Chelsea may have one foot in the Champions League final but on Saturday evening they’ll be back in Premier League action in a London derby against Fulham.
The two sides are local rivals in the west of England’s capitals but their fortunes could not be more contrasting. The Blues are flying high in Europe and sit fourth in the table, while Fulham’s first season back in the top flight has seen them struggle at the bottom of the league for the whole season. Fulham are currently 18th, seven points away from Brighton in 17th.
That said, Fulham are coming off an impressive draw against Arsenal.
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1. Predicted Chelsea XI
Chelsea have just played one leg of a Champions League semi-final and have another to come a few days after they face Fulham. Thomas Tuchel’s men know they need to finish in the top four, but the chance to make a Champions League final is too good to pass up. After playing almost the exact same XI against West Ham before the first leg, expect Tuchel to rotate here.
Thing is, Chelsea’s squad is so absurdly strong that the team they put out would still have quality oozing through it.
Edouard Mendy, Andreas Christensen and Jorginho don’t have adequate back-ups so will keep their places, especially with Antonio Rudiger ruled out through injury. However, Kurt Zouma will come into defence in order to give Thiago Silva a rest, and Cesar Azpilicueta could revert to centre-back to fill the gap left by Rudiger (unless Tuchel opts to play Emerson at centre-back as he has done before). Marcos Alonso is a more than capable wing-back and will allow Ben Chilwell to rest his legs.
Mateo Kovacic has also failed to recover from his injury in time, so the tireless N’Golo Kante could join Jorginho in midfield. Meanwhile in attack Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech (who Tuchel said was unlucky to not start in Madrid) will be the primary creators for the side playing behind Kai Havertz as a false nine.
2. Predicted Fulham XI
Fulham are fighting for their lives and even a point would be useful (albeit not as much as a win). Their performance away to Arsenal was impressive in terms of a dramatic rearguard, but while they almost stole a win in the end, they managed just three shots overall and the only one of those to hit the target was the penalty.
So a change will be needed. Parker is likely to keep the same basic shape with Ola Aina and Antonee Robinson as full-backs either side of the imposing Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo.
Midfield could then see Harrison Reed brought in to partner Mario Lemina in the two holding roles, with Andre-Frank Zambo-Anguissa pushed further forward to fill a gap left by the ineligible Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Ademola Lookman once again provide width and goal threat.
Zambo-Anguissa’s inclusion further up the pitch will give Fulham the ability to retreat, form a five in midfield, and counter-attack from there; a 4-2-3-1 can quickly become 4-2-4 in the right attacking instances.
3. No chemistry up-top
As imperious as Chelsea’s defence has been since Thomas Tuchel took charge – and it really has been incredible – Chelsea’s attack has been far less impressive. They’ve had moments of individual brilliance and even collective play but the only time they’ve scored more than twice in a single game was away to Crystal Palace.
This inability to make attacks count is why they were only one-up against Madrid despite being much the better side in the match. Unfortunately for Chelsea that trend is set to continue against Fulham with their makeshift attack failing to gel and hurt Fulham’s organised defence and by the time Tuchel sends for Olivier Giroud off the bench, Fulham will be too comfortable for it to make a difference.
4. The Two Towers stand tall
Joachim Anderson and Tosin Adarabioyo will never be world-class defenders, but they are players who excel in a rearguard and when Fulham retreat into that gameplan the brilliance of these two means they can often pull it off.
They combined for 17 clearances in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal. Against Liverpool it was an even more absurd 24 clearances (with Tosin contributing 18 of those all by himself!). They are more than ready to deal with the challenge posed by the Blues. With a makeshift front-line you can be sure that Fulham’s rearguard will stand tall once again.
5. Goalless at the Bridge
Chelsea are obviously better than Fulham, but their problem is that they just played Real Madrid four days prior to this game and play them again four days after. Those are physically and mentally draining games and Fulham is now so comparably low-stakes that even if Chelsea were at full-strength they might struggle.
However given they won’t be a full-strength and will be, as always, primarily concerned with not losing, that may provide plenty of scope for Fulham to sneak out on the break and win this game themselves. Of course, they aren’t really good enough to do that, because Chelsea’s defence has been imperious since Tuchel took over.
Sixteen clean sheets in 22 games is a frankly absurd defensive record and there’s no way Fulham are winning this game. However their defence is good enough that, with Chelsea focusing on other matches they won’t lose it either.
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