Stamford Bridge, London
November 27, 2012; 19:45 GMT
Fulham will travel down the road to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea, a club struggling to come to terms with the sacking of Roberto di Matteo, followed by the appointment of Rafa Benitez. This particular West London derby has of late been short on goals, and even results for that matter, with the last four games ending in draws, while five goals have been scored in the previous five games. Both teams have failed to win in their last five Premier League games, and eventually on Wednesday night, it may all come down to which of the two teams is more desperate for a win.
Chelsea are presently forth in the table, five points from leaders Manchester United, and like previous seasons, are mired in their traditional winter slump. In their last five games, they have lost controversially to United, deservingly to West Brom in addition to drawing against Swansea, Liverpool and Manchester City. Their attack, which had floored everyone at the start of the season, is looking lackluster while their defense has been far from reliable. The collective absence of John Terry and Frank Lampard has undoubtedly hurt them, while the abysmal form of Fernando Torres hasn’t helped at all.
Fulham are in the danger of losing three matches in a row for the first time this season. They are presently in 10th place, having scored 25 goals and conceding 23. The only away win for Martin Jol’s team has come against Wigan Athletic, and needless to say, they have been very poor away from home. Moreover, they have managed to defeat Chelsea just once in the last 32 games, which was six years ago, so it’s fair to say that they’d be quite pleased with a draw at Stamford Bridge.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The new interim manager of Chelsea, Rafa Benitez, will be without the services of Terry, Lampard and Sturridge, while the rest of the squad, particularly the first choice eleven that started against City, will be available for selection.
Rafa had adopted a pragmatic approach in his first match in charge, starting with a similar looking 4-2-3-1 formation. However, there were subtle changes on display, across the pitch. The Spanish manager likes his teams to be organized, operating as a unit, denying space between the lines to opponents, and being disciplined at the back. He started with a center-back pairing of Ivanovic and Luiz, with the latter under clear instructions to preempt the danger, which was evident from his approach. He preferred clearing the ball in an around the box, rather than attempting to build attacks from the back. Mikel seldom left his position, as it is with him, but Ramires also remained close to the Nigerian for most of the game. Out wide, Hazard and Mata were trying particularly hard to remain close to the opposition full-backs, however with mixed fortunes.
Chelsea are expected to go into the game with an almost unchanged line-up, with the possible exception of Cahill, who sat out last weekend, and Victor Moses, who offers a lot more defensively than his counterparts, a fact Benitez would know. Ashley Cole and Cesar Azpilicueta were both brilliant for Chelsea as full-backs and are likely to retain their place against Fulham.
When on song, Fulham are a threatening unit; their full-backs bomb forward, midfielders join the attack, and in Berbatov and Petric, they have forwards who can make Chelsea pay. They will look to exploit any chinks in the Chelsea armor. Jol is known to be adventurous; a fact well established by the goals scored/conceded ratio of his team. At the back, they are quite vulnerable to set-pieces, and often fail to mark players properly. In Cahill and Ivanovic, Chelsea have two players well capable of putting the Cottagers to test, if given an opportunity.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Cole; Mikel, Ramires; Oscar, Hazard, Moses; Torres
Brede Hangeland will serve the second of his three game suspension, following the sending off against Sunderland, while Martin Jol will not be able to call upon Alex Kacaniklic, Bryan Ruiz, Kieran Richardson and Mickael Tavares, who are all injured.
Fulham will field a 4-4-2 line-up, with Reither, Senderos, Hughes, and Risse forming the back-line. Sidwell and Baird will be deployed in central midfield, with Duff and Rodellega playing out wide, supporting Berbatov and Petric up front.
Martin Jol likes his team to play a direct, attacking brand of football. The midfielders, Sidwell and Baird, cover a lot of ground but most of their creativity stems from their wide players and forwards, with Berbatov particularly in inspired form. Their players have shared the goal-scoring burden with Dimitar Berbatov (five), Mladen Petric (four), Steve Sidwell(three), Damien Duff (three) all contributing to negate the void left by the departure of Dembele and Dempsey.
It is at the back that they remain extremely vulnerable, having already shipped in 23 goals thus far; the second worst record in the league. They appear disorganized during set pieces, and have paid dearly whenever a man has escaped his marker, which has often been the case. A better defensive record, and there might have been a big smile across the face of their manager at this stage in the season.
Against Chelsea, their best chance is for one of their strikers to drop deep and disrupt Mikel’s game, not allowing him to calmly go about playing passes, and thereby forcing Oscar, or whoever plays behind Torres, to drop deeper and deeper to collect the ball, leaving Torres isolated. They could also try to exploit the weakness on Chelsea’s left flank, and put Cole under pressure. Eventually, how well they do may depend on what kind of performance Dimitar Berbatov delivers on the night.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Riether, Senderos, Hughes, Riise; Sidwell, Baird, Duff, Rodallega; Petric, Berbatov
- Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 12 Premier League meetings with neighbours Fulham (W6 D6 L0), but the last three have been drawn.
- There have been just five goals scored in the last five meetings in all competitions between the Blues and the Whites.
- Fulham have won none of the last 15 trips to Stamford Bridge in all competitions (W0 D7 L8).
- Rafa Benitez’s record as a coach against Fulham in the Premier League is won seven, drawn two and lost three.
- Chelsea have had less than 50% possession in their last three home games, the only time this has happened in the period Aug 2004-present.
Statistics courtesy Eurosport.
Player To Watch Out For
The Brazilian is our player to watch, not because he is most likely to score but because his positioning, performance, and runs – or the lack of them – can potentially alter the course of this game. In the last game, he refrained from venturing too far forward and it will be interesting to see what the manager expects of him against a slightly inferior opponent than City, against whom he intercepted quite a few passes. Fulham are an attacking outfit and will leave space behind them for Chelsea to exploit on counters; and what the speed and energy of Ramires is capable of in such scenarios is well known. However, whether Benitez allows him that liberty remains to be seen.
Chelsea 2-1 Fulham
This will be a tight game, as it’s often the case between these two West London rivals. Fulham will most likely score, and as long as Chelsea are behind, the nervousness will be palpable in the stadium. A cautious approach is expected from the home side, and considering how poor Fulham are at defending corners, a couple of headed goals can settle the tie for Chelsea and ease the pressure on Rafa Benitez.
Blast From The Past