The Blues and the Whites have been handed the task of beginning the weekend’s Premier League programme and we build up to the big game here…

The transfer window’s Enzo endzone may sprinkle World Cup stardust over a neighbourly Friday evening get-together between Chelsea and Fulham at Stamford Bridge, an 8pm kick-off.

The number of debutants for the Blues this season currently stands at 13 (six of them under Graham Potter). Any involvement for latest arrivals Enzo Fernandez and Noni Madueke would raise that to a club record-equalling 15 initiations in the Premier League era (eight of them 23 or under), matching 2017/18. Chelsea supporters, though, should be just as exhilarated by the tidal wave of injuries finally receding, with key players set to return.

This second SW6 derby of the season, meanwhile, is the Blues’ first top-flight Friday night fixture since Michy Batshuayi secured the Premier League title for Antonio Conte’s men at West Bromwich Albion in May 2017.

Just 22 days after our meeting at Craven Cottage, the Whites are in pursuit of an unprecedented league ‘double’ over the Blues. They have lost their last two top-flight tussles, however, and the world champions can rise to sixth (at least temporarily) with a win tonight, leapfrogging our postcode rivals having played one game fewer.

Chelsea team news

Three weeks ago, the Blues’ fourth defeat by our near neighbours in 53 top-tier meetings came as a result of a 56th-minute injury to influential midfielder Denis Zakaria and a red card for debutant Joao Felix, compounded by poor defending.

Both Blues players remain absent tonight, though there is welcome news that Ben Chilwell, Reece James and Raheem Sterling could be back to play some part, if not the whole 90 minutes. James is especially vital: Chelsea have averaged 2.38 league points per game with him on the pitch this season, compared to 1.45 overall.

Graham Potter also revealed that pending the necessary clearances, he is happy to hand World Cup-winning midfielder Enzo Fernandez a hotly-anticipated debut in the west London derby. Another January acquisition, dribbling left-footer Noni Madueke, could be involved for the first time. Mykhailo Mudryk, eye-popping in his cameo at Anfield, also looks set to make his Stamford Bridge bow.

Sadly, it is still too soon for Wesley Fofana, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Edou Mendy and Christian Pulisic. Hakim Ziyech, whose proposed switch to PSG fell through, trained yesterday and has committed to the club.

During the 13-day break the Chelsea squad has indulged in non-football leadership and teamwork exercises alongside intensive training with the aim of progressive patterns of play and partnership understandings becoming second nature on the field of play.

The Blues already have the division’s fourth tightest defence, though 15 of our 21 goals conceded from set-plays suggests there is still room for improvement. Never the less the stalemate at Liverpool earned Kepa Arrizabalaga a third clean sheet in six league outings, and made it two in two for the new centre-back pairing of Thiago Silva, a youthful 38, and 21-year-old Benoit Badiashile.

No opposition team has scored in the opening hour of any league game at the Bridge this season. Now home fans will be urging this excitingly reinforced frontline to deliver thrills in the visitors’ goalmouth.

Scouting the opposition – Fulham

While Chelsea had a 13-day break, Fulham played out an FA Cup draw with Sunderland at Craven Cottage. In fact, the Whites have not tasted victory in three outings across all competitions since beating 10-man Chelsea on 12 January.

Leading marksman Aleksandar Mitrovic was suspended for that west London derby and damaged his ankle against Tottenham but came off the bench last weekend. Although a third of the Cottagers goals have been headers, the Serbian has not found the net in three matches (his longest barren spell of the season) and missed from the spot for the third time this season at St James’ Park.

Fulham coach Marco Silva favours the 4-2-3-1 formation, which offers the triangular passing options he likes. Middlemen Harrison Reed and Joao Palhinha combine well with standout attacking midfielder Andreas Pereira, progressive full-back Antonee Robinson, and wide forwards Willian, the former Stamford Bridge favourite, and Bobby Reid.

The only differences between the starting 11 against Chelsea and the one that lost to Spurs last time out were Carlos Vinicius making way for Mitrovic upfront and centre-back Issa Diop alternating with Tosin Adarabioyo.

Silva felt his side dominated the opening half until Son’s counter-punch but failed to take their chances. After the break they could not find the dynamism to break down very defensive visitors.

Last Sunday he made seven changes for the FA Cup tie, retaining only Diop, Palhinha, Andreas Pereira and Kenny Tete. One of those rested, 35-year-old Tim Ream has completed 1,887 minutes, the most by any Premier League player this season.

Fulham added transfer depth on deadline day, recruiting midfielder Sasa Lukic from Torino and (having coached him at Sporting) Arsenal right-back Cedric Soares on loan. He also made permanent Shane Duffy’s move from Brighton, while former Blue Nathaniel Chalobah moved to West Bromwich. The Cottagers’ only definite absentee tonight is Neeskens Kebano.

Who’s on pens?

The departure of Jorginho, who across all competitions, with his famous skip, scored 27 of the 31 attempts on penalty duty for Chelsea (excluding shoot-outs), means the Blues need a new 12-yard maestro. In 2021, the Brazil-born Italy midfielder became the first Premier League player to notch 10 spot-kicks in a calendar year, and only Frank Lampard has converted more for the Londoners.

Of the squad that started the season, Mason Mount has bagged two in his short Chelsea career, and Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech have one apiece. One or two incoming players might fancy the gig too: Enzo Fernandez converted all five he took at previous club River Plate (2021/22), though Joao Mario had penalty responsibility at Benfica this season.

Prior to joining from Shakhtar in January Mykhailo Mudryk had a record of two successes from three taken in Ukraine’s Premier Liga, while David Fofana was flawless in all four attempts in the league and Europa League for Molde. Joao Felix, whose ban finishes after today, has a record of four scored, one missed.

Enzo officially among world elite

Chelsea’s most recent recruit Enzo Fernandez was the 2022 World Cup’s recipient of the FIFA Young Player Award for best player under 21 years of age at the start of the calendar year.

The prestigious gong was first handed out in 2006, when it was known as the ‘Best Young Player Award’, and each of the previous winners has enjoyed an honours-strewn career, winning a minimum of one domestic club league title.

FIFA Young Player Award winners

2022 Enzo Fernandez (Argentina)
2018 Kylian Mbappe (France)
2014 Paul Pogba (France)
2010 Thomas Mueller (Germany)
2006 Lukas Podolski (Germany)

  • By club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton