Schuerrle sizzles, cottage crumbles

Chelsea's Andre Schurrle (C) celebrates after scoring a goal against Fulham during their English Premier League football match at Craven Cottage in London March 1, 2014.

FULHAM 1 (John Heitinga 74)

CHELSEA 3 (Andre Schuerrle 52, 65, 68)

In the end, class told.

With a second-half hat-trick that looked almost effortless, Andre Schuerrle demonstrated the difference that puts Chelsea top of the table and Fulham bottom.

As if it needs any reminder, Chelsea have stepped up a gear in their Premiership title chase, as they stretched their unbeaten league run to 13 games.

Yet, it wasn't all smooth sailing for the Blues, with Fulham playing some good football in the first half.

This match had promised to be intriguing and that was indeed how it turned out.

The circumstances suggested that the gulf in quality between the first and last teams of the Premiership on this occasion would be slightly narrowed due to circumstances.

Fulham might be battling a dearth in confidence, having gone seven league matches without a win, but Felix Magath was expecting nothing less than full-blooded commitment from his players in his first home game in charge.

Chelsea were fighting fatigue. They got back from Istanbul only on Thursday following their Champions League exertions against Galatasaray.

True enough, Fulham began the match with an enthusiasm rarely seen in their game this season.

Magath has a reputation for producing teams which close down opponents quickly and effectively and the Cottagers responded to his demands positively.

It was no surprise that they carved out the first good chance of the match, when Clint Dempsey's third-minute header flashed wide.

Chelsea's play throughout the first half bordered on lethargic.

Fulham goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, however, was quick to remind his teammates that danger was never far away for the relegation-threatened side.

His fourth-minute clearance rebounded off Fernando Torres and defender Brede Hangeland just about managed to rescue the situation.

It got even more nerve-racking for the home side nine minutes later when Stekelenburg once again struck the ball against Torres, but this time he got himself off the hook by making the save from Torres.

Yet, Chelsea almost broke the deadlock just before the half-time whistle.

Torres brought the ball down with his chest before unleashing a powerful half-volley, but the goalkeeper did well to save.

However, Jose Mourinho's side looked a very different side after the break. It didn't take long for them to seize the initiative. Eden Hazard's lobbed pass in the 52nd minute released Schuerrle, who duly obliged with a clinical finish to give Chelsea the lead.

Hazard was also the architect for the second goal. His through-ball found the German in the clear, and the forward slotted the ball into the bottom corner to give the visitors a two-goal cushion in the 65th minute.

It seemed only a matter of time before he notched a third, and in fact, it took him just another three minutes.

Fulham pulled one back through defender John Heitinga, but it always wasn't going to be enough to salvage anything.

The hosts tasted yet another defeat.

Chelsea, to put it simply, were just too good.

garylim@sph.com.sg

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