Chelsea will be aiming to close the gap to top four, when they visit Craven Cottage to take on Fulham in matchweek 29 of the 2018-19 Premier League season.

Chelsea will embark on a short trip to Craven Cottage this weekend, as they gear up to take on local rivals and relegation battlers Fulham in the Premier League.

Chelsea are currently stationed in the sixth place on the league table, following their 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in another London derby earlier in the week. The Blues are six points off of the fourth place that is occupied by Manchester United and four behind Arsenal, who are fifth, albeit with two games in hand.

Manager Maurizio Sarri has been under severe pressure over the past month or so with results not going his way. But, looking at the performances in the last couple of games, it does seem like Chelsea have managed to turn a corner under the Italian and they must look to build on the momentum and make most of their games in hand as the race for the fourth spot intensifies.

Fulham, on the other hand, find themselves on the other end of the spectrum, as they are second from bottom on the table. A run of four defeats in four games – with the latest being a 2-0 loss to Southampton – saw Claudio Ranieri get the sack after just 106 days in-charge at the club, leaving the Cottagers with a ten-point gap to safety.

Former Chelsea and Fulham midfielder Scott Parker has been named the caretaker manager. And the 39-year-old, who has been a first-team coach with the Cottagers since last year, will be hoping to begin his managerial career on a positive note and kickstart a revival for Fulham.

Last time the two teams met, back in December last year, Chelsea came up trumps 2-0, courtesy goals from Pedro and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. And ahead of this weekend’s London derby we at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Fulham

Andre Schurrle remains a doubt to be involved for Fulham due to an illness, while backup goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli (knock) and defender Alfie Mawson (knee) have been ruled out of the derby. Under Ranieri, Fulham played a three-man backline for many matches, but Parker is likely to revert to a 4-3-3 setup in his first match in-charge.

Sergio Rico is a guaranteed starter in goal for the Cottagers and is likely to be a busy man on Sunday. Cyrus Christie could be in for a return to the starting XI at right-back, to tackle the pace of Chelsea’s wide players, with Denis Odoi moving into the heart of the defence alongside seasoned campaigner Tim Ream. Joe Bryan will continue as the left-back.

Calum Chambers will operate as the defensive shield and will be key in breaking Chelsea’s rhythm, while keeping an eye on N’Golo Kante’s forward forays from midfield. The Arsenal loanee will be supported by Jean Michael Seri, while the creativity in the middle will come from club captain Tom Cairney.

January arrival Ryan Babel can be a tricky customer to deal with, with his pace and trickery and should get the nod out on the right flank, while the extremely talented teenager Ryan Sessegnon should look to cause problems for the Blues from the opposite wing. Aleksandar Mitrovic will be the obvious choice to lead the line for Fulham.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Rico; Christie, Odoi, Ream, Bryan; Cairney, Chambers, Seri; Babel, Mitrovic, Sessegnon

Chelsea

There are no major injury concerns for Chelsea heading into the game on Sunday, with forgotten man Danny Drinkwater and long-term absentee Marco van Ginkel the only two players unavailable for selection. Given the number of matches the Blues have to play between now and the international break, Sarri is likely to rotate his troops against Fulham.

Starting with the goalkeeping spot, Kepa Arrizabalaga is set to return to the lineup, after being benched for the Spurs game for his antics in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. There are likely to be changes in the backline as well, with Emerson Palmieri set to replace Marcos Alonso at left-back, while Andreas Christensen is also likely to get a game. Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger are expected to feature from the kick-off once again.

Ross Barkley is in line to return to the starting XI, replacing Mateo Kovacic in the middle of the park. The other two slots are likely to be held by the ever-present N’Golo Kante and Jorginho once again, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek missing out once more.

There could be a couple of tweaks in attack from Chelsea on Sunday. Eden Hazard is likely to be benched after looking tired in the Spurs tie, with Willian replacing him on the left flank. Pedro, despite his match-winning display in the midweek, could be afforded some rest, with Callum Hudson-Odoi set for a rare start. Gonzalo Higuain will spearhead the attack.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Christensen, Emerson; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley; Hudson-Odoi, Higuain, Willian

Betting Odds

Favourable Bets

1. Chelsea to win @ 1.53

2. Over 2.5 Match Goals @ 1.66

Underdog Bets

1. Aleksandar Mitrovic to score anytime @ 3.40

Key Stats

  • Fulham have won just one of their last 32 league meetings with Chelsea (D12 L19), beating them 1-0 in the Premier League in March 2006.
  • Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 17 Premier League games against Fulham (W10 D7). Only against Tottenham (28) and Everton (18) have they had longer unbeaten runs in the competition.
  • Fulham have lost all nine of their Premier League London derby matches this season – they could become the first team in top-flight history to lose 10 such matches in a single campaign.
  • Chelsea have lost two of their four away London derby matches this season (W1 D1). They last lost three away London derbies in a single Premier League campaign back in 2001-02.
  • The Blues have lost their last three Premier League away games by an aggregate score of 0-12. They last lost four in a row on the road in December 2000 (a run of five).

Player to Watch

Gonzalo Higuain

Can Higuain inspire Chelsea to a victory? (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Can Higuain inspire Chelsea to a victory? (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

It hasn’t been the smoothest of initiations to life in England for the Juventus loanee, who is yet to make a telling impact for Chelsea since arriving in January. Higuain, till date, has managed just two goals for the West Londoners, both of which came in the 5-0 drubbing of Huddersfield Town exactly a month ago.

Having failed to find the back of the net in his last four appearances in all competitions, the 31-year-old will need to find his goal-scoring boots as the business end of the season fast approaches. And the game against Fulham offers him the perfect opportunity to do so, given that the Cottagers have the worst defence this season, conceding 63 goals, while keeping just two clean sheets.

With a run of five fixtures in the next couple of weeks lined up for Chelsea, it is important that Higuain gets into the rhythm, making the Fulham game a crucial one for the Argentine superstar.

Prediction

Fulham 0-2 Chelsea

Fulham have a new manager at the helm heading into Sunday’s match. Scott Parker is just three days old in the job and is going to need much more time than that to turn things around. Chelsea, on the other hand, seem to be on the rise, judging by their performances in the last two matches and with the top four in their sights, they cannot afford to slip up.

Given the condition that Fulham find themselves in and considering how Chelsea have played against Manchester City and Tottenham over the past week, it is hard to see Sunday’s derby end in anything but a comfortable win for Maurizio Sarri’s side.

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