So the worst start to a campaign in the Roman Abramovich era has condemned Chelsea to the top of the Premier League table. José Mourinho did not entirely ooze satisfaction after this rather stop-start display against rivals from along the Fulham Road but, deep down, the pragmatist in him will have been relieved to have curtailed a four-match winless streak.

The process of change is continuing but this squad's adaptation may be more easily implemented if the mood is buoyant. The manager pointed out the performance at Goodison Park the previous weekend had been more fluent than that mustered here, even if Chelsea were beaten there but prevailed against Fulham. Yet he could still take satisfaction from a first goal in 185 Premier League games from Mikel John Obi and, more significantly, in the impression made by Oscar, the chosen No10 while Juan Mata stews on the sidelines waiting to prove he can thrive under the new regime.

The Brazilian's form this term, allying work-rate with creation and bite, has established him as the playmaker of choice in Mourinho's system. Mata, Chelsea's player of the season in each of his two campaigns at the club, knows he has to fit in around the man signed from Internacional, and must therefore become a workaholic winger. He watched from the stands here, before a Capital One Cup tie at Swindon to come on Tuesday in which he and those others currently on the fringes will start. "I hope he tells me on the pitch: 'You are wrong, I'm the best and I have to play every game,'" Mourinho said. "I'd love that. That's to be professional. He's a top kid and a top professional.

"He took [being left out of the squad] the way I wanted. He trained this morning and my assistant, who was with them, told me he trained very, very hard. If it was all about history then nobody would criticise me, because I won two titles here and never lost a home game in the Premier League. But the past is the past. What matters is now. You have to be judged on what you do now. He had a chance to play from the beginning against Aston Villa and Everton, and 35 minutes against Basel. The point is I have my options. The thing I love in football is when players prove I'm wrong. If he proves I'm wrong, I will be the Happy One, because I want him to be fantastic. I hope he will."

The Portuguese left his real flash of frustration for Ruud Gullit, a former Chelsea manager who was working as a pundit on Sky on Saturday night and had suggested that Mata's omission had been "something personal". "You know Ruud Gullit is a different kind of pundit because he was also a manager," Mourinho said. "He shouldn't be a very proud manager for what he did in the last years."

The game itself was more functional than flamboyant. Chelsea had heaved through the opening period, lucky not to fall behind when Pajtim Kasami slipped a pass between the home centre-halves but Darren Bent could only strike the on-rushing Petr Cech with his shot. The striker, at his sharpest, would have taken the opportunity with ease but here, with the effects of a disrupted pre-season and a recent hamstring strain perhaps blunting his edge, the chance went begging. Fulham created nothing clearer all night, their lack of ambition merely inviting pressure and making defeat feel inevitable. Their 34-year wait for a win in this arena goes on.

They did still frustrate the hosts through the opening period, Martin Jol sensing Chelsea "were really worried", only to undermine all their efforts by presenting a clear opportunity to Oscar the poacher. David Stockdale never really suggested confidence and his handling was sloppy early in the second half, a failure to grasp André Schürrle's near-post shot prompting panic. Samuel Eto'o's follow-up was pushed out by the goalkeeper as he sprawled down to his left but Oscar simply prodded the loose ball into the gaping net.

There was more urgency thereafter to Chelsea's display, a second goal eventually thrashed home from close-range by Mikel near the end. It was the first time the Nigerian had scored in the Premier League in 185 matches. "The lads have been killing me, saying I always score for the national team and never for us," the midfielder said.

Mourinho's next task may be to coax a league goal from one of his trio of strikers. Fernando Torres came closest here, forcing Stockdale into a smart save, but Eto'o still looks rusty. "I think he did his job, not in a brilliant way but he worked for the team, the same way [Demba] Ba and Torres always do," added the manager. "I cannot complain with effort and attitude, but they are not scoring goals. And that, for a striker, is not the best." Their chances will come. Mata must hope his do too.