Having just come back from Madrid with a very credible 1-1 draw, Chelsea look set to qualify for their first UEFA Champions Final since victory in 2012. The Blues look in fine form, having moved on from a few shock results against West Bromwich Albion and Bright & Hove Albion to restore positivity around their season. At the moment, a successive run of impressive away results – including a clutch win at West Ham United – has left the Blues feeling pretty confident of success this season.
With an FA Cup Final to contest, too, the Blues need to overcome a ‘trap game’ against near-relegated Fulham. With the UEFA Champions League qualification race still too tight to call, Chelsea need three points at Stamford Bridge against an opponent they have not lost to in their last six meetings.
Arriving a this game with a pretty impressive result in Spain, Chelsea will have one eye on the second leg. Expect some resting to take place, though core players will likely keep their position to build continuity as the season moves towards its crescendo.
Expect Chelsea to play an attacking line-up, though, as they will look to attack a fragile Fulham side who have a nasty habit of conceding ridiculous goals at clutch moments. If Chelsea can start with their usual aggressive streak, and with most of their fitness problems overcome, they should be able to make short work of a Fulham side shattered in terms of self-belief.
Losing one crucial game in the last minute can be demoralising – when it becomes your ‘thing’, though, it can become terminal. Fulham look bereft of belief when it matters most, often losing games in the most ridiculous fashion and with as little time as possible to react to the issue.
Although the squad looks fit enough to compete, awful individual errors and poor team defending – often leaving the opposition with clear-cut opportunities – makes it hard to see any kind of wining formula for the Cottagers. They concede crucial goals, they miss vital chances, and they have a habit of conceding in injury time.
Although fitness issues are beginning to slowly but surely solve themselves, there has been too much damage done in the previous months. Fulham look down, with booth consistency in both boxes making it hard to see any kind of positive result in the derby.
As mentioned above, despite having a fit(ish) squad Fulham simply lack that clutch gene at the top level. They tend to give the ball away in bad areas, miss easy chances after working so hard to create them, and then give up the most ridiculously easy goals. For Fulham fans, arriving at West London to take on a resurgent Chelsea is probably the last thing they needed.
Key results have gone against Fulham both in their own games and in the resurgence of the likes of Newcastle United and Burnley. The chance to survive has likely gone, and we could see that rugged resistance finally meet a harsh end here against Chelsea.