two clean-sheets, but also two appalling attacking displays.

Chelsea are away to West Ham on Sunday, and Benitez will probably enjoy being on the road more, given the lack of love he has got from the Chelsea fans thus far. A win at Upton Park would surely help him recover for the Champions League game in midweek, though a failure to score again at the weekend will surely heap a lot more pressure on the veteran Spaniard.

Teams:

Chelsea: Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole, Romeu, Ramires, Hazard (Marin 82'), Oscar, Bertrand (Mata 63'), Torres.

Subs: Turnbull, Mata, Mikel, Moses, Ferreira, Marin, Cahill.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Riether, Senderos, Hughes, Riise, Duff, Diarra (Baird 64'), Sidwell, Karagounis (Frei 73'), Rodallega (Petric 83'), Berbatov.

Subs: Etheridge, Kelly, Baird, Kasami, Petric, Frei, Dejagah.

Score: Chelsea 0-0 Fulham

File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel