Fulham vs. Chelsea: Key Battles to Watch

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2014

Fulham vs. Chelsea: Key Battles to Watch

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Their stadia are a stone's throw away from each other in West London, but in reality Chelsea and Fulham are worlds apart when it comes to their footballing prowess.

    The Blues currently lead the way in the Premier League while their neighbors Fulham are rooted to the foot of the table, locked in a relegation battle.

    On paper, Saturday's clash between these rivals should only go one way—a Chelsea win. But this is the Premier League and things never quite work out in the way we often expect.

    Indeed, Fulham ran Chelsea close when they visited Stamford Bridge in September, eventually succumbing to a 2-0 defeat after frustrating the Blues early on.

    With home support behind them, they'll be hoping to do the same at Craven Cottage, but can they?

    Bleacher Report looks ahead at the key battles in this West London derby.

Felix Magath vs. Jose Mourinho

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    The head-to-head of managers is always a fascinating affair in football, although the clash between Felix Magath and Jose Mourinho will be a little more under the spotlight than usual.

    Chelsea boss Mourinho has hit the headlines this week after French TV station Canal+ released footage of him apparently criticizing his strikers, while Magath has only recently been appointed as Fulham manager as they attempt to avoid the drop.

    Despite a successful career in his homeland, where he coached the likes of Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg, the German is an unknown quantity in English football.

    Magath got a positive result in his first game in charge—a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion last weekend—but facing Chelsea is an altogether different challenge.

Fernando Torres vs. Brede Hangeland

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    The mood was right on Wednesday night for Fernando Torres against Galatasaray in the Champions League. And with his confidence given a boost after scoring a vital away goal for Chelsea, we can be sure he'll offer a threat against Fulham at Craven Cottage.

    Indeed, the Spaniard has endured another frustrating season at Stamford Bridge. Just as he's hitting form, injury or suspension has stopped him in his tracks.

    It was this time last year that he came alive for Chelsea, though, enjoying his spell for the club, with goals in Europe to help them lift the Europa League trophy.

    Now he'll be looking to do the same in the Champions League and on domestic soil, starting against Fulham.

    Brede Hangeland has been excellent for Fulham in the six years he has spent with the club. This season hasn't been his finest, however, so whether he starts or appears as a substitute, Torres will look to get at his marker to ensure he has an uncomfortable afternoon.

Eden Hazard vs. Sascha Riether

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Do Fulham stick or twist on Saturday? After all, they start the game with a point and if they can finish it that way, it could prove valuable in their fight for survival.

    Should Felix Magath feel adventurous and chase all three, his right-back Sascha Riether will need to be on top of his game, otherwise Eden Hazard will punish the home side like he has done to most defences he has faced this term.

    The Belgian has been Chelsea's best attacking player throughout 2013-14 and is looking every bit the £32 million star the Blues purchased from Lille almost two years ago.

    When Chelsea break, everything flows through Hazard and as he lurks between the lines, drifting from flank to flank to pick up possession, he carves out openings that rip the heart from defences.

    It's going to be an interesting tactical battle between the managers and, as ever, Hazard's influence will be at the heart of it.

John Obi Mikel vs. the Fulham Defence

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    On Wednesday night in Istanbul, Jose Mourinho introduced John Obi Mikel to help close the game out after Galatasaray had equalized to make it 1-1.

    The Nigerian proved effective in helping do that, yet his role against Fulham could be a whole lot different.

    Mikel may end up starting on the bench. If Chelsea are chasing a late goal, could he be the man to come on and rescue the game?

    Chelsea's No. 12 did just that in September when he scored an 84th-minute strike to make sure of the win against Fulham at Stamford Bridge—his first goal in club colors since January 2007 and also his first in the Premier League.

    Could history repeat itself?

    OK, we admit, it's a little bit fanciful, but Mikel scoring any goal of note at Craven Cottage is listed as 15-1 on odds checking site Statto.com, and for that reason alone plenty of fans may well be watching Mikel with more anticipation than usual.