Mykhailo Mudryk's opening goal for Chelsea on Monday against Fulham marked a change in fortunes for a team that has struggled to score goals this season. AP Photo/Kin Cheung
LONDON — There was a point on Monday, as a Dominos pizza truck parked up next to Craven Cottage in the build-up to the game, when it became clear Chelsea‘s woeful form in front of goal was beginning to transform from a persistent narrative to a point of ridicule.
Dominos, in a clear (albeit potentially factual) publicity stunt, had a digital billboard showing how many pizzas they had sold in the five weeks since Chelsea last scored a Premier League goal. It was nearly 10 million and counting. It was humorous — and for rival fans a bit of schadenfreude — but more traditional stats about Chelsea’s goal drought make for more grim reading.
Coming into Monday’s local clash with rivals Fulham, Chelsea had not struck in the league since a 3-0 victory against Premier League strugglers Luton in August, despite the Blues creating chances. Chelsea’s five goals were tied for the second-fewest in the Premier League this season (only Burnley had fewer) and their 5.5% shot conversion was the lowest of any team, failing to score with their previous 49 attempts on goal.
Like last season under the eventually sacked Graham Potter, Chelsea have remained a team that creates chances but rarely scores. They claimed a narrow 1-0 win over Brighton in the EFL Cup last week. Monday’s premier task, then, was to break that deadlock in the Premier League.
Chelsea did that, finally, as part of a much-needed 2-0 victory on Monday that will come as a great relief. Who it came from — winger Mykhailo Mudryk — will come as a point of solace, too.
Mudryk arrived at Chelsea as a mark of their enduring appeal last January in a deal that could reach €100 million, but in his ensuing 23 appearances he became the poster boy for the kind of expensive signing that failed to make the grade at Stamford Bridge. Recently, Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino put Mudryk’s errors down to confidence and a matter of psychology – an issue he decided to fix by competing against his winger at a game of crossbar challenge.
When pressed in a post-match news conference on why the manager continued to pick Mudryk despite his dry spell, Pochettino said he had earned his chance: “It is about maturity. It takes time. There was a massive change to the team when he arrived here, and when you arrive to a team it is not easy to settle. When too many young players arrive at a team it is not solid.”
“He showed in his training sessions that he deserved [the chance to play],” Pochettino added.
Mudryk’s moment of redemption came after 18 minutes on Monday. The Ukraine winger flashed a rare look of composure as he chested down a cross from defender Levi Colwill before calmly slotting below Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno for his first goal for Chelsea.
“It’s all about the design and the strategy that you can provide the young guys, to trust and feel comfortable in themselves, and to feel like home,” Pochettino said. “Like everyone, they need to feel like they belong to this club. It’s all about [giving them] time and also finding the right people that can help.”