Fulham will entertain Chelsea at Craven Cottage on Monday in the Premier League, with both teams hoping to walk away with the West London bragging rights.
The Cottagers have picked up eight points from their opening six games and sit in 11th spot. They head into the derby off the back of a 2-1 home success over Norwich City in the Carabao Cup third round in midweek.
Meanwhile, the Blues lie four places below their West London rivals with just five points amassed from six games. They bounced back to winning ways in midweek by dumping Brighton out of the Carabao Cup, beating Roberto de Zerbi’s side 3-1 at home. Mauricio Pochettino has had a glut of injuries to tackle with and once again has absentees in double digits heading into the game on Monday.
With a feisty affair at Craven Cottage expected, here are three key battles on the pitch that could define the outcome of this Premier League fixture.
#Raheem Sterling vs Fulham centre-backs
With Nicolas Jackson suspended owing to an accumulation of bookings, Mauricio Pochettino only has Armando Broja as his recognised senior centre-forward, but the Albanian is still working his way back to full fitness following a long injury layoff. As a result, Raheem Sterling could be deployed through the middle against Fulham.
Sterling is an intelligent forward who operated as a false 9 to great effect on many occasions at his former club Manchester City. With Mykhaylo Mudryk and Cole Palmer expected to start on either side of him, the England international could get opportunities to run the channels and create chaos for the Fulham backline.
Fulham must conjure a plan to stop him on Monday. Issa Diop and Tim Ream should line up in central defence and the duo have to be focused throughout the game to keep Sterling at bay. How Diop and Ream deal with Sterling’s pace and movement will be intriguing to watch.
#Enzo Fernandez vs Joao Palhinha
Enzo Fernandez is a technically gifted midfielder and could trouble Fulham in this clash given his outstanding expertise and reading of the game. With Moises Caicedo and Conor Gallagher behind him, the Argentina international will get the license to occupy pockets of spaces from the No.10 role and use his passing ability to pull the strings for Chelsea.
This is where Joao Palhinha comes in for Fulham, as he successfully stopped numerous top players since arriving in the Premier League last year. A tenacious tackler and ball-winner, the Portuguese will sit at the base of the midfield and mop up things for the hosts. He will face a big test of keeping Fernandez quiet, and if Palhinha manages to do so, Fulham’s chances of winning the West London derby will become higher.
#Willian vs Axel Disasi
Willian stood out in Fulham’s 2-1 win over Norwich City in the Carabao Cup third round in midweek, showing glimpses of the form that made him a fan favourite in seven years at Chelsea. After a disruptive start to the season, owing to injury issues and links with a move to Saudi Arabia, the Brazilian winger’s performances have improved for Marco Silva’s side in the last two games.
As a result, the 35-year-old is expected to start on the left flank, and he will try to get one over his former employers. Chelsea are hamstrung with a number of injuries at the back, as well as with Malo Gusto suspended, Axel Disasi could be trusted to start at right-back against Fulham.
Disasi has started all of Chelsea’s league fixtures, scoring a goal, but he will face a tricky test against Willian on his flank. The Frenchman has operated at right-back for his former club Monaco on a number of occasions and he will look to bring that experience here when facing the Fulham winger. Nevertheless, he is expected to have his hands full in the derby.
I am Rohan Sengupta from one of the busiest cities in India, Mumbai. A Journalism graduate with a keen interest in sports, football is something I simply cannot live without and writing, discussing and analyzing the game is what I do 24*7.