Craven Cottage, London
April 17th, 2013; 20:00 GMT
The Boys in Blue from South West London are usually complaining about their White counterparts, when it comes to this particular West London Derby. No matter what the situation is, Fulham always manage to turn up when facing Chelsea, or so they say. True to reputation, The Cottagers have been successful in nicking points off their West London rivals for three consecutive fixtures in the Premier League now, two of them having being played at the Stamford Bridge.
The disappointing 2-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester City, in the FA Cup Semi-Final, is something Chelsea need to put behind them quickly. Although a familiar sight in the burgeoning trophy cabinet over the last six years, the defeat cannot be seen as a major setback to Chelsea’s primary aspirations. Chelsea have played more games this season than any other English club, and even though it would have been a great boost for the young squad to go out and grab a piece of silverware, the Blues can now concentrate on the crucial UEFA Champions League spots, with the prospect of lifting the Europa League, very likely. If Rafael Benitez can achieve these two objectives, it wouldn’t be such a bad season for Chelsea after all. From here on, however, every Premier League fixture is crucial for Chelsea and with games away against Manchester United and Liverpool still to come, fixtures such as these become absolutely pivotal.
Meanwhile 10th placed Fulham will be up for the task, preparing to ambush Rafael Benitez’s men, once again. They beat QPR 3-2 in their last home fixture and will draw hope from their recent exploits against Chelsea; they were the second team to play Chelsea in the Benitez tenure. However, should they manage to nick points off Chelsea, they are likely to help Tottenham and Arsenal more than they help themselves.
Team Line-up and Tactics
Fulham have been in news recently when it was announced that they have agreed a four year deal with defender Fernando Amorebieta of Athletic Bilbao, who will be joining the squad in the summer, on a free transfer. On the injury front, Fulham have former Chelsea man Steve Sidwell missing due to suspension while M. Diarra, A. Dejagah and Damien Duff remain sidelined on account of groin, ankle and knee injuries respectively.
Martin Jol will be fielding his team in their familiar 4-4-1-1 formation with flamboyant striker Dimitar Berbatov leading the line, assisted by Bryan Ruiz playing behind him. The duo has formed a formidable partnership over the course of the season and will present a very potent threat to Chelsea’s somewhat fragile defence. They will be assisted by a four-man midfield comprising Urby Emanuelson out wide, deputizing for Ashkan Dejagah. Karagounis and Eyong Enoh will slot in for Sidwell and Kieran Richardson out wide on the left. Veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer will be the man between the posts, assisted by a backline comprising Riether, Senderos, Hangeland and John Arne Riise.
Fulham’s biggest threat can be expected to come from Berbatov, the former Manchester United man, who has been in fine form all season, scoring and assisting goals, almost at will. The Bulgarian’s stock has only risen after his rather unceremonious departure from Man United and his direct style of play combined with Bryan Ruiz’s skill on the ball and ability to run at defenders could cause a lot of problems for the Chelsea defence. Riise, Chelsea’s old foe from Liverpool, can be expected to run down the flanks and combine with Richardson to cause damage from the right. With Chelsea having been somewhat distraught at dealing with deliveries floated into the box, it could suit The Cottagers just right.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1) : Schwarzer(GK); Diether, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Emanuelson, Karagounis, Enoh, Richardson; Ruiz; Berbatov
Rafa Benitez will have an almost full strength squad to choose from, with only Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill currently sidelined on account of hamstring and knee injuries respectively. The midweek FA Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of Manchester City exposed a few weaknesses; the ease with which the midfield was overrun, as well as the vulnerability of defence, Benitez can be expected to field a slightly more cautious side at the Craven Cottage.
Chelsea will line up in their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. Ryan Bertrand continues to deputize well in Cole’s absence and will be handed another start, while Ivanovic will drop to the bench after an unconvincing midweek performance; John Terry taking his place in the side. David Luiz and Azpilicueta will complete the back four. Frank Lampard, who is agonizingly close to becoming the all time leading scorer for Chelsea, is expected to make a return to the starting line-up and partner Ramires in the midfield pivot.
In the attacking triumvirate, Benitez will most likely tweak his options. Oscar was largely ineffective in the FA Cup and could make way for Victor Moses. Hazard will start on the left, head to head against Diether, while Moses will play on the right, his rather direct style of play better suited against the more experience Riise. Juan Mata will take his place in the center of midfield and will be expected to pull the strings in the middle of the park and Chelsea will need him at his best in this tricky away fixture. Despite his recent heroics, Fernando Torres will only be on the bench as Demba Ba will lead the line for Chelsea. Against a stout defender such as Hangeland, Ba is likely to be the more effective option.
With Mata in their ranks, Chelsea will control the ball in the middle of the park, but will need to guard against Fulham attacks down the flanks, especially the left side, which could be exposed on account of frequent excursions by Eden Hazard in opposition territory. Ba’s ball hold-up skills will come in handy against a team that is likely to be up for it, in making swift sublime passing difficult for a technically superior side.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1) : Cech(GK); Azpilicueta, Terry, Luiz, Bertrand; Ramires, Lampard; Moses, Mata, Hazard; Ba
- Chelsea and Fulham have drawn their last five fixtures in all competitions.
- Chelsea have conceded at least 2 goals in their last 4 away matches in the Premier League, a concerning piece of statistic for the Blues.
- Chelsea have lost their last 3 away matches in the Premier League.
- Frank Lampard is only 3 goals short of becoming Chelsea’s all time leading goalscorer. He has 200 goals under his belt, as of now.
Player to watch out for
Demba Ba (Chelsea)
In his short tenure at Chelsea, Demba Ba has managed to score some magnificent goals, arguably his best two coming against the Manchester powerhouses. Ba has all the makings of a success story at the Bridge, it only helps that there is a phonetic similarity with Drogba and he will be Chelsea’s key player as his ability to hold on to the ball will afford others the time and space to create chances against a determined defence.
Fulham 1 – 2 Chelsea
Chelsea’s defence has been far from convincing this season and Fulham will almost certainly score but Chelsea will not be so complacent in their attacking department. Benitez and the players will know that with the run-in ahead of them, three points against this Fulham side could make or break their challenge for a Top-Four spot.
Blast From The Past