On Saturday, March 1st, Fulham welcome Chelsea to Craven Cottage for an encounter between first and last in the EPL table. This game could be a tricky tie for the leaders, because it is a London derby and Fulham always want to beat Chelsea.
Chelsea are coming off a midweek Champions League match in Turkey, so the first thing to watch from Mourinho’s men is rotation. Matic missed the match in Turkey because he is cup tied this season with Benfica, so expect him to come back into the midfield in place of Lampard who played the full ninety. Torres played midweek and scored and looked lively so he will hope to keep his place in the starting eleven over Eto’o.
Another key to watch in this match is how Chelsea approach this match. One would expect them to get the maximum points, but Fulham will presumably sit back and soak up pressure. Chelsea love to play counter attack and they seem to struggle when they have loads of possession. Chelsea need to find more creativity in the final third in this match or they may struggle to score.
An area this match may come down to is set pieces. Chelsea have a lot of height for corners, with the likes of Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic, and even Matic. Fulham really only have Hangeland for height to match it, so expect Chelsea to try and capitalize from corners and free kicks.
Fulham sat back and soaked up pressure at Old Trafford and hit them on the counter and really should have won the match. It will be interesting to see if Chelsea are able to break down Fulham and how many numbers they get forward. Chelsea should be wary of what happened at Old Trafford, so I expect Chelsea to be cautious in the early stages and not push too many bodies forward until later on in the match if needed.
I believe Fulham’s back four will be under immense pressure, but the two holding midfielders, Parker and Sidwell need to have big games for the Cottagers. Look to see how these two handle the likes of Willian and Hazard and Oscar. These three attacking midfielders love to interchange so it will be important for Fulham to try and slow them down as much as possible.
Another key is to see how the likes of Ivanovic and Azpilicueta get forward and make overlapping runs to open up space for Willian and Hazard on the flanks. Ivanovic loves driving forward on that right hand side and needs to deliver crosses into the danger area. Azpilicueta is a better crosser of the ball and has linked up well on that left hand side with Hazard.
This match looks like a mismatch on paper, but matches are not played on paper and if there is one thing about the EPL, it is to expect the unexpected. Expect Chelsea to have a majority of the possession in this match. I think Chelsea will not find this game to be easy by any stretch, but I do predict that they will find a couple goals and win this one 2-0 away from home and maintain their slender lead at the top of the table.