The first of the two London derbies on Sunday pits a wounded Chelsea against a Fulham side showing small signs of resurgence under new manager Claudio Ranieri.
Maurizio Sarri addressed the prospect of dealing with their first loss of the season. But, he would have probably been miffed with the manner in which Chelsea surrendered themselves to Tottenham rather than the defeat itself. After confirming their top spot in Group L and passage into the knockouts of the UEFA Europa League, the focus will shift to another London derby.
Only, this derby is tricky in a different way. Fulham have had an uneventful start to their first campaign back to the top-flight. But, there are signs of a turnaround, especially after the appointment of Claudio Ranieri. The manager already oversaw Fulham nab three points against fellow strugglers Southampton and would be relishing the chance of going up against his former side.
Chelsea won the last meeting between the two teams at Stamford Bridge and Maurizio Sarri will be hoping his side can bounce back to maintain pace with other clubs towards the top end of the Premier League table.
We take a closer look at the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Maurizio Sarri will expect his key man Eden Hazard to return to fitness and be available for the game against Fulham on Sunday. The only other injury concern is Victor Moses, who is anyway not expected to be in the starting lineup regardless of his fitness.
Apart from this, Sarri will reinstate his first-choice back four of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger and Marcos Alonso. Up ahead in midfield, Jorginho is certain to start and N’Golo Kante should accompany the Italian. But, the Frenchman is likely to have been instructed not to venture too forward as he did against Tottenham, leaving space for the opponents to exploit.
The third spot is a bone of contention, with Mateo Kovacic and Ross Barkley fighting for it. The former has been favoured by Sarri overall but Barkley has been putting in impressive performances whenever selected and could nudge ahead of the on-loan Real Madrid star.
In attack, Willian is likely to start. But, the other position on the wing depends on Hazard’s match fitness. Should the Belgian find himself on the bench or not fit enough to make the squad, we should see Pedro partner Willian to support the lone forward.
Alvaro Morata put in a rather anonymous performance against Tottenham and could lose his spot to Olivier Giroud, who has been having positive impacts in his recent displays.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley; Willian, Giroud, Hazard
Claudio Ranieri is off to a winning start at Fulham. The Tinkerman started off with a weird lineup, as expected. While the formation was a basic 4-2-3-1, the choice of fielding Calum Chambers in the midfield pivot partnership alongside Jean Michael Seri turned out to be successful enough to grab a win, with Chambers putting in an above average performance in a rather unknown position.
Alfie Mawson is likely to be a central figure in Ranieri’s defensive system, as can be digressed from the manager’s habits. But, the decision to start Le Marchand on the left and push Ryan Sessegnon up ahead as a winger also reaped benefits. In fact, Ranieri is likely to stick to his back four for now and give them some time to build chemistry.
In the midfield pivot though, Seri could be partnered by Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who is more adept at playing as a holding midfielder. In attack, Aleksandar Mitrovic put in an inspired shift and is likely to hold on to his spot. In fact, Ranieri is likely to retain the entire starting eleven from the win over Southampton, except maybe swapping Chambers with a more comfortable Fosu-Mensah.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Rico; Christie, Odoi, Mawson, Le Marchand; Fosu-Mensah, Seri; Schurrle, Cairney, Sessegnon; Mitrovic
1. Fulham Asian Handicap + 2.0 @ 2.070
2. Eden Hazard to score anytime @ 1.57
3. Both Teams to Score – YES @ 1.95
1. Aleksandar Mitrovic to score anytime @ 4.00
1. Chelsea have lost just one of their 26 Premier League matches against Fulham.
2. Chelsea haven’t lost successive London derbies in the league since October 2011. (QPR and Arsenal)
3. No former Chelsea manager has managed to record a win on their subsequent visits. (13 attempts)
4. Aleksandar Mitrovic has started all of Fulham’s Premier League games so far. He broke his goalless run of six games with a brace against Southampton last weekend.
5. Fulham have lost just one of the five games in the 2018-19 Premier League season wherein Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored. (2W 2D)
Player to Watch
The former Swansea defender has not had the best of starts to his season back to top flight, albeit with Fulham. But, with a fresh start under Claudio Ranieri, Alfie Mawson has the potential to become a key figure in the manager’s system. A strong aerial presence combined with a good defensive acumen, he could prove his credentials to the new manager.
And what better game than the one on Sunday, especially with Chelsea’s attack already misfiring and likely to be without Eden Hazard for some part of the ninety minutes.
Chelsea 2-2 Fulham
Chelsea’s players might not be completely over the woeful performance they put in against Tottenham. But, it was more a case of ‘they had it coming’ than anything else. Their display had come under the scanner for being error prone of late and the 0-0 draw against Everton should have been the designated warning.
Now though, Sarri is aware that he has a misfiring attack that is heavily reliant on Eden Hazard, who himself is not fully match fit for the game against Fulham. The manager will likely look to keep it tight defensively while relying on the Belgian to weave his magic once again.
With Fulham rejuvenated by the hard-earned win over Southampton, expect the Cottagers to come at Chelsea hard. But, we cannot see Fulham getting more than a point from the match, at best.