LONDON (AP) — João Félix was sent off on his Chelsea debut for a studs-first lunge as his new team lost 2-1 at Fulham in the Premier League to fall deeper into crisis on Thursday.
The Portugal forward looked disconsolate after being shown a straight red card in the 58th minute for his dangerous challenge on Kenny Tete that caught the Fulham right back just below his right knee.
Félix, who joined on loan from Atletico Madrid for the rest of the season on Wednesday, was having an impressive game until his sending-off, making surging runs, delivering incisive passes and showing some neat tricks and flicks.
He won’t be able to showcase them again until Feb. 11 as he will now miss league games against Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Fulham. With Félix having joined on a deal costing Chelsea a reported $790,000 a week taking in wages and the loan fee, it is a costly error for both the club and for under-pressure manager Graham Potter.
“It was a forward’s tackle — there was no malice in it but I understand why it was a red,” Potter said. “It is another blow. The hits keep coming at the moment, that’s how it is. He (Félix) was really good, you could see his quality in the game, so it is doubly disappointing for us.”
Chelsea slipped to a sixth loss in its last eight matches in all competitions — its worst run of results in nearly 30 years — thanks to a 73rd-minute winner from Carlos Vinicius, who met a cross from Andreas Pereira with an unchallenged header at the far post as goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga hesitated to come out for the ball.
The Brazilian striker was only playing because first-choice center forward Aleksandar Mitrović, Fulham’s top scorer, was suspended.
“Guys are stepping up — we are not a one-trick pony,” said Tim Ream, Fulham’s American defender. “We have guys in the team who can finish and put the ball away.”
On being sixth in the Premier League: “It is a consequence of everything we are doing. The hard work on the training ground, the togetherness of the players and fans. We are not looking at the table but we are in a very good position.”
Fulham went ahead in the 25th minute through a deflected shot from former Chelsea winger Willian, only to concede an equalizer in the 47th when Mason Mount’s free kick came back off the post and center back Kalidou Koulibaly forced home the rebound from close range.
Fulham climbed above Liverpool into sixth place to continue a brilliant first season back in the top flight. This was a fourth straight win in the top flight, something the southwest London club hadn’t achieved since 1966.
Chelsea stayed in 10th place, 19 points off leader Arsenal having played one game more. A top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League is looking more and more unlikely for Chelsea, whose extensive injury list now includes Denis Zakaria after the midfielder came off with a problem midway through the second half.
Potter made a quadruple substitution in the 79th minute in a late bid to grab a draw but striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not among them. Last week against Manchester City, Aubameyang was substituted after coming on as an early substitute and already appears to be a player out of favor with Potter, whose attacking options are increasingly limited with Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic injured.
“The red card changes the game,” Potter said. “It makes it a little more difficult for us. But I thought the application when we went down to 10 men was really good.
“We have got to keep working. There is no other solution, you have to keep working to stay together and stay focused.”