Fulham v Chelsea: Cottagers Confidential preview

Clive Rose

Martin Jol's side look threadbare but Rafa Benitez has had a congested fixture list to deal with. Who's got the most to worry about?

There's a widely held view that, for teams in Fulham's situation, the holiday comes early once 40 points have been reached.

Various pieces of evidence point to the contrary but the notion is still difficult to shrug off, especially so when you consider our somewhat tepid performance at Newcastle last weekend, when we were sitting pretty on 39.

But local derbies bring a different, natural urgency to the fore. And for that, Chelsea should be at least a little concerned.

The Blues make their short journey to Craven Cottage with fatigue a palpable concern. Rafa Benitez's spasmodic side have faced five teams in the time Fulham have played three and, if their successful Europa League run continues, they could be set to play on both the weekend and in midweek for each of the last nine weeks of the season.

That's not to say Chelsea cannot cope - they have resources and depth that we here at Fulham can only dream of, but, as Tony Gale said in his fortnightly FFC column, this is probably the best time to face our most prosperous local rivals.

In fact, for those optimists out there, the build up to this tie strikes a vaguely similar tone to that of our away fixture at Tottenham a month ago. Little is expected of us, but anything could happen against a side struggling for consistency and battling on various fronts for much of the season.

Form

Chelsea have lost two straight games, firstly to Rubin Kazan and the latter at the hands of Manchester City. The Rubin defeat, 3-2, was ineffectual, with Benitez's side progressing to the Europa League semis regardless.

The FA Cup defeat to City, however, will have destroyed any faint hopes Benitez had of remaining in London beyond the summer. They could, of course, still follow up their Champions League victory last year with another European trophy this season but this would only brighten the fringes of an otherwise disappointing campaign.

Fulham have been patchy of late too. Two fine wins over Spurs and Queens Park Rangers have been followed up with a last-minute loss to Newcastle and a draw with Aston Villa.

Earlier in the season, we drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge while our last home tie against the Blues saw Clint Dempsey rescue a point just over a year ago. The American has proved so influential against Chelsea over recent years that the prospect of playing them without him seems a strange one.

Team news

He won't be the only man we miss, though, as Martin Jol has to contend with a host of injury worries. The midfield will be particularly stretched with Damien Duff out, as well as Ashkan Dejagah, Mahamadou Diarra and Steve Sidwell, who is suspended.

Oriol Romeu is a long term absentee for our visitors and they will also be missing Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill.

My line-up: Schwarzer; Riise, Hangeland, Senderos, Riether; Emanuelson, Karagounis, Enoh, Frei; Ruiz; Berbatov

Score prediction: Fulham 1 - 2 Chelsea

Feel free to leave your line-ups and score predictions in the comments section below.

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