Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 11/10
The Premier League returns to action in England following a round of FA Cup matches, and on Wednesday evening, Fulham will be welcoming neighbours Chelsea to Craven Cottage. It looks strange from either point of view, but it will be a genuine mid-table clash.
Fulham and Norwich City have been widely regarded by the neutral lovers of the game in England among those clubs that repeatedly move between the top two tiers. Last season, Norwich were in the Premier League and Fulham were in the Championship, and now it’s the other way around. The difference is, this time, Fulham look like they mean business regarding their efforts not to go down again.
At the moment, the Cottagers are in seventh place with 28 points, the same tally as sixth-place Liverpool (though with one match played more), and the prospect of not being involved in a relegation battle has rarely looked this promising in recent years. Brighton, widely considered a genuinely good team, are below with 27 points, and then come Brentford with 26.
Fulham’s last six competitive matches include a 1-2 defeat at home against Manchester United, and after the World Cup, they drew 1-1 at home against West Ham, smashed Crystal Palace away by 0-3, beat Southampton at home by 2-1, beat Leicester City away by 0-1, and got the third FA Cup round with a 0-2 win away to Hull City.
Manager Marco Silva won’t be able to call upon striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbia international is suspended with five yellow cards, and the man with 11 goals in 15 league matches will obviously be a blow in a match like this.
Fulham’s attacking ranks are further weakened by the absence of winger Neeskens Kebano, who will be out for a while with a torn Achilles tendon.
One who could return to the fold is defender Sean Duffy, who is recovering from a virus.
After fielding a rotated side against Hull, Silva is expected to name what he feels is his strongest possible lineup in this particular moment. That means Bernd Leno will return between the posts, Tim Ream in the back line, and Joao Palhinha in the middle of the park, but in the absence of Mitrovic and Kebano, Carlos Vinicius and Harry Wilson could keep their spots upfront.
Things seem to be going crazy when it comes to Chelsea and their transfer activities at the moment. The latest news is that they’ve agreed a deal to sign Joao Felix on loan from Atletico Madrid for the rest of the season, with their attacking department already stacked to the ceiling. Last summer, the Blues signed Raheem Sterling from Manchester City and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Barcelona, and brought back Armando Broja after his successful loan at Southampton. And before signing Felix, they completed a deal to sign David Datro Fofana from Molde, also an attacker.
Since the start of the summer of 2022, Chelsea are believed to have spent around £400 million on incoming transfers in all departments.
In September, they sacked their Champions League winning manager Thomas Tuchel and replaced him with Graham Potter who had done a fine job at Brighton and Hove Albion.
And after all that, Chelsea are currently in 10th place with 25 points and very little chance of qualifying for the Champions League. At this rate, getting into the Europa Conference League could prove challenging enough.
Chelsea faced Manchester City three times in their last seven matches in all competitions and lost all three. After they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the Etihad in the Carabao Cup, they lost 1-0 away to Newcastle, lost 1-0 away to Aston Villa, beat Bournemouth 2-0 at home, drew 1-1 away to Nottingham Forest, lost 0-1 at home to City and completed the triple by losing 4-0 at the Etihad in the FA Cup as well.
However, there is reportedly plenty of patience for Potter at Stamford Bridge, and it is believed that he had made the assurances of being given time to deliver results one of the main conditions for accepting the job in the first place.
To be fair to Potter, it seemed he had given up on the FA Cup when he named a rotated team to face City on Sunday. Defenders Lewis Hall, 18, Trevoh Chalobah (23) and Bashir Humphries (19) all started at the Etihad, as did Conor Gallagher in midfield. This time around, the likes of Marc Cucurella, Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta and Denis Zakaria are all expected to take their respective places in the lineup.
Kai Havertz, Aubemayang, Sterling, Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech will all be hoping to start upfront, and it will be interesting to see what Potter has in mind for that side of the game.
This will surely be a tough match for both sides. Fulham, without their top striker and facing a high-quality opponent, and Chelsea, on the back of some very questionable results.
Both sides will likely go for a patient approach, but Chelsea are more likely to emerge victorious from a match of few chances and few goals.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 11/10
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