It appears José Mourinho may have been economical with the truth. All that talk of giving his players the silent treatment at the interval on Saturday was an exaggeration, the Portuguese having uttered at least seven words to his spluttering team before turning on his heels and letting them mull over how best to recover. The polite version would read "It's your mess, you sort it out". André Schürrle only offered a knowing smile when asked to confirm if that phrasing sounded familiar.
The German had plenty to brighten his mood. This season has been an apprenticeship in the rigours of English football and a player who has struggled with the intensity took it on himself to toughen up. This was his first league start of 2014 and only his second since he scored twice at Stoke City in early December but a 16-minute hat-trick after the interval, his first for a club side, made him feel integral again. Chelsea have felt stretched at times in recent weeks, becoming overly reliant on the brilliance of Eden Hazard, but unearthing a scorer from midfield adds to their options.
The Schürrle who started at Craven Cottage was not the same player who signed from Bayer Leverkusen last summer for £18.7m, the 23-year-old having taken on board his manager's advice in the hope he can make an impact. "We talked a lot, of course, and he told me I needed to change my game and my body," he said. "And that's what I've done over the last two months. I've really worked very hard to be aggressive, to be in a good shape with my body. Now I'm ready to play more often. I did a lot in the gym but I wanted to do this, I needed to do this. I wanted to change and I think I have."
His interplay with Eden Hazard, who raised his performance after the lethargy of the first half, cut Fulham to shreds and his goals were finished emphatically, twice from the Belgian's passes and once from Fernando Torres' lay-off into space.
Fulham had admittedly been demoralised by the first goal all their self-doubt flooding back once behind, but Chelsea could draw encouragement from the manner in which they roused themselves to overcome their initial deficiencies. Players took responsibility, Hazard in particular dropping deeper in search of possession before turning to run at retreating opponents. "You either wait and the production never starts," said Mourinho, "or you decide: 'I have to try by myself.'"
Perhaps the manager's shock treatment at the break had been enough to shrug them out of their post-Istanbul weariness to establish a four-point lead at the top. "[Mourinho] said something I'd rather not repeat but everybody knew we had to change," said Schürrle. "We played more aggressively after the break. We needed to change our faces and we did well. We have to believe we can win the league. I think everyone believes it now. We've worked hard for this."
Fulham's hard work has only just begun. Felix Magath, in his club patented black and white spectacles, offered an upbeat assessment of his new team's prospects with this apparently a game that no one, least of all the manager, had expected them to win. They had been the better side up to half-time, even if they threatened only sporadically. The trip to Cardiff, immediately above them, on Saturday must signal the start of the revival.
"You have to keep the faith," said Kieran Richardson, a veteran of West Bromwich Albion's unlikely survival in 2005 when they had been bottom on Christmas Day and still propped up the table on the final afternoon. "After a result like Saturday you can't afford for your heads to go down and to be thinking about that rather than the next game. Cardiff was always going to be a big one. You can turn it round with a couple of results and the lads all know it's not that far off."
How they crave a goalscorer to convert the half-chances they create. They are desperate for Kostas Mitroglou to follow Schürrle's lead and adapt to the physicality of the English game. Unfortunately the Greek, unlike the German, does not have much time to get settled in. "The manager is working with him and we need him as soon as possible," added Richardson. "Hopefully he'll come in and do the business. We spent a lot of money on him and we're expecting him to do well."
Man of the match André Schürrle (Chelsea)