The best team in West London take on the worst (Premier League) team in West London, and you know things are bad when the official Chelsea website have to bring up the idea of “local rivalries can make fools of form-followers” in support of our chances of actually winning this game.
Fulham are three points ahead of us having played one more game, but have won four in a row in all competitions since the World Cup. In the league, they’ve tasted defeat just twice since mid-October, and only to teams that begin with “Manchester”.
They have one of the best strikers in the league in Aleksandar Mitrović (only Erling Haaland, Harry Kane, and Ivan Toney have scored more) — thankfully for us suspended for this game — one of the best defensive midfielders in tackle-merchant João Palhinha, and one of the best shot-stoppers in Bernd Leno. They also have a Willian, which is cool. Their defense is a bit leaky, second worst in the top half of the table, but we can’t score any goals so that doesn’t really matter.
It’s not often in the long and very one-sided history of this West London Derby that Fulham would come in above us in the table, but here we are. Brave new world and all.
Date / Time: Thursday, January 12, 2023, 20.00 GMT; 3pm EST; 1:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Craven Cottage, SW6
Referee: David Coote (on pitch); Jon Brooks (VAR)
Forecast: Cold and wet
On TV: BT Sport 1 (UK); none (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); SuperSport Premier League (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: BT Sport Live (UK); Peacock (USA); Hotstar (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Fulham team news: Under ex-Everton manager Marco Silva, Fulham won the second division for the third time in their history, yo-yoing back to the Premier League once again. They’ve traded promotion and relegation year on year since 2017-18, but it looks like they will stick the landing this time — barring any significant shift in fortunes.
A big reason for that has been their summer recruitment, with the aforementioned Leno and Palhinha playing important roles, alongside Manchester United academy product Andreas Pereira. Even Willian, well past his best-play date, has chipped in with some key contributions since coming back to London this summer.
As mentioned at the top, Mitrović is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, while big man at the back Shane Duffy has been ill. Former Chelsea prospect Nathaniel Chalobah has been a bit-part player this season, but there is still a chance that we could see brother-v-brother to make this a truly West London affair.
View from the enemy: Cottagers Confidential
Chelsea team news: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the only player expected to return from Chelsea’s 10-deep injury list, but we could very well see debuts for new signings Benoît Badiashile (who was on the bench on Sunday) and freshest arrival João Félix (provided he was registered in time).
At this point any little bit might help, with the club mired in one of the worst runs of results we’ve seen in the last few decades. It’s now 2 wins and 7 losses from 10 in all competitions, 1 win from 8 in the league (6 points). And while our defensive record has remained good (fourth best behind the top-three), our attacking output has disappeared (only the bottom-six, and Crystal Palace, have scored fewer).
We once spent a solid portion of the 2015-16 season wondering if we had hit rock-bottom yet, and we’re once again at that stage.
Previously: This is our 75th meeting in league play; we’ve won 45, lost 7 — and only 1 in the last 35 of those meetings. Last time we played was a few weeks before the 2021 Champions League final, with Kai Havertz gearing up for that big occasion with a well-taken brace in a 2-0 victory.