For the first time in 40 years, Chelsea come into this uniquely amiable West London Derby as the lower-ranked team from the previous season, having finished below Fulham last season for the first time since 1982-83, a season that’s significant in Blues history for being (literally) the worst ever in club history.
Chelsea finished 18th in the second division that year, our lowest ever final position in the pyramid, avoiding relegation to the third tier only on the final day of the season with a scoreless draw against Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge, which was at the same time threatened to be sold out from under us as well. (Fulham were 4th, just missing out on a promotion; there were no playoffs).
A massive revamp in the summer of 1983 followed, and Chelsea would actually win the second division in 1983-84, earning promotion to the first division under manager John Neal. (The stadium’s future would not be secured for nearly another ten years, until the re-acquisition of the freehold from bankrupt property developers, and the establishment of the Chelsea Pitch Owners in 1993.)
We’ve certainly come a long way from the troubles of the early ‘80s, on and off the pitch (and in the stands), We’ve spent just a singular season outside the top tier since, and remain one of the six Premier League ever-presents.
In that context, our current concerns are small fry. Obviously, the circumstances are drastically different than they were 40 years ago, and our current concerns are anything but insignificant. But a gritty 1-0 win midweek against Brighton in the League Cup brings a bit of promise and gives something to build upon.
Date / Time: Monday, October 2, 2023, 20.00 BST; 3pm EDT; 12:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Craven Cottage, SW6
Referee: Tim Robinson (on pitch); John Brooks (VAR) — assistant referee Dan Cook was supposed to run one of the lines in this game, but he’s been removed due to his involvement as the assistant-VAR in the most egregious video review error on Liverpool’s incorrectly disallowed goal against Tottenham on Saturday
On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); USA Network, Universo (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); SuperSport Premier League, Canal+ Sport 3 (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo (USA); Hotstar (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Fulham team news: Since playing Chelsea in a preseason friendly at the end of July in Washignton, DC, Fulham have changed in one significant way, with Aleksandar Mitrović opting for Saudi Pro League millions after all. Adama Traoré and Alex Iwobi have been brought in since, but they’re not exactly replacements for their leading goalscorer — neither has been Raúl Jiménez, who has yet to find the back of the net in seven appearances for his new team. In fact, only one team have scored fewer than Fulham’s five goals in the league so far. (The real punchline here would be if that team were Chelsea, but we also have five goals. Burnley have only four.)
Fulham do come in on a three-match unbeaten run, beating Norwich City midweek in the League Cup and earning a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace last weekend. Saša Lukić and Kenny Tete are set to return from injuries; Tosin Adarabioyo and Adama Traoré remain out. And yes, Willian’s still going strong at age 35.
Chelsea team news: Chelsea may have the second-worst scoring attack in the league, but we also have the second-best defense, with just six conceded. Injuries do keep coming however, and we’re especially shorthanded in wide defenders at the minute, with Ben Chilwell set to miss several weeks, Reece James still out, and Malo Gusto suspended. Marc Cucurella deputized on the right side of the backline midweek, while Axel Disasi moonlighted as a right back late on last weekend.
In better news, Carney Chukwuemeka and Noni Madueke are expected to be available to maybe try to kickstart the attack, which will be without Nicolas Jackson, who’s suspended after collecting five yellow cards in his first six Premier League games — shades of Diego Costa, that, minus all the goals (Costa had three cards in his first five Premier League games in 2014-15, to go along with seven (7!) goals. Jackson has just the one.)
Previously: We lost this fixture last season, somewhat memorably thanks to João Félix, who managed to get sent off on what was otherwise a promising debut. Willian also scored against us. We won the summer friendly, 2-0, with some promising play from Christopher Nkunku. Can’t wait to have that guy back and playing!