A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s visit to Craven Cottage to play Fulham.
This Sunday sees Chelsea travel the short distance across Fulham Palace Road for our closest of derbies. Fulham sacked former Blues manager Claudio Ranieri and replaced him with former Blues player Scott Parker. Although Fulham lie in 19th, a full 10 points away from safety, the potential “new boss bounce” makes this match up more of a minefield for The Blues than it otherwise would have been.
The hosts definitely have Alfie Mawson and Marcus Bettinelli unavailable, but, another former Blue, Andre Schurrle could well be out due to illness. If so, there will be no repeat of the German scoring a hat trick against The Blues, as he did back in 2014.
All the talk once again about Chelsea’s likely starting line up will be whether Kepa Arrizabalaga will reclaim his place in goal. After all it was the main headlines for Chelsea’s win over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, even though Willy Caballero did not face a single attempt on target. Even I could have kept a clean sheet against Harry Kane, et al and so the gossip was pretty irrelevant.
Otherwise Maurizio Sarri has an almost a full squad to choose from and after taking Eden Hazard off early on Wednesday for some extra rest, we could see a stronger line up than might have been expected against a team with one foot in next season’s Championship.
However, The Blues next match is the key home leg against Dynamo Kiev. After all, the away leg a week later comes with less than 3 days before a tough away trip to Everton. A second leg in Europe at a huge noisy cauldron of extremely passionate supporters, with a long return flight home in the middle of the night following it.
So Sarri will be desperate to keep the strong momentum his team has built up over the last 3 matches, whilst still preserving a strong line up for Thursday evening.
Chelsea may currently lie in 6th place, but all 3 points against Fulham and victory in their game in hand, at home to Brighton, and The Blues will be back in 4th spot, partially thanks to Arsenal only drawing in the North London derby on Saturday.
After all the pressure that had mounted against Sarri’s tenure as Chelsea manager in the past month or so, his team have still made it to one final, are still alive in Europe and have every chance of finishing in the much sought after Champions League qualification places in the Premier League.
But first his team need to negotiate past Fulham, who are bound to raise their game against The Blues and for their new caretaker manager. The first priority for Parker will be their defence. The last opponent to not score at least 2 goals against them was bottom club Huddersfield Town and that was last year.
This will be the 50th time we have met in the top flight of English football and Fulham have only won 3 of the previous 49. Chelsea are also unbeaten against their neighbours in their last 17 match ups.
Victory for The Blues will inflict a 10th London derby defeat for the Cottagers this season and that will be the first time any club has lost 10 out of 10 in a single campaign.
So the statistics are all hugely stacked against the hosts, but all Chelsea fans will know not to take anything for granted. And as long as Sarri and his players do the same, back to back Premier League victories should be Chelsea’s as they close back in on a top 4 place.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue