The Blues enjoyed by far the better of the opening half and had Javi Gracia's side holding on as a succession of chances came and went. Joao Felix was unfortunate to see his excellent effort thump against the underside of the crossbar, Kai Havertz was unable to find a way past Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier after being released by Raheem Sterling and Ben Chilwell fired wastefully wide after finding room inside the visitors' area.
Leeds slowly began to nullify Chelsea's momentum, however, allowing murmurs of frustration to permeate the Stamford Bridge atmosphere, and discontent was palpable as the interval came without a breakthrough. Graham Potter's side rediscovered their momentum, however, and forged ahead shortly after half-time when Fofana met Ben Chilwell's corner and powerfully headed high past Meslier to net his side's first goal in almost 400 minutes of play, and prompt joyous scenes among the home support.
Leeds responded positively and twice came close to levelling in the immediate aftermath of Fofana's header, but the hosts just about rediscovered their composure and were able to hold out for a long-awaited and much-needed three points.
A victory of any kind was vital, but one achieved with dominant, controlling football provided further backing for Potter's work. Chelsea were undoubtedly good value for their lead and, after struggling to adapt to the rare position of being ahead, saw out two sustained spells of Leeds pressure and held on to register a priceless clean sheet. While he took the headlines as match-winner, Fofana's first league start in five months was more valuable in defensive terms as he stepped in seamlessly for injured talisman Thiago Silva.
Wasteful finishing almost proved costly once again as Leeds weathered the storm and grew in confidence in the late stages of the first half. Chelsea's mental fortitude was again under scrutiny as Leeds hit back and, with better finishing of their own, the nervous Blues might have dropped points once again.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Deprived of defensive lynchpin Silva, Graham Potter reintroduced Fofana from the start in a three-man central defence. The resultant extra man in midfield gave Chelsea total dominance in the early stages, but yet again a tactical victory was undone by wayward finishing from his forwards. Just when it appeared that the hosts would unravel in the second period, Potter's half-time instructions propelled them into a second half start which yielded the winning goal. There were justifiable question marks, however, over the second-half substitutions which did little to aid the Blues' cause.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 6 -- Seldom called upon during Chelsea's early dominance, but had to be alert more than once to support his back three in possession. Well shielded by his defence for the most part and ended the game wearing the captain's armband after Kovacic's departure. Made a smart late stop from Mateo Joseph before clutching an even later header from Meslier.
DF Wesley Fofana, 8 - Restored in place of the absent Thiago Silva and had the chance to mark his first Premier League start in five months with a decent early opening, but headed over. There was no such mistake made for the winning goal, however, and thereafter the Frenchman was a totemic presence at the back.
DF Kalidou Koulibaly, 6 - Outfoxed by Summerville in a rare Leeds attack in the first half, and breathed a sigh of relief to see the subsequent free kick wasted. Took no prisoners, as per usual, and managed to take the sting out of Rutter's goal-bound attempt at a key point in the game.
DF Benoit Badiashile, 7 - Showed a keen eye for a long-range pass by releasing Chilwell midway through the first half, though spent the bulk of his time putting in a solid defensive shift. Happier out of possession than in it, but growing in stature all the time.
MF Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 6 - A typically diligent showing from the big midfielder stationed at right wing-back. Unable to make a huge contribution in attack, but ensured that Leeds' threat down the left seldom materialised. Withdrawn late on.
MF Enzo Fernandez, 7 - Heavily involved going forward early on and had a slew of attempts during the course of the game without troubling Meslier. Put in plenty of hard yards and showed tremendous stamina in his contribution before making way for Madueke in the late stages.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 6 - Skipper in the absence of Silva, and rose to the responsibility in his customary fashion. On the front foot throughout as Chelsea bossed the midfield from the off, but faded in influence and made way for Chukwuemeka as Potter reshuffled his pack late in the second half.
MF Ben Chilwell, 7 - Demonstrated his terrific engine by making telling contributions at both ends during a breathless first half. Might have done better with one or two early openings, but atoned by supplying the corner for Fofana's fine winner.
FW Joao Felix, 7 - So unfortunate to see his superb effort thud against the underside of the bar midway through the first half. A leading light during Chelsea's period of dominance, but faded thereafter and was removed as Potter looked to lock in the victory.
FW Kai Havertz, 5 - Passed up a fine one-on-one chance in the early part of the game and seemed to have his confidence dented as a result. Full of running, but continues to spend too much time on the periphery of Chelsea's approach.
FW - Raheem Sterling, 6 - Well involved in the first period and should probably have had assists for both Havertz and Felix to his name, but instead cut an increasingly frustrated figure. Might have done better with a second-half counter but could only blaze wastefully off target.
MF Conor Gallagher, 7 - Brought his customary vim and vigour at a time when Chelsea needed it most. A strong cameo from the bench, even if he did pick up a late booking for his overzealous endeavours.
MF Denis Zakaria, 6 - Introduced to bring stability to the late stages, but unable to get a full grip on proceedings.
FW Carney Chukwuemeka, N/A - Spent the last 15 minutes on the fringes of an increasingly disjointed game.
FW Noni Madueke, N/A - Unable to get heavily involved during his brief cameo.
DF Trevoh Chalobah, N/A - Called upon more than once to make last-ditch interventions as Chelsea just about held on.