Jack Stroudley looks ahead to Friday’s SW6 derby.
Doing the double over Chelsea is something that before the season Fulham fans could’ve only dreamed of, yet here we are with the opportunity to do just that. When both sides met last month it was the perfect storm for Fulham as we were in the midst of a winning run. The fans were on side, believing every step of the way, against a Chelsea side in disarray.
Three weeks later, and despite still being a side that remains all over the place, they have spent more than £250 million, and having not played a game since 21 January, this will be a much tougher test for Fulham. But can we repeat the result of that famous night at the Cottage?
Given that Chelsea are coming out of an injury crisis and have made multiple additions since we last faced them, you’d imagine their starting XI will look fairly different. Graham Potter stated in his press conference that Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Raheem Sterling and Fulham favourite Ruben Loftus-Cheek are all back in the squad, and while I feel some will start, (the likes of Sterling and James) Potter has stated than none will play a full 90 minutes. Then there are the new signings with Benoit Badiashile and Mykhalio Mudryk, who have come in and looked lively against Liverpool. I think both will start, and other new signing Nodi Madueke will start the game from the bench.
The name on all Chelsea fans lips though is Enzo Fernandez. The Argentine midfielder broke the British transfer fee on deadline day with his over £100 million deal. Despite this, Fulham fans will be pleased to know he may not feature on Friday night as paperwork still needs to be sorted. This combined with Jorginho being sold to Arsenal, Denis Zakaria, Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante all being injured leaves Chelsea a little light in midfield, which is where I feel Fulham can exploit the most.
How do we prepare?
As mentioned, the way I feel Fulham can get at Chelsea is in midfield as their options are light and with our usual pressing tenacity and strength in the tackle gives us the chance of winning those 50/50s turning over possession quickly and countering effectively. Sasa Lukic has been given the all-clear for the game, but with the Serbian international arriving into London on Thursday night I would highly doubt he will play much of a part. The other deadline day signing Cedric Soares will most likely feature in the matchday squad, but I don’t think he will make his debut, with Kenny Tete being the obvious choice. Here’s what my line-up would be:
After his strong performance against Sunderland, combined with our attacking being relatively stale in the last few weeks, Manor Solomon starting is a must for me and against either an aged César Azpilicueta or a not-fully-fit Reece James, Solomon can use his raw pace and tricky feet to get past his man. There’s a slight argument for Diop being dropped following his mistake against Sunderland, but he has warranted a place in the team with some astute performances and dropping him isn’t going to do wonders for his confidence.
The final of those is the return of Mitrovic, who will be ready and raring to go on Friday night and despite scoring the elusive winner in the game at the Cottage, I feel that Vinicius doesn’t offer the same presence up top as our Serbian talisman.
The final verdict
I think this will be a much different game on Friday night with this Chelsea side out with a point to prove. Fresh signings and players back from an injury all out to impress Graham Potter. That being said, we’ve shown we are no slouch away from home and after a few disappointing performances, Marco Silva and co will be out to make it right and backed by a noisy away end, a result isn’t off the cards.