When the fixture list gets released there are always certain games you look for first. Some might look for when they get the chance to travel to a promoted club for the first time, others might want to know when they can go with their Spurs supporting brother to White Hart Lane because ‘this is the season we’ll turn you over’. For us Fulham lot this is the match that everyone looks for and there couldn’t be a better setting for it; Chelsea at Craven Cottage under the lights on a weekday evening, what a game this is going to be.
Over the last few years we’ve relied on our home form to consistently put points on the table. That’s not to say our away form is shocking, infact relative to others it’s ok (check out the away league tables, they’re quite suprising), but when a team came here we knew that we’d always push them close and, more often than not, get a good result. Not so much this season before the new year during which we only won twice but since then the turn around has been remarkable. It is now 5 straight wins in all competitions with 4 clean sheets since that West Ham defeat and whilst they’re against teams which we would be favourites to get the win against (Tottenham aside perhaps) the ease at which we dispatched them all is what really gives me confidence going into monday’s game. Even against Newcastle I felt confident that we’d hold out comfortably instead of expecting the usual 89th minute own goal and of course the 4-0 dismantling of Tottenham, who are 3 points above Chelsea in the league, is still fresh in the memory and will no doubt raise our expectations of what we can take from the game.
Mind you, Chelsea are starting to play their way back into form as well. Our games against them this season sandwich a staggering dip in performances that saw them win just one league game in nine, a run which has pretty much extinguished their title ambitions despite the incredible sums of money spent on Torres and Luiz. A 7-0 thrashing of Ipswich in the cup proceeded wins over Sunderland, Blackburn and Bolton, although they suffered a suprising loss to an improving Liverpool last Sunday, and the 70 million spent on the two players will have lifted spirits amongst players and fans alike. I still have the feeling though that confidence is fragile and if we get at them and force the play, we’ll have a good chance of a win.
Team news courtesy of the BBC:
Fulham’s Bobby Zamora scored for the reserves in midweek but is still a few weeks away from making a first-team return from his broken leg.
Gael Kakuta, on loan from Chelsea, is ineligible under Premier League rules.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed £21.3m defender David Luiz will make his first start after coming off the bench against Liverpool.
Ancelotti has also revealed that Portugal defender Jose Bosingwa is a doubt with an unspecified injury.
We have no front page injury news really. Etuhu, Senderos and Zamora are still out, although it’s great to hear Senderos and Zamora are returning to training, and Kakuta won’t be allowed to play as standard for a loan player and their parent club. Sidwell and Gudjonsen are a week closer to peak fitness which is nice for us (Sidwell says he’s only at 75%! Can’t wait to see him at 100 if that’s the case) but other than that our squad is as it was last week, with Hughes seemingly getting over the injury which stopped him from playing for his country in midweek. There is speculation this morning that Gudjonsen will start but I can’t see who he’d play over or why Hughes would change a successful side so I expect us to start with the team which got the draw at Villa. We’ve played so well recently that I’d feel quite bad picking specific players out for praise but I have to mention Dempsey who is so far my man of the season, 10 goals by this stage for a midfielder is really impressive and hopefully he pushes on from here. Credit also to Murphy who keeps our midfield running like a well oiled machine, Schwarzer who’s come back from the Asian cup and played like he’s never been away and Duff who started the season slowly but is now playing as he was last year.
You’d expect this game to be Torres’ second start for Chelsea but I’m not really sure what to predict of his performance. The usual football cliche is that if a player moves for big money they’ll be quick off the mark, desperate to make a big impact as soon as possible, but against Liverpool when it was destiny to see a Torres winner he was anonymous. I’d be cautious because he’s still a brilliant player but I don’t think he’ll be make much of an impression tommorow, he still seems far off what we’ve seen from him before.
We’ve seen over the last few weeks that Chelsea’s biggest troubles involve a significant lack of width. Liverpool’s three centre halves dealt with everything Chelsea threw at them, and despite getting almost 20 shots on goal none of them were real goal scoring opportunities. This then plays perfectly into our style of play, a deep, narrow 4-4-1-1 with Dembele dropping very deep when defending which was moderately succesful in the harsh loss to Chelsea earlier in the season. This problem will be accentuated with the absence of Bosingwa. With no real wingers in the side the fullbacks are key in providing any width they do have and as good as Ivanovic, who will surely deputise for Bosingwa, is he’s neither quick or gifted on the ball. Cole down the left is probably the world’s best left back but if Duff and Pantsil stay disciplined I think that threat is fairly easily negated. What is key to getting a result against Chelsea is to concentrate and stay disciplined, a point which Hughes made in his interview to the official website earlier today. Give a player a yard more space than they should and they can punish you very, very easily. A front pairing of Drogba and Torres is the stuff fantasy football dreams are made of and when you look further down the team sheet you see Lampard and Essein pairing each other in midfield, with Nicolas ‘most expensive footballer in history’ Anelka and Malouda in reserve! Not only that but Chelsea are exceptional on the counter, the pace and fluidity they got the ball forward during their early season wins was exceptional to watch so it will be important not to get absorbed in the moment when we have the opportunity to push forward. We musn’t overcommit and leave gaps at the back, something which Liverpool did exceptionally at (how many times did Chelsea players run at the back four? The early Torres chance is all I can think of) so Murphy and Sidwell will have to be on their game defensively if we’re to restrict their opportunities. My prediction? It’ll be a tough game, 1-1, with that man Clint Dempsey getting on the score sheet.