Predicting Martin Jol's Fulham Plan to Topple Chelsea
On the back of three consecutive defeats in the UEFA Super Cup, Premier League and Champions League, it could be the perfect time for Martin Jol's side to record their first victory against the Blues since 2005/06.
It could also be the toughest.
Chelsea have had their worst start to a season since the Roman Abramovich era began, and this weekend they will look to get back on track, with Fulham the potential whipping boys.
However the Cottagers do have reason to feel confident. In the last six Premier League meetings between the two sides, Fulham have held Chelsea to a draw on four occasions.
Last season's SW6 derby saw Jol's team come away from Stamford Bridge with a point from a 0-0 stalemate. A drab affair but a point nonetheless.
There were rumblings of dissatisfaction among the home support then, with Rafa Benitez not long in Chelsea job. Now, the same air of discontent threatens to return if results do not take a turn for the better. It must be the season, as even Fulham fans have been on their manager's back of late.
In last term's fixture, Fulham seemed happy to sit back and defend, allowing the hosts possession and attacking on the break. A tactic that Jol will probably be happy to employ on Saturday.
The Dutchman told Fulham's official website that this is a "must-win" game for the hosts:
I think if we beat them it will be the first time that they've lost three games in a week. So it puts a little bit more pressure on them, but I don’t know if it's an advantage or not.
When they lost against Everton, it put pressure on them in the Champions League, so they had to win that game. To talk about must-win games, I think that for Chelsea it’s a must-win game against us because they want to be champions in England.
I won't say there’s nothing to lose when we go there because it’s a difficult game, but I think the last two or three away matches against Chelsea we did quite well.
Parker may play a pivotal role in this weekend's game. In much the same way that Everton's Gareth Barry managed to impose himself on Chelsea at Goodison Park last week, Parker could be instrumental in breaking up the Blues' play in the center of the pitch.
The former Chelsea man may be 32, but he adds much-needed steel in midfield. He's still a great tackler, vocal and has a tireless work rate. Parker's range of passing and distribution also sees him connecting the back four with Fulham's counter-attacks. In this, Parker takes on a similar role that Danny Murphy had for Fulham—Murphy being a figure that Jol's side have struggled to replace since he departed at the end of the 2011/12 season.
Bryan Ruiz (ankle) is out for this game, as is Aaron Hughes (thigh) and Stekelenburg (shoulder). Dimitar Berbatov will be undergoing fitness tests to see if he is available for selection, as reported by Jacob Murtagh in the Mirror.
Comforting for Fulham is the fact that Chelsea have only scored four goals in the top-flight this season, two of those strikes were from set-pieces and none from a centre-forward.
According to Squawka, the Blues' shot accuracy is only 35 percent and their overall possession stats are 54 percent.
Fulham's numbers are not as different as you would think. The Cottagers have scored three goals so far this season—this figure might have been more, had they not had three goals chalked off for offside against West Bromwich Albion last weekend. In terms of possession they have 49 percent, with a shot accuracy of 48 percent.
Where they differ is in chances created, Chelsea with 50 to Fulham's 25—testament to Mourinho's talent-packed midfield.
And it's here that the game will be won or lost.
|Premier League, April 17, 2013||Fulham 0-3 Chelsea|
|Premier League, Nov 28, 2012||Chelsea 0-0 Fulham|
|Premier League, April 9, 2012||Fulham 1-1 Chelsea|
|Premier League, Dec 26, 2011||Chelsea 1-1 Fulham|
Last year, Benitez omitted Juan Mata from his squad, and it will be interesting to see if Mourinho continues to overlook the Spaniard in a starting role. If Fulham can mark Oscar and Eden Hazard as tightly as they did in the same fixture last season, they will snuff out their biggest threat.
Fulham's back five did well against West Brom last weekend, conceding an equalizer in the 90th minute. If they can stay switched on (and perhaps freshness will be in their favour), Chelsea's misfiring strikers may be denied.
"We had chances and chances but we didn't score," Mourinho said in the Guardian after losing to Everton. "If you don't score you can't win, and what you create means nothing. Artistic football is no good without goals."
Following that 1-0 defeat, Mourinho blamed his players' emotional state for their loss. He was quoted in the Independent as saying:
They did not lose the game tactically, they lost it emotionally. Tactically, they knew what they had to do with three at the back. They know the distance they can go. Emotionally, it is different. You see your watch ticking down, 15, 12, 11... it goes very fast when you are losing and they lost a little bit of emotional control.
Fulham will probably opt to go with their preferred 4-2-3-1 against Chelsea, with David Stockdale in goal, Riether as first choice right-back, with Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos in central defence and John Arne Riise at left-back.
Steve Sidwell should get the nod to partner Parker as the holding midfielders, with Adel Taarabt providing creativity on the left, the confident-looking Pajtim Kasami in the middle and, in the absence of Ruiz, experienced Damien Duff starting on the right.
If fit, Berbatov is likely to start as the lone striker, with Darren Bent a great option to have on the bench.
Perhaps Fulham can recapture the form they showed on the opening day of the season, when they beat Sunderland at home. If so, it would be their first win against Chelsea in 14 attempts.
As Mourinho put it last weekend in the Mirror, "We are not unbeatable."
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