Fulham will welcome London rivals Chelsea to town this week as they seek to consolidate themselves in the top half of the English Premier League ladder.
The Cottagers have been in good form of late—losing just one of their past seven—and will be looking to chalk up another impressive result against the Blues here, having drawn 0-0 with them at Stamford Bridge when they met earlier in the season.
Chelsea are fresh off a heartbreaking defeat in the FA Cup to Manchester City during the week, and will know how important this game is to their top-four chances.
The Blues currently sit in fourth position, but can jump above Arsenal into third place with a solid performance here. Which, given how close the race for a Champions League berth next season is, would be invaluable for Rafa Benitez's side over the remaining weeks.
Can the West Londoners emerge triumphant from their local derby this weekend, or will be the home side walking away with the points from this one?
Read on for a full preview of this match including all the need-to-know details, live viewing information, analysis, predictions and much more.
Date: Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Start time: 3:00 p.m. ET (8:00 p.m. British time)
Venue: Craven Cottage, London, England
Live Stream and TV Information
According to Live Soccer TV, coverage of the match can be seen throughout the United States via FOX Deportes and Fox Soccer Channel.
Previous Encounters in 2012-13 Season
Chelsea and Fulham have only met once this season, with a 0-0 draw played at Stamford Bridge just after Rafa Benitez took over as the Blues' manager.
Resting both Juan Mata and John Obi Mikel, the Blues still dominated possession (60-40 percent) and attacking chances (17 shots to nine) but couldn't break through the Cottagers' defense, with goalkeeper Mark Schwartzer making a number of great saves on the night.
Fulham's form line coming into this one is hard to read, with plenty of positives and negatives to take from their performances of late—losing just three of their past 12 games, but also dropping points to teams they really should have beaten.
The Cottagers drew 2-2 against Sunderland last month before beating Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Then they hung on against a desperate QPR side before losing away to Newcastle and drawing away to Aston Villa last week courtesy of a Fabian Delph own goal.
Chelsea too have been a hard team to read of late, with their performances against both Manchester clubs in the FA Cup showing they have real talent.
However, the Blues have not won in their last four matches away from home, despite playing three teams in the bottom six at the time they took place.
The trip to Craven Cottage is not a difficult one with just 1.4 miles separating Fulham's home from Stamford Bridge, but given Chelsea's recent form Rafael Benitez's side will have a difficult time on their hands here.
Key Players to Watch For:
Fulham: Dimitar Berbatov, ST
Since making a move from Manchester United over the summer transfer window, Dimitar Berbatov has been superb for Fulham this season. He has given their attack direction and a go-to target up front, and will likely be their biggest weapon against the West London Blues.
The 32-year-old has 13 goals and three assists from his 26 league appearances this season, with an average of 2.6 shots and 1.5 goal-scoring chances created for other per game (per WhoScored).
Berbatov has also dropped back a lot this season—playing more as a No. 10 than an out-and-out striker—and his pressure could mean that the likes of Mikel and David Luiz will struggle to get forward. However, at the same time, he must not get caught dropping too far back and simply invite Chelsea to dominate field position and attacking chances.
For Fulham to win, Berbatov is going to have to play well.
Chelsea: Frank Lampard, CM
Frank Lampard is already a Chelsea legend and one of their most prolific goalscorers of all time. Now, the Blues' midfielder will chalk up another milestone when he makes his 600th appearance for the West London club this week—which could spell danger for Fulham's defense.
Players always seem to play very well on milestone games, and when you combine that with Lampard's already high level of success, it's shaping up to be a very potent night for the Englishman indeed.
Lampard has 12 goals in 17 appearances for the Blues this year, and will no doubt be looking to add to that with a strong showing here. He will likely cause problems for the Cottagers' defense as he chimes in to Chelsea's attacking raids, and will no doubt find himself with a chance or two in this one given the plethora of attacking options Chelsea possess.
In what is shaping up as a tight game, Lampard—playing in a milestone game—may well turn out to be the difference once again for Benitez's side.
Key Storyline to Watch: Which Players Will Chelsea Rest Here?
Chelsea have had a great deal of fixtures to deal with of late, and with the Blues still facing a number of key games, they may well look to rest some of their star players in this fixture.
The Blues played an FA Cup game on the weekend, and will be forced to play another league game this coming weekend. Then they'll play a Europa League semifinal, another league game—the list goes on and on for Chelsea, and it's important that they have their best players healthy for big games.
Which players Benitez will utilize in this one are unknown, but it's hard to see him resting too many big names for this one. In addition to it being a local derby, there's a potential top four spot at stake here, and Chelsea will know that finishing in the top four is the biggest priority of the year—ensuring their qualification through to the Champions League in 2014.
Still, the West London club have a lot of talent, and could well rotate their squad here—perhaps starting some key players off the bench in this one.
What changes will be made and how that impacts the outcome still remain to be seen, but it's definitely an interesting storyline to follow, for it could have a profound impact on the final score here.
Three Stats to Consider
4. The last four London derbies between Fulham and Chelsea have all ended in draws, with just four goals being scored in total overall.
23. Fulham have won just one of their past 23 fixtures against the Blues (10 draws, 12 losses) and none of the last 13 (seven draws, six losses).
8. Chelsea have conceded just eight goals from their eight London derbies this season in the English Premier League, and have lost just two games throughout.
Chelsea's away form does make this one a hard fixture to try and analyze, but the reality is that they are the superior team in all aspects of the game.
They have the better attack, better midfield and better defense, and should be able to get through the Cottagers' back-line. After all, this is a local derby, and form can often come second to the will to triumph over a rival team, which could well take place in this one.
Chelsea will be desperate to move back up to third position, with Arsenal's scoreless draw against Everton this week giving them a big advantage.
I think the Blues will race out to a big lead early, before Fulham claw their way back into it. Yet as much as they try, I can't see them gunning down the Blues, who will be very tough to beat with a lead and the prospect of Champions League football next season firmly in their minds.
Prediction: Fulham 1, Chelsea 3
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