With the SW6 derby on the horizon, Alex Bowmer believes it might be time to shuffle the pack a bit.
Despite some reservations from the Fulham fanbase about the £22m signing of Alex Iwobi, the Nigeria international has made an immediate impact in his first three appearances for the club. His knack for finding space, anticipation for where the ball will drop and ability to pick a pass have already proved invaluable, with his infectious energy also evident as he opened his goalscoring account with a lovely guided finish against Norwich.
Is it Alex’s time?
Which leads on to Monday. Will Iwobi get his first Premier League start for his new employers after working his way back to full fitness? Or will Marco Silva delay his full Fulham debut in the top flight and ease him into the fold, putting him in the starting XI a bit later down the line? Despite Chelsea’s multiple failings, we obviously can’t afford to play anything other than our strongest side, especially as the Blues will have their tails up after knocking Brighton out of the Carabao Cup.
The make-up of our strongest team is certainly up for debate, although to my mind, most of the positions are set in stone, with just a few positions up for grabs. One of them is the number 10 role, which Andreas Pereira currently occupies. Iwobi has the skillset to replace him however, and should Silva deem him fit enough, I believe the former Everton midfielder should start against our SW6 rivals.
Putting pressure on
Iwobi replaced Pereira at Crystal Palace on 75 minutes. After forcing a good save from Sam Johnstone in the opening few minutes in south-east London, Pereira’s influence was limited. In his time on the pitch, Iwobi created as many chances and made as many accurate long passes as the Brazilian (one and two respectively), as well as just one fewer pass into the final third (two to three). Pereira also struggled to influence proceedings against Luton, failing to have a shot and posting the team’s worst pass-completion rate among the starters.
Despite the suspension of Nicolas Jackson, Chelsea do possess threats on the counter-attack, namely Raheem Sterling and Mykhailo Mudryk, while close attention will also need to be paid to the composure of Enzo Fernández, the energy of Conor Gallagher and the creativity of Cole Palmer. Given his industry in front of the back four, I’d be surprised if Harrison Reed was forced to make way against Mauricio Pochettino’s men, even though he was withdrawn for Iwobi against the Hatters, with the substitution paying dividends as the tempo and attacking intent went up several notches.
Time to try a new 10
This is probably one of those matches where João Palhinha and Reed are needed in tandem to snuff out attacks, along with instigating our own breaks upfield. Of course, Tom Cairney is well capable of playing in front of them, but the captain seems most adept at dictating play off the bench when space opens up and both bodies and minds are weary in the last 20 or so minutes, as opposed to running the game from the outset.
In short, Iwobi’s all-round game – dribbling, pressing, tackling, occupying space, shooting and finding that incisive pass – makes him the ideal No 10 candidate. Let’s hope we can see some more of that versatility under the lights on Monday night.