Graham Potter claimed he had “the hardest job in football” only to start his next match with a new £100million-plus player in his team. The Chelsea manager also asked for no pity ahead of yet another defeat which increases the pressure on his head.
That said, it is hard not to feel a little bit sorry for the Chelsea manager. He was forced to watch helplessly as Joao Felix completely destroyed the whole point of his loan signing with a reckless red card assault after less than an hour.
The Portuguese – sold by Benfica for £113m less than three years ago – was a man signed for the here and now. A player to solve an injury crisis that currently stretches to nine players and shows little sign of abating in the short term.
However, the 23-year-old skip off the pitch to leave his numerically disadvantaged to succumb to another miserable defeat from a game they needed to win. Now he will miss the next three Chelsea matches – Crystal Palace, Liverpool and the return against Fulham.
No quarter will be given in any of those, but then nor was it in Felix’s middle-of-the-field challenge on Kenny Tete. Referee David Coote had no option but to issue marching orders as a chorus of “What a waste of money!” rang out from the home fans.
The added frustration for Chelsea is that the Atletico Madrid loanee had looked so lively up until that point. Work permit meeting successfully cleared in the morning, he was straight into the starting line-up and teeing up Lewis Hall for a chance he should have buried within the opening minutes.
A couple of poor finishes could be put down to a bit of jet lag and weariness, but Felix was creating chances in a Chelsea side that otherwise looked very much like one that had won just one game in its previous eight Premier League outings. Potter’s clear-the-air talks with four senior players on Tuesday clearly had not filtered through to the entire dressing room, however.
And with just a little bit of exuberance, Fulham found it all too easy in the main to take the game to Chelsea. They served notice of their intent in the 23rd minute when Bobby De Cordova-Reid was left free to smack the ball against the crossbar.
Just two minutes later, Hall lost possession near his own goal-line, Trevoh Chalobah failed to clear the cross and former Chelsea player Willian had as much time as he liked to pick his spot – and found it courtesy of another deflection off the hapless Chalobah.
Chelsea made little in-roads in the remainder of the first half but immediately at the start of the second, Mason Mount’s direct shot hit the post, and the rebound was bundled over the line by Kalidou Koulibaly. Once they got their extra man, though, Fulham were showing no sympathy for a team determined to engineer its own downfall.
A deep cross was completely misjudged by Kepa Arrizabalaga and Carlos Vinicius made no bones about stealing in to head the ball into the net to claim a well-deserved winner. Potter made a quadruple substitution, throwing in his cards in the hope of conjuring a miracle which died when Kai Havertz hit a late one-on-one chance straight at Leno.
Fulham fans meanwhile were convinced that Potter’s cards were exactly what he was going to be handed in the morning. An awkward 48 hours awaits for Potter to discover whether he is still in the hardest job in football… or not.