Chelsea have avoided a big crisis with their performance on Wednesday against Tottenham. There was potential for them to lose another big game with the distraction caused by Kepa Arrizabalaga, but they delivered an assured performance and took the three points. This weekend, they travel to Fulham in a match they will be looking to win. If they manage to do that, they will start to build momentum ahead of what is shaping up to be a tight battle to finish in the Champions League places.
Fulham have had a similarly newsworthy week, as they have sacked former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri and replaced him with Scott Parker on an interim basis. It is a huge gamble, but considering their difficult position in the league table, there is nothing for the Cottagers to lose at this point. It could turn out to be a masterstroke and provide some much needed positive energy for the supporters to cling on to. They are ten points from safety with ten matches to play. It is looking unlikely that they will achieve survival, but they will be hoping to go down fighting, something that has been missing during recent weeks.
Maurizio Sarri has taken a lot of the headlines during recent weeks, but he emerges from the last week with credit and those writing him off have done so a little too soon. It remains a hugely difficult job for him and there is no guarantee that he will manage to successfully implement his style of play. However, there have been positive steps taken over the last seven days and the Italian is showing that he won’t be forced out of Stamford Bridge without a fight. His authority is reaffirmed on Wednesday after his decision to drop Kepa and the result won him some favour back with the supporters.
Andre Schurrle may not be available to face his former club as he is suffering from illness. Alfie Mawson and Marcus Bettinelli remain long-term absentees.
There are no new injury problems for Chelsea to contend with. Kepa may return in goal, after being dropped for the Tottenham game. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is pushing for a start after some bright cameo performances.
Fulham have now had six managers during their last two seasons in the Premier League.
Pedro has now scored eight Premier League goals, which is double the tally he managed last season.
The Serbian international has had a difficult time in the Premier League since arriving in England. He is facing his second relegation in his second full season in the English top-flight. Rafa Benitez spoke about his doubts about Mitrovic and the problems faced by the teams that he plays regularly for does suggest there is some credence in those doubts. However, there is no doubting the goal threat that he does offer when he is playing regularly. This season, he has scored ten goals and he will be attracting interest in the summer if Fulham do go down. A good performance against Chelsea could enhance his reputation and prove that he can shine in the big matches. It is something that we haven’t seen a lot in the past from the 24-year-old. Although the Blues have kept back-to-back clean sheets, there are still vulnerabilities in their defence and the centre-backs won’t relish the physical battle that will be offered by Fulham’s striker. This weekend has to be seen as an opportunity for the powerful centre-forward.
The last few weeks have been quiet for Eden Hazard, but he has continued to put shifts in for the team and supporters will be hoping there is more attacking quality from the Belgian over the coming weeks. He is often spoken about as one of the league’s best players and there have been times this season where that has been evident. However, his fiercest critics will state that more is needed from him in the final third. His current total of 12 goals and 10 assists is very impressive, but there remains a feeling that he could contribute even more. That is perhaps unfair criticism, but he will be looking to have a strong end to the campaign to silence his critics. Fulham have been far from solid at the back and the dynamism of Hazard has the potential to cause them real problems.
This is an opportunity for Fulham to turn their recent form around under a new manager. There is no pressure on them and that makes them a dangerous opponent for Chelsea. All of the pressure is on the visitors in this London derby. It is important that the Blues play a more entertaining brand of football on Sunday than they have in their last two fixtures. The appointment of Sarri was designed to bring a more attacking style to Stamford Bridge and it is matches such as these that provide an opportunity to progress towards that. If they are more open, they could leave themselves vulnerable at the back and Fulham certainly have the players to do damage. That said, they should have enough to take the three points.
Fulham 1-3 Chelsea