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Blues cruise but storm is brewing

If this felt like calm before a storm, it did see one forceful gust of wind.

David Luiz's brilliant, swerving blockbuster both ensured Chelsea's win and energised a game that otherwise felt all too flat.

In that, the ultimately non-competitive nature of this derby was at odds with the fact we're now very much into the most exacting stage of the season.

Chelsea, of course, face a more testing schedule than pretty much anyone else given that they have to play all of Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton in their last six games. Even with that, though, Rafa Benitez might reasonably assert that his team's most exacting period has already been and gone given that they won't again have to play four genuinely decisive games over the period of 10 days.

• Lythell: Defence best form of attack for Chelsea at Fulham

And that, perhaps, raises the most important aspect of this commanding 3-0 win. In what was their 60th game of the season, Chelsea remained capable of setting the tempo and thereby setting themselves up well for the final stretch.

Benitez's side are now a point of ahead of an Arsenal side that have played a game more and three ahead of Spurs. It is to their credit that, beyond the first half-hour, that prospect never really looked like being under threat.

Even up to then, Fulham were florid but never forceful. Things might have turned out differently had Bryan Ruiz turned in a cross after just two minutes, but it is one of the fundamental problems of Martin Jol's teams that they often struggle to make their pleasing possession actually matter - in any sense.

They are almost the quintessential mid-table team in the manner that, every season, they seem to be involved in the first genuinely meaningless game of the campaign.

There is nothing wrong with that given their size and resources, of course, but it did mean that Chelsea were more easily able to add cutting edge to their extra quality.

A case in point came with the second goal. A team absolutely desperate for points does not generally see two of its defenders allow an aerial presence like John Terry to get between them so easily.

To cut Philippe Senderos and Sascha Riether a certain amount of slack, Juan Mata's deep cross was pretty much perfect.

In terms of aesthetics, though, even that paled next to Luiz's 30th-minute effort.

Up until then, as Fulham had most of the possession and most of the half-chances, Chelsea did look like they needed someone to just put their foot on the ball.

Instead, Luiz put his foot through it. From all of 35 yards, the centre-back powered in an effort that had a trajectory almost as tremendous as the velocity.

That, finally, gave Chelsea the kind of control Benitez would have craved.

It was also notable that, afterwards, the Spaniard did not admit this performance was anything too much above the ordinary.

"The way we played second half, I was really pleased. The team was well organised, defending well and had chances on the counter-attack. That is one area we maybe need to improve but you cannot complain when you score three goals away from home.

"I think we have had much better games than this one. I said before on TV that Martin Jol is doing a great job, they play some great football, great movements but, when you play against players of quality, it's sometimes not enough."

Chelsea, ultimately, did enough tonight and that may well be the story of the season. For all the previous criticism of Benitez, and for all his own talk of the potential for a "great season", it is still on course to be an eminently satisfactory one: top three and the remaining opportunity of a trophy - even if it isn't the FA Cup.

The Spaniard said he was impressed with how his team bounced back from the defeat to Manchester City. Similarly, just as Benitez has often complicated things for himself with certain team selections, it is also those selections which have ensured Chelsea have sufficient energy to properly see out games like this.

No-one sums that up better than Terry. A player as associated with the club and influential within it as the centre-half will have inevitably been frustrated with his recent demotion to only starting the squad's secondary games, but he was smiling here as he nodded in Fernando Torres's header on the line to claim his second goal of the night.

By then, Chelsea were absolutely cruising.

They will have to pick up speed for most of their remaining games but, at the least, wins like this leave them with a fair amount of wind behind them.


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