Local pride is not all that is at stake when Chelsea entertain Fulham in the West London derby at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday (7.45pm GMT).
Chelsea began the interim reign of Rafael Benitez with a 0-0 draw at home to Manchester City on Sunday. It was a dour affair in which neither team really deserved the three points and from which the biggest talking point was the vitriol aimed at Benitez by the Chelsea supporters.
The former Liverpool coach was roundly booed upon his first appearance on the touchline and numerous banners were displayed around the stadium making it clear in no uncertain terms that he is not the man they want leading their team. Roman Abramovich, the man towards whom this ire should have been aimed, looked on unmoved from the directors’ box.
It is clearly going to take a lot for Benitez to win over the Chelsea support and the manner in which his team played on Sunday, emphasising solidity over attacking ingenuity, did him few favours.
One of the delights of Chelsea’s play so far this season has been the attacking interplay between Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar. The attacking midfield trio switched positions at will under previous coach Roberto Di Matteo, given freedom to create that helped yield an average of two goals per match in the 12 games before Di Matteo’s dismissal.
There was little evidence of this interplay on Sunday as Benitez instructed the two wide attacking midfielders to stay in position and drop back out of possession to help create two compact lines of four. This kept the full-backs better protected than they have been so far this season, but also meant Chelsea looked far less of an offensive threat.
There was something of the small blanket proverb to the Chelsea display. Benitez took a team who have had their head covered but their feet exposed and turned them into one with their head exposed and their feet covered. Chelsea failed to score for the first time in eight league matches, but kept a clean sheet for the first time in seven.
It would be unfair to judge Benitez on one match against the reigning champions, however, and it will be interesting to see what approach he takes here against a lesser side robbed of a couple of their most potent offensive threats and a first choice central defender.
Fulham have been very entertaining so far this season, scoring the joint-second highest number of goals in the Premier League (25) whilst also conceding the joint-third highest (23). This has led to their matches averaging 3.69 goals, the third highest number in the division.
Martin Jol’s men come into the West London derby without a win in five matches, having drawn three and lost two over the last month. They went down 1-0 away to Stoke at the weekend, struggling to deal with their opponent’s physicality in the first half and unable to score in a more even second period.
Fulham have dropped 14 points from winning positions so far this season, including three occasions on which they conceded in the final five minutes of play. Sloppy defending has often been the root cause, simple mistakes costing Fulham goals and undoing much of their excellent attacking play.
Jol will be without the languid yet incisive Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz and the speedy Swedish winger Alexander Kacaniklic for Wednesday’s match, as both are missing through injury. They have scored four goals and provided six assists between them to date and will be missed despite Jol possessing decent back up options.
Towering central defender Brede Hangeland is suspended following his red card in the home defeat to Sunderland. With Philippe Senderos looking less than assured in his stead, Jol is likely to be even more concerned that usual about his side’s defensive solidity in the build up to the local derby.
Chelsea v Fulham Betting Tips Conclusion
Benitez is unlikely to ever be a favourite with the Stamford Bridge crowd, but a victory over their West London neighbours would surely give him at least a little credit to take forward into the coming months.
Chelsea surely cannot put in another display as turgid as their weekend performance and are favourites to emerge victorious with Fulham weakened at both ends of the pitch by injuries and suspensions.
- Back Chelsea to win @ biggest odds of 9/20 with BetVictor.
- The previous four West London derbies have all ended with less than three goals. With Benitez determined to keep things tight defensively and Fulham lacking a couple of their usual attacking options, we believe this, too, will be a low scoring match. Therefore, back under 2.5 goals @ best odds of 7/5 with Stan James.