Chelsea’s shortest away journey of the season follows their longest as the Blues travel to Craven Cottage on Sunday afternoon seeking out an eighth consecutive Premier League victory. After a sparkling performance on Tuesday night at the Stadium of Light, labeled by some locals as the finest away performance they had ever seen at that particular stadium, Chelsea hop down the Fulham Road to take on local rivals Fulham, themselves fresh from a 3-1 victory against Amkar Perm.The Cottagers are playing in European competition for the first time since season 2002/03, when they won the Intertoto Cup, subsequently qualifying for the UEFA Cup knockout rounds. That year they reached the third round of the UEFA Cup before bowing out to Hertha Berlin; Chelsea stumbled horribly in the first round, losing to Norwegian part timers Viking Stavenger 5-4 on aggregate. Since that embarrassment we have reached five out of six Champions League semi finals. How times have changed. Fulham have made an encouraging start in the inaugural Europa League, comfortably turning over Lithunian outfit Vetra 6-0 on aggregate, whilst last night they beat Amkar Perm, the most easterly based team in the competition (some 800 miles east of Moscow) 3-1. The game was overshadowed by a nasty injury to Andy Johnson; having beaten his man for pace the Amkar defender emphatically shoulder barged him, with such force that the former England striker dislocated his collarbone. Remarkably, the challenge only received a yellow card.
In their opening fixture Fulham also recorded a victory, a scrappy 1-0 affair at Fratton Park. Bobby Zamora scored a fortuitous goal off his back to hand an important three points to the travelling team. He also scored last night with an impressive strike from the edge of the box. The assist came from new signing Damien Duff; the former Chelsea winger seemed only too pleased to be playing back in West London, and he will be desperate to earn a starting place for Sunday’s game against his former club. Fulham have, like Chelsea, maintained a similar squad to the one that finished last season in 7th place. Notably they have also held on to key man Brede Hangeland, despite continued interest from Arsenal. Along with Duff, Fulham signed Stephen Kelly, Bjorn Helge Riise (John Arne’s brother) and yesterday West Brom’s skipper Jonathan Greening.
Chelsea head into this fixture with no new injury worries from Tuesday night’s game; Yuri Zhirkov, Joe Cole, Paulo Ferreira, Alex and Juliano Belletti are all expected to be unavailable again. New signing Nemanja Matic continues to recover from a broken metatarsal sustained in the European Under-21 Championships this summer. Nicolas Anelka and Ricardo Carvalho will be looking to regain their places, along with Mikel and Florent Malouda. Ancelotti tweaked the diamond formation on Tuesday night to devastating effect, as the new 4-3-2-1 formation worked wonders. It also enabled Deco to return to the sort of form he enjoyed this time last year. A place in the starting eleven and a similar performance on Sunday will only help increase his popularity amongst the fans, many of whom rightly gave up on him last year.
If Frank Lampard scores he will go ahead of Jimmy Greaves as Chelsea’s fifth top goalscorer of all time, only 18 behind 2 Chelsea greats, Peter Osgood and Roy Bentley. If Chelsea win it will be the first time they have won the opening three league games of the season since 2005/06.
Predicted team: Cech; Bosingwa, Carvalho, Terry, A.Cole; Ballack, Essien, Lampard; Deco, Anelka; Drogba.
Our last meeting with Fulham was at the beginning of May at the Bridge when we comfortably triumphed 3-1. This fixture last year saw an exciting 2-2 draw just after Christmas, as Chelsea threw away a Frank Lampard-inspired 2-1 lead to concede a last minute equaliser at the hands of Clint Dempsey.
Sunday’s referee is Andre Marriner, who coincidentally referee that 2-2 draw, giving yellow cards to Bosingwa and Drogba. His only game so far this season was the opening day clash between Bolton and Sunderland, where he awarded three yellow cards. His only other Chelsea game last season was our 3-0 victory at the KC Stadium in Hull. Last season he gave out 7 red cards in 33 games.
I think Chelsea will run out comfortable winners on Sunday, as a tired and slightly battered Fulham side recover from their tough game on Thursday evening. If the Blues can finally start to be more clinical in front of goal, like they were for 20 minutes on Tuesday, they will run out comfortable winners. However, having yet to keep a clean sheet it is essential that we put our chances away, otherwise the game could turn into a frustrating score draw.