Chelsea have already seen off three managers this season but as we travel the very short distance to Fulham on New Year’s Day it’s a welcome to their new boss Roy Hodgson, who will be looking to get off to the best possible start at Craven Cottage. Hodgson is not the only manager with a point to prove it seems, as murmurs of discontent over Avram Grant turned into howls of displeasure during Chelsea’s win over Newcastle on Saturday. Sceptical fans need convincing then, while Fulham supporters are anticipating yet another “fresh start”. This game, and the beginning of 2008, is the perfect time for both managers to set out their stalls and start again with a bang.
Grant can at least point to an ever-increasing injury list as an excuse for some not so impressive performances recently. Add the suspended Ricardo Carvalho and Chelsea could be without up to nine first-team players for the first game of the new calendar year. Frank Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda will miss out while there are doubts over Petr Cech, Carlo Cudicini, Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack, who ran himself into the ground against Newcastle and had to be taken off. Ashley Cole can be welcomed back however, having served his unjust one-match suspension picked up in the 4-4 draw with Aston Villa last week.
Fulham boss Hodgson must certainly know now, if he didn’t before, just what he will have to produce this season to keep our West London neighbours in the top flight. Fulham have been disappointing to say the least, winning just two games all season and languishing in 19th place with only Derby County below them. Their last victory came at the beginning of November, where they saw off Reading 3-1. Since then however, they have lost five and draw three, shipping 17 goals in the process.
The Cottagers have some injury worries but will look towards Clint Dempsey, the American midfielder and Fulham’s top scorer this season, to drive them on. It will be interesting to see who Hodgson considers in his strongest line-up, as many fans believe the squad is just not strong enough to compete in the Premier League.
Both managers will welcome the opening of the transfer window to strengthen their respective squads. We are apparently set to welcome Nicolas Anelka to our squad while other positions will need cover when the African Cup of Nations begins. It was intriguing to hear the huge backlash Avram Grant received at the Bridge on Saturday, despite the win over Newcastle, and the signings he makes will have to be spot-on if he is to win back the support of certain sections of the ground. Of course, it is wise to judge the performances on the pitch too, and this game against struggling Fulham should have one outcome and one outcome only.
With Manchester United losing to West Ham we got a lucky break and the gap between us in the league has narrowed. Let’s push on and show what we are all about, starting with Fulham, and make 2008 a blue year.
Prediction: On paper it’s obvious what will happen, a Chelsea win of course! So I’ll go with that, a 2-0 victory to send Fulham further into the mire and kick-start our year.