LONDON: The latest West London derby was supposed to have been all about one particular German; instead it ended up all about another one.
Felix Magath, on his home debut as manager of Premier League bottom club Fulham, was left in the shadow of events by Andre Schurrle whose hat-trick lifted Chelsea four points clear of fading Arsenal at the opposite, happy end of the table.
Schurrle’s timing has proved impeccable. He has started underlining his value at the right time of the season. Chelsea fans may have wondered, last autumn, where Schurrle fitted in manager Jose Mourinho’s plans. But now, with Juan Mata gone to Manchester United and with Oscar tiring after a superb first half of the season, he has a crucial role to play.
Last midweek Schurrle contributed significantly to Chelsea’s 1:1 draw with Galatasaray in Istanbul in the Champions League; on Saturday he followed up with a sharp-shooting spell of three goals in 16 minutes in the second half. That salvo left Magath, Sascha Riether and Lewis Holtby – merely a late, vain substitute on Saturday – staring ever more firmly down the barrel of relegation.
The only quirk for the 23-year-old ex-Leverkusen forward was that, despite his hat-trick, he was not most observers’ man of the match. That accolade was earned by Eden Hazard for a magnificent, creative performance: Hazard provided two of the assists for Schurrle.
“He is a good finisher,” said Mourinho in a comparatively terse post-match press conference. Mourinho was in that sort of mood. After a low-key first-half his half-time team talk lasted, according to Schurrle, “for about 10 seconds and was unprintable.”
Magath will need more than angry words to save Fulham. He wants to increase their fitness level but he conceded after the game that they also need greater “mental power” to escape the drop at the end of a 13th season among the elite.
Fulham were hampered by the loss to a head injury of central defender Brede Hangeland after 16 minutes. “We missed our leader,” said Magath whose only consolation in a 19th defeat of the season was a consolation late goal from January arrival Johnny Heitinga.
Magath added: “I am satisfied by how we played in the first-half, we were organised and we gave Chelsea not many chances. But we we lost all our rhythm after the first goal. Up until then we had good spirit, there was a good atmosphere, but there is not enough mental power here to fight against going a goal down].
“Nobody expected us to beat Chelsea, so really today nothing happened. But next week it will be better if we win. We have to win against Cardiff, we need more points than our opponents in order to survive.
“We played against the league leaders here and we also have Manchester City before the end of the season but I expect us to be able to win against the other teams we will face. We have enough games left.”
To win those Chelsea will need goals and, as Magath noted last week, new Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou has a lot to learn . . . about the English game and about fitness. Here, at least, Magath can certainly make a difference.