Soccer-Fernandez debut for Chelsea ends in goalless draw with Fulham

Soccer Football - Premier League - Chelsea v Fulham - Stamford Bridge, London, Britain - February 3, 2023 Chelsea's Enzo Fernandez reacts Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

LONDON (Reuters) -Chelsea's British record signing Enzo Fernandez got his first taste of Premier League football in a 0-0 draw against his new club's visiting neighbours Fulham in a lively but ultimately disappointing Friday night derby.

The World Cup-winning midfielder, who cost Chelsea's American owners nearly 107 million pounds ($128.98 million) from Benfica, looked comfortable and showed touches of class, spraying pinpoint passes and timing his tackles well.

But it was Fulham who finished the game happier at Stamford Bridge, having earned four points from their wealthy neighbours in two league games this season, moving them up one place to sixth in the table and in touch with the European spots.

They are two points clear of ninth-placed Chelsea, who have 30 points from 21 matches and a game in hand.

The hosts, beaten 2-1 by Fulham in the reverse fixture three weeks ago, could not find a cutting edge in front of goal, Kai Havertz coming closest when his first-half chip hit the post with Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno stranded.

Chelsea coach Graham Potter, with nearly 300 million pounds of new signings to choose from, gave a first start to Mykhailo Mudryk but the Ukrainian was overrun down the right and replaced at halftime by debutant Noni Madueke who looked more solid.

"We have a lot of new players. I’m sure in time we’ll know each other’s game more naturally," Madueke told Sky Sports.

Potter also welcomed the return of England wingbacks Reece James and Ben Chilwell plus Raheem Sterling from injury but Chelsea could not break through Fulham's well drilled defence.

Sterling's attempted header into the top corner in the dying minutes of the game was expertly saved by Leno.

"It’s a team game. We work on it every week," Fulham captain Tim Ream told Sky Sports. "Defend from the front and attack from back. It takes all 11 guys and the ones coming on."

Fulham had a hatful of half chances to embarrass their rivals through former Chelsea forward Willian, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Joao Palhinha and Andreas Pereira but drew blanks.

Brazilian Willian said it was a special night for him after seven years playing for Chelsea. "We deserve a bit more but it’s hard to come here. They are a good team," he added.

($1=0.8120 pounds)

(Reporting by Clare Lovell; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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