The FourFourTwo Preview: Fulham vs Chelsea
Top against bottom in a local derby that hasn’t even sold out.
Fulham-Chelsea has always been an odd one, the years spent in different divisions making any animosity somewhat akin to a three-legged dog barking all day at a nonplussed Siamese. Fulham’s promotion to the Premier League in 2001 gave their fans the chance to stick it to Chelsea in person, not that the Blues were bothered, but after a dozen seasons of one-way hatred, this year the passion seems to have evened out – because even Fulham fans don’t care anymore.
- WBA 1-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 2-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-2 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 0-1e Sheffield Utd (FAC)
- Fulham 0-3 So'ton (Prem)
- Galatasaray 1-1 Chelsea (CL)
- Chelsea 1-0 Everton (Prem)
- Man City 2-0 Chelsea (FAC)
- WBA 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle (Prem)
Perhaps that’s unfair. But it is true that the Cottagers were still advertising the availability of tickets as late as this week, for a home game against their local rivals and league leaders. With their side in trouble, it’s time for Fulham fans as well as their team to step up.
Felix Magath could have got off to a winning start but for a late mistake by goalkeeper Maarten Stekelekelekenburg. Fulham only had 37% possession and 7 shots to 16, but threw themselves into defending a lead they held for an hour, making 7 blocks (West Bromwich Albion made 0), a whopping 29/35 tackles and a head-hurting 64 clearances, some as high up the pitch as the halfway line.
While 1-0 up they were evidently happy to sit back to an extent, but completing just 65% of your passes invites pressure, especially when 1 in 5 passes are hit long – really quite a lot when you think about it (tip, tap, tip, tap, HOOF) – and Hugo Rodallega is winning only 4 of his 14 aerial duels. The defensive effort should continue against Chelsea, but perhaps with more guile needed in possession.
Chelsea have won only one of their last four matches, and that with a fortuitous injury-time goal against Everton, but they have an excellent record against Fulham, winning or drawing their last 16 meetings. The Putney boys’ last triumph came in 2006, with Luis Boa Morte scoring the only goal amid supporter skirmishes and police intervention (see, the fans did care once). Jose Mourinho made two tactical substitutions before the half-hour mark, the other coming at half-time. And the last time these two teams met, in September last year, John Obi Mikel scored his only Premier League goal to date.
Truly, this is a Twilight Zone fixture.
Fulham have no new injury concerns, at least until Magath’s patented new training of five-a-side, a triathlon and waterboarding kicks in.
For Chelsea, Mikel and Oscar both face late fitness tests, with David Luiz another doubt. In the spirit of being thorough, Marco van Ginkel is also injured. Hope that helps your fantasy football selections.
Key battle: Dejagah vs Azpilicueta
A team of 11 Cesar Azpilicuetas? We wouldn’t fancy trying to fit the line-up into a tweet. But Mourinho wasn’t thinking of journalistic logistics when he declared the Spaniard good enough to win the Champions League alongside 10 of his clones, thanks to his “winning personality”.
He has more than that. Azpilicueta – ‘Dave’ to lazy team-mates – was picked for defensive reliability, always a key tenet of Mourinho’s favourite full-backs, but gets into excellent attacking positions, too. He provided the assist for Fernando Torres’ goal against Galatasaray by finding space behind the Turkish team’s defence. His form is a real boost to the Blues, and possibly the result of World Cup hopeful Leighton Baines either wishing on a star or inconveniencing an Ashley Cole voodoo doll.
Azpilicueta will probably be up against Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah, who scored against West Brom last weekend. Dejagah, who will be at the World Cup with Iran this summer, will be tasked with keeping the opposition full-back quiet as well as testing his defensive capabilities. The winger did just that against the Baggies, scoring and creating 2 chances but also making 7 clearances, helping out with 5 tackles and interceptions and relieving pressure by winning 4 free-kicks.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Chelsea 2-0 Fulham (Prem, Sep 13)
- Fulham 0-3 Chelsea (Prem, Apr 13)
- Chelsea 0-0 Fulham (Prem, Nov 12)
- Fulham 1-1 Chelsea (Prem, Apr 12)
- Chelsea 1-1 Fulham (Prem, Dec 11)
From 19th-century football to experts in failure, and from little horses to carthorses, Mourinho has engaged in more meandering (and often tiresome) accusations than the cat-loving conspiracy theorist at your local bus stop. The 51-year-old is as much a manager of the mind as he’s ever been, but this season has reminded neutrals just how spiky and difficult he can be. Still, if you gave Mourinho a choice upon dying of a gravestone that read ‘He won everything’ and ‘He was a nice bloke, really’ you know which one he’d choose.
Magath has shown short shrift to two young’uns brought in by Rene Meulensteen, sending Larnell Cole on loan to MK Dons and Ryan Tunnicliffe to Wigan within weeks of their arrivals.
Meanwhile, the German’s training methods have been defended by his former Schalke employee Lewis Holtby, who commented: “If you compare him to Saddam [Hussein] it’s not very generous and it's not very nice.” As messages of support for your manager go, saying he’s not as bad as one of history’s most reviled dictators isn’t a terrible place to start.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Fulham have won only 1 of 25 Premier League derbies against Chelsea.
- Fulham have lost their last 6 home games against top-six team including 4 defeats without scoring.
- 6 of Chelsea’s last 8 wins have come to nil, including three 1-0 scores.
- Chelsea have been ahead at half-time in 6 of their last 9 trips to bottom-six teams.
- This fixture has had just 25 goals in the last 12 seasons with 8 of 12 matches having fewer than 3 goals.
With Chelsea stuttering a bit lately and Magath already firing up his players, a shock home win isn’t totally out of the question. But let’s play it safe and call this a 2-1 win for the Blues.