Craven Cottage, London
1 March 2014, 1500 GMT
Chelsea, currently atop the Premier League, haven’t had a great week so far. Playing Galatasaray and having taken an early lead, the Blues failed to put the game to bed and paid dearly by conceding an equalizer – fortunately, perhaps, not off of the boot of Drogba. Even worse, John Terry who had spent the past several months convincing his detractors to eat humble pie, offered the worst possible defense (no pun intended) for his call up to the World Cup squad joining in Petr Cech in an embarrassing lapse of concentration that saw Chedjou slot home.
Earlier, Jose Mourinho who had insisted all along that he needed no new strikers and had complete faith in his motley crew of misfiring misfits, was left red-faced as what he thought was a private conversation turned out to be anything but. Snide remarks about Eto’o and the Cameroonian’s age, were followed in intensity only by Jose bemoaning the total absence of strikers in his outfit. If there was one positive outcome to the whole sordid episode, it was that it seemed to spark renewed urgency into Fernando Torres.
Torres responded with an instinctive finish, the kind his previous self would have applauded, off a super all-round contribution from Azpilicueta. “Dave”, as his teammates call him, was probably one of the few Chelsea players who walked away in Mourinho’s good graces.
And yet, for all of Chelsea’s stumbling around, Fulham’s position makes the Blues look like they’ve attained nirvana in West London. Felix Magath’s side is staring down the barrel, with fewer points than games, having managed only a measly 21 points out of 27 games. To pull off an unlikely win, Magath’s men will need to buck their depressing trend: they haven’t won a game in their last 7 outings.
Craven Cottage looks set for the most mismatched game this season yet: the leaders versus the side most likely to get relegated come season-end. It will take an incredible alignment of odds for Fulham to walk away with even a single point.
Team News and Tactics
Felix Magath can thank what remains of his lucky stars for no more injuries as he takes charge of Fulham for only the second game so far, and the first at home. His welcome party was ruined by a late equalizer by West Brom striker, Matej Vydra. Maarten Stekelenburg, Fulham’s goalkeeper will be under extra pressure this game, not only on account of playing for the side that has let in the most goals this season but also from having let Vydra’s goal sneak past in, in a contentious decision that needed the goal decision system.
Magath is likely to persist with the same formation that nearly reaped rewards in the previous game. With Fulham’s defense being as suspect as it is, Magath will rely on their experience and tactical awareness of Sidwell and Parker who run the double pivot from deep midfield. Parker will be given greater license to move up the field during attack, which will likely make things harder for the aging star when he has to return to reinforce Fulham’s decimated midfield when they lose possession.
Dejegah who scored the opener in Fulham’s previous encounter has shown a sharp eye for goal, and will offer a credible threat on the right seeking to distract Chelsea’s back four for long enough to Rodallega to sneak in with a half-chance.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg(GK); Riise, Hangeland, Heitinga, Riether; Sidwell, Parker; Richardson, Holtby, Dejegah; Rodallega
Chelsea will come out of the gates swinging, after having suffered a setback in Turkey. The Blues have also gotten more positive results out of losing situations early on, so the odds are struly stacked against Fulham. Mourinho will name an unchanged back four, with Cahill and Terry returning to their central defensive roles and Ivanovic and Azpilicueta taking the flanks.
In seeking to dominate Fulham early on, Mourinho may throw on the likes of Ramires hoping his lung-busting runs will be tempered by the even-footed Lampard. Oscar, who has been going through a poor run of form, will also likely start in midfield. The front 3 will comprise Torres, who impressed briefly during the clash with Galatasaray, and the twin threats of Hazard and Willian. Willian’s energy will test the patience of Riise and Hangeland severely, but the biggest threat will likely be posed by an irrepressible Hazard who should cut in past Riether rather easily.
Chelsea are unlikely to take their foot off the pedal, having learned their lessons in Turkey, and will seek to boss the midfield – no mean feat considering the relative strength of their opponents in Parker and Sidwell. Ramires’s relentless hammering will be a calculated gamble at getting under the skin of Parker, while Lampard should see off Sidwell with ease.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Cech (GK); Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic; Lampard, Ramires, Oscar; Hazard, Torres, Willian
- Fulham have conceded the most of any side this season, letting in a whopping 59 goals thus far.
- Chelsea have the meanest defense having conceded only 21 times.
- Fulham have not win once in the last seven games, and have only two points to show for.
- Chelsea are going through a mini-slump of sorts having garnered a potentially-troubling 11 points in 5 games.
Player to Watch Out For
Fernando Torres (Chelsea FC)
It’s the eternal question. Has Torres finally turned the corner? A classy finish against Galatasaray in one of the most intimidating stadiums might have done wonders for his confidence. If the Spaniard starts, he could relish the shot at proving Mourinho’s less-than-charitable assessment of him, wrong. Torres could run circles around the weakest defense in the league, but arguably so could Ba and Eto’o. A goalless outing could very well be the final blow to his career at Chelsea, as the Spaniard looks increasingly likely to be offloaded to the highest bidder.
Fulham 0-2 Chelsea
Chelsea pack too powerful a punch for the Cottagers to realistically have a shot at winning this encounter. The Blues should run out winners, but their profligacy in front of goal should see them leave it late to put the game to bed.