The London SW6 derby is the story this weekend as attention turns back to the Premier League. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton look at this important local matter…
Chelsea will hope Saturday night works its magic again this weekend. The Blues have pulled off four straight victories in the 5.30pm slot, including a Mason Mount winner 12 minutes from time against Fulham at Craven Cottage back in January.
That result and West Ham last week were among seven 1-0 victories for the Blues in the past 24 games; the previous seven took 188 matches. All told, with Real Madrid tamed away on Tuesday, Thomas Tuchel’s team have had a wonderful week.
The relentless pressure remains, though. Only Manchester City (with 36) have earned more league points than Chelsea’s 29 since the Bavarian took over and that needs to continue if the fairy tale is to have a perfect ending.
Visitors Fulham will have freshness on their side. While the Blues were giving everything in torrential rain in Spain, the Cottagers have not played since a 1-1 draw at Arsenal two weekends ago.
That was former Blues midfielder Scott Parker’s 100th game since being handed the keys to the Cottage – his first was a 2-1 home defeat in the west London derby in March 2019.
Chelsea are targeting a club record seven straight league wins against Fulham.
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Chelsea team news
Chelsea have not lost at the Bridge to our postcode neighbours for 23 top-flight matches stretching back to March 1964 – our longest unbeaten run against current Premier League clubs.
Fulham will be banking on the hosts being preoccupied with the next match at the Bridge: Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final decider against Real.
While Tuchel will inevitably bear that second leg in mind when drawing up his team selection for the west London derby, right now the Blues’ full focus has to be on nailing a top-four place.
On Tuesday Tuchel started with the same 11 as at West Ham three days earlier, noting that Cesar Azpilicueta (again as wing-back), Andreas Christensen and Timo Werner looked tired in the second half against Real.
He may leave them out of the starting 11 this weekend, as well as the much-used Ben Chilwell, with Callum Hudson-Odoi, Marcos Alonso, Kurt Zouma and Tammy Abraham among the possible beneficiaries. Mateo Kovacic may return from injury too.
In that potentially vital victory over the Hammers, the Blues’ wing-backs played so high they were responsible for two of our three offside calls and Fulham are likely to face the same treatment. When Man City won 3-0 at the Cottage last month the advanced flank attacks were a constant worry for the hosts, and the source of the vital opener.
It was also interesting to see last weekend how substitute Tammy Abraham’s aggression opened up more of the Hammers’ half of the field. If used, our leading scorer will want to show he can put away any good chances created.
Edou Mendy’s 15th shutout in 27 league appearances also came at the London Stadium. He is the only top-flight goalkeeper to have started 25 or more games and kept a clean sheet in more than half (56 per cent), and no Premier League coach has ever accrued 10 shut-outs more quickly than Tuchel (after 14 games).
Chelsea have netted twice as many league goals as this weekend’s visitors, but there is still plenty of room for improvement in results at the Bridge, where the Blues have failed to win the last two and have earned 1.69 points per game overall. In 2018/19, the last full season before lockdown, that figure was 2.21, and in 2016/17 it was 2.68.
The Blues are Fulham’s least favourite top-flight opponents – they have managed three wins in our 51 meetings with Chelsea (six per cent) – and they arrive in 18th place, with one draw and four losses from their past five matches.
However, Scott Parker’s men have earned almost two-thirds of their total points this season on the road and the Blues have failed to beat two of the four teams who have a worse away record than the Cottagers in 2020/21: Southampton and West Brom.
Although Parker appears to prefer the pitch-coverage offered by a 4-2-3-1 formation he has recently set his team up in a resolute 5-4-1 with Aleksandar Mitrovic the lone striker, or a 4-4-2, pairing Ivan Cavaleiro and Josh Maja upfront.
There is plenty of energy to close opponents down in his midfielders and wide forwards (no team has been whistled for more fouls and they have the second-most yellow cards) even if there is less willingness to flow forward, with Mitrovic often on his own in the box, the target for the regular crossing of Antonee Robinson and Ademola Lookman.
The Whites’ key problem is only Sheffield United have scored fewer times than their 25, and they fire less accurately than everyone bar Brighton, with the league’s lowest shots-to-goals ratio. When the Cottagers have drawn first blood (doing so in six of their past seven away matches), they have held on for the win twice.
Conversely, they manage to thwart a lot of their opponents’ gilt-edged chances, while allowing more of them in total than their rivals. Including penalties, 42 of the 43 goals they have let in have been scored from inside the box. If they lose then it tends to be narrowly.
Several of Parker’s performers are on the books of other clubs, including France goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, on sabbatical from Paris Saint-Germain, skipper Joachim Andersen (Lyon), and Chelsea Academy graduate and fellow defender Ola Aina (Torino).
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is ineligible to play against his parent club but fellow 2017 title-winner Aina should have a sentimental return to the Bridge. Impressively, the right-back and his midfield team-mate Harrison Reed are not far short of N’Golo Kante in their interception numbers.
It is a big challenge for the Cottagers to remain in the top flight, and Chelsea cannot afford a neighbourly gesture this weekend.
How to watch Chelsea-Fulham
This match will be covered live by Sky Sports in the UK. To find the relevant broadcaster where you are elsewhere, see the Premier League’s broadcast schedule pages.
Chelsea TV’s global available matchday shows – including early team news, exclusive interviews and analysis – are on the 5th Stand app only this weekend.
The pride of the postcode
Scott Parker’s coaching reign at Craven Cottage began in March 2019 with Chelsea’s 50th visit there at the highest level. A 2-1 win for Maurizio Sarri’s men meant Fulham became the first team to lose 10 London derbies in the top division over a single season.
The Whites have not beaten any local rival at this level in 23 attempts since a win against West Ham in 2014.
Chelsea’s fourth away win in the capital this season came at West Ham last weekend. The Blues, who have the best record in all-London league games since 1992 (between current top-flight clubs), face one more derby after this one, at home to Arsenal.
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The chase for Champions League places
The Premier League grind has come right to the handle, with just five fixtures left to decide the season’s big issues. The Manchester clubs appear uncatchable at the moment while Chelsea, in fourth, are four points shy of Leicester but three and four ahead of West Ham and Liverpool respectively, who make up the rest of the current top six.
Each of the other three is away from home this weekend, however the Blues’ remaining opponents have averaged 1.65 points per game this season, 1.47 for the Foxes, 1.19 the Reds and 1.18 the Hammers.
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|Newcastle h||Man City a||Everton h||Southampton h|
|Manchester Utd a||Arsenal h||Brighton a||West Brom a|
Real Madrid remain second in La Liga following Barcelona’s surprise home defeat to Granada and on Saturday night they host Osasuna, ranked fourth on form over the past six matches.
All Chelsea eyes will be on the squad available to the Zinedine Zidane ahead of our Champions League second leg. First-choice right-back Dani Carvajal has already been ruled out of the trip to London, versatile defender Nacho Fernandez is nursing a knock from the first leg, Fede Valverde has not yet tested negative for coronavirus, and the influential Ferland Mendy is still recuperating on his own. Skipper Sergio Ramos has returned to full training, though, and may see some action this weekend.
A gentler rivalry
This west London derby fixture with Fulham was first played on 11 April 1911, with Great Western Railway laying on specially priced train trips from the home counties to Chelsea and Fulham station, adjacent to the Bridge (but removed in the 1950s).
Sixty thousand were present to watch the promotion-chasing Pensioners dispatch our nearest neighbours with a goal each from Billy Bridgeman and Bob Whittingham. Sporting Life relayed there was ‘nothing mild about the exchanges’ in a local derby ‘almost devoid of science … strenuous to a degree, and at times most exciting.’
Yet the Whites would visit again only five times before the 1950s, by which time locals had developed the habit of watching the two clubs on alternate weeks. The Cottagers’ longest-serving manager, Phil Kelso, even entertained Blues fans in his pub the Rising Sun, opposite the ground.
It was then Chelsea’s singular honour to be associated with the ‘Swinging Sixties’. In fact, in the 1966 Time magazine article that coined that phrase, a matchday gathering of Blues fans including actor Michael Caine and model Jean Shrimpton joked Chelsea were in danger of becoming too successful and they were ‘seriously thinking of switching our allegiance to Fulham, making that the “In” team.’
West London derby souvenir
As ever, while stadiums remain empty, the matchday programme can only be bought online, priced at £3.50 plus postage.
Premier League fixtures
Southampton v Leicester 8pm (Sky Sports)
Crystal Palace v Man City 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Brighton v Leeds 3pm (Amazon Prime Video)
Chelsea v Fulham 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Everton v Aston Villa 8pm (BT Sport)
Newcastle v Arsenal 2pm (Sky Sports)
Man Utd v Liverpool 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
Tottenham v Sheffield Utd 7.15pm (Sky Sports)
West Brom v Wolves 6pm (Sky Sports)
Burnley v West Ham 8.15pm (Sky Sports)
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|19||West Bromwich Albion||33||5||10||18||30||64||-34||25|