Officially, it’s the West London Derby, though as we know, it’s simultaneously much less dramatic but also much more meaningful than that.
This edition of the friendly rivalry was supposed to take place Friday night, but has been pushed back almost 24 hours thanks to last-minute scramble as the Premier League try to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the various outbreaks and lockdowns that are going on across the league and the country.
In any case, we’re on for Saturday, and that means we’re on for potential drama. Frank Lampard has never been in need of a win more as Chelsea manager as right now. On paper, Fulham should be easy pickings. But reality is a harsh mistress.
Date / Time: Saturday, January 16, 2021, 17.30 GMT; 12.30pm EST; 11pm IST
Venue: Craven Cottage, SW6
Referee: Peter Bankes (on pitch); Jarred Gillett (VAR) — Bankes is one of the newest faces in the Select Group of referees (promoted in 2019), though we saw him once already in the 3-3 draw against Southampton.
Forecast: Cold, morning rains
On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); NBC, Universo (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); SuperSport Premier League (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo (USA); Hotstar (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Fulham team news: Back in the Premier League after a one-season absence, Fulham are trying to prevent yo-yoing straight back down again, like a couple years ago.
They got off to a pretty bad start in that regard, with just 1 point from their first six matches, but manager Scott Parker seems to have steadied the ship and they have now gone unbeaten in five straight — albeit with five draws. Then again, three of those draws were against teams currently above Chelsea in the table, including Liverpool, Southampton, and Spurs just a few days ago on Wednesday (and on short notice).
Fulham’s run has been good enough to lift them right to the top edge of the relegation zone, just two points behind Brighton and safety and with two matches in hand as well. They do remain one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, with just 14 goals scored in 16 games.
Parker will be without Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who’s ineligible, and fellow midfielders Tom Cairney and Mario Lemina. Striker Aleksandar Mitrović, who missed the Spurs game, faces a late fitness test. Former Chelsea youngster Ola Aina has established himself as a key player in defense, lately as part of a back-three, while former Chelsea loan warrior Michael Hector has fallen out of favor, having featured just twice in the last 3.5 months.
View from the enemy: Cottagers Confidential
Chelsea team news: Chelsea have just two wins in all competitions over the past month, and one of those was against a fourth division opponent. Still, the hope is that the 4-0 pasting of Morecambe will kickstart a sort of run that will get us back into the thick of the action at the top end of the table.
As it stands, we risk sliding into mid-table mediocrity. We are 9th heading into the weekend — 10 points behind suddenly top-of-the-table Manchester United — and even with a win, could now only rise as high as 7th. The days of talking about title-challenges, in hushed tones or aloud, are gone, for now.
Lampard & Co have had nearly two weeks to work on figuring things out. He won’t get another chance like that, certainly not this season. Now or never.
N’Golo Kanté is the only expected absence, as he serves a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation.
Previously: We last played Fulham two seasons ago, winning barely, 2-1. Gonzalo Higuaín (!) scored, in case you’ve repressed those memories. Incidentally, this was the first match in charge of Fulham for Parker, who had replaced another former Chelsea man, manager Claudio Ranieri a few days prior, and he was rather unlucky to not get at least a point.