There’s a little bit of confidence wafting around the Cottage at the moment. Our latest draw away from home has kept us as healthily above the relegation scramble as you can be in this year’s Premier League but, even more importantly, gives us the impression that we’re no longer a soft touch. Perhaps the most impressive point to take from White Hart Lane is that we managed to neutralise the threat posed by Tottenham without Brede Hangeland and much of the credit for another solid defensive display should go to the much-maligned Chris Baird.
Ask any Fulham fan which is the first game they look for on the fixture list and the answer will be Chelsea at home. Ever since we’ve been back at the top table of the English football, these fixtures have had a special allure. It’s not as if we’ve done badly against our west London rivals in recent years either. We even managed to pick up a draw at Stamford Bridge last year in the aftermath of the departure of Jose Mourinho and, of course, you can’t overlook our stunning victory back in 2006.
To replicate that result we’ll have to be record breakers. Even after John Terry was sent off on Monday night at Goodison, Chelsea clung on to a draw to preserve their unbeaten away record. Even if Big Phil Scolari’s side have struggled at Stamford Bridge (and that might make our trip to the Bridge a bit more promising) they have been on top form on the road and will pose a real threat tomorrow. Will Scolari stick with the system that brought reward against West Brom yesterday? Playing Anelka and Drogba together up front made them look like a different proposition and would certainly test our much-vaunted defensive mettle.
The Chelsea midfield will really test our strength in the middle of the park, especially if Jimmy Bullard fails to recover from his dead leg. Frank Lampard has rediscovered his goalscoring found (he’d not troubled the scorers in twelve games before yesterday) and I’ll be interested to get a first look at Deco, even if he’s not exactly flavour of the month amongst the Chelsea fans at the moment. He seems to be Scolari’s only untouchable but, of course, Joe Cole and Michael Ballack – who scored the winner last year – will be as dangerous as ever.
Hopefully we might have a bit of joy in the absence of Terry and wouldn’t it be nice to see Bobby Zamora ripple the net? It looks like Ricardo Carvalho will miss out with a knee injury, so the promising Serbian Branislav Ivanovic should stand in alongside Alex. I’d actually rate Carvalho higher than Terry – I might be in a considerable minority – but I feel Chelsea look a lot stronger with the Portuguese centre back in the squad.
How should we approach this game? If Bullard fails to shake off his dead leg, I’d stick Etuhu in the centre of the park and ask him to get amongst Chelsea’s ball-playing midfielders and disrupt their rythm. I might well push Murphy into a more advanced role than he has played before – much like the second half at Spurs – and perhaps drop Davies to the bench and offer Julian Gray an opportunity. But then that’s why Roy’s paid to manage a Premiership team and I’m paying to watch them.
Enjoy the rest of your holidays and I’ll be back on tomorrow to pick the bones through our performance.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Bullard, Murphy, Dempsey, Gray; A. Johnson, Zamora. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Baird, Stoor, Kallio, Etuhu, Andreasen, Nevland.