We preview the Premier League battle between Chelsea and Fulham, including our pre-match prediction for this west London derby at Stamford Bridge on Friday.
The Quick Hits
- Chelsea set for 150th victory in Premier League London derbies.
- A third successive Premier League defeat for Marco Silva’s side.
- Can Aleksandar Mitrovic prove the difference after missing the reverse fixture?
Lucky number 38. At least that’s what Fulham fans will be hoping when they take on Chelsea in the Premier League under the Friday night lights.
Their 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture last month (yes, this is a ridiculously quick turnaround) has buoyed hopes of a first-ever league double over their London rivals at the 38th time of asking. It hasn’t been quite as long since they did it in the Premier League against a fellow side from the capital (Queens Park Rangers in the 2011-2012 season) but these would be all welcome records that Marco Silva’s side would like to dismiss.
As you can imagine with such a barren run against the Blues, Chelsea’s record against the Cottagers is impressive. Unbeaten in their last 17 home league games, with that defeat coming in November 1979, their last three home games against Fulham have ended with 2-0 victories, although another win here would be the first time they’ve won four in a row against their rivals.
But that’s all history. The present day is rather different with Fulham sitting above Chelsea in the Premier League table. And although some of the underlying metrics suggest that might not be sustainable for the men from Craven Cottage, another victory here and dreams of European qualification will only elevate a little bit more.
Fulham 2-1 Chelsea: 12 January 2023
The first game between these two sides in the 2022-2023 season is what is making Friday’s game unmissable.
Joao Felix’s sending off on his debut (making him the 22nd player to see red on their Premier League bow) turned the game in Fulham’s favourite after former Blue Willian and Kalidou Koulibaly had cancelled each other’s efforts out.
With top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic suspended for the game, there had been concerns about where Marco Silva would turn to for goals, but Carlos Vinicius headed in a 72nd-minuter winner to delight of those in the white half of SW6.
The victory meant Fulham had won four consecutive top-flight matches for the first time since April 1966 and made them the first newly promoted club to have as many as 31 points after 19 Premier League games since Wigan Athletic (2005-2006).
The trouble for Fulham is they are still on 31 points two games later. Back-to-back 1-0 defeats to Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur have seen them drop down to seventh in the table. But since the World Cup break only Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City (13) have secured more points than Silva’s side (12), albeit having played a game more than the north London side.
This run of form has been built upon a solid defence that has conceded just four goals, bettered by just Brentford (three) and Newcastle United (none) with both sides having played a game fewer.
The fear is whether their underlying metrics will, eventually, catch up with them. Despite conceding just four times since resumption after the World Cup, the quality of Fulham’s chances conceded comes in at 8.4 xG, suggesting they ‘ought’ to have shipped over double.
Fulham have now conceded 37.0 xG in total this season, which is the highest figure in the league, ahead of even Everton (34.2) and Bournemouth (33.5), two strugglers at the bottom of the table, both of whom have kept one fewer clean sheet than Fulham’s five.
Either way, Fulham’s away form has been great recently, winning four of their last seven such Premier League games, which is as many as in their previous 43 in the competition. It’s just one short of their previous season best tally, when they won five of their 19 games on the road in the 2003-2004 season.
There has been one other team to concede exactly four goals since Qatar 2022 – and that’s Chelsea. But whilst those of a Fulham persuasion are full of joy, Graham Potter’s world is slightly darker. Especially now he’s facing a side that he has never beaten as a manager in the Premier League (D2, L2).
Just two victories have come in their last 11 league games (D4, L5), with the seemingly shot-shy side struggling to make an impact in front of goal. Those glorious first three Premier League games in charge for Potter seem a distance away now, with his side having scored as many goals in those as they have in their last 11 (seven).
Granted not all of this is down to him, but the Blues have had 232 shots in their Premier League games so far this season, and their average of 11.6 per game is the lowest on record, so far, in a single campaign since 1997-1998 season.
To nullify that issue they have proved themselves a solid defensive unit at times. They remain the only side yet to concede a first half goal at home in the Premier League this season. It’s just that they have shipped seven in the following 45 and with Fulham ranked fourth overall for second half goals this season (20), it will be something that Potter will be wary of.
Players To Watch
Chelsea – Mykhailo Mudryk
There wasn’t much to write about following Chelsea’s goalless draw against Liverpool last time out in the Premier League (trust me, I was working the game for our social channels and the struggle was real) but perhaps the 35-minute cameo from the £88.5 million-pound man got slightly overlooked in some quarters. Ok, by me.
Mykhailo Mudryk’s time as Chelsea’s current BIG money signing doesn’t appear to be lasting long, but his effect on the side during his time on the pitch at Anfield suggests that Blues fans can rest assure this might be one of their best investments for a while.
Becoming the second Ukrainian to play for Chelsea in the Premier League, after Andriy Shevchenko, he recorded the fastest speed in the competition this season when he hit a top speed of 36.63 km/h. Combine that with the 26 open-play touches he had against Liverpool and the prospect of him playing an increased role in the side as the weeks go on is fascinating, especially given he has had an additional week of training following the Blues FA Cup exit earlier this season to Man City.
Mudryk might have to get used to a rotational role in Potter’s squad though. Chelsea have used the most players of any Premier League team this season (29), which has included 73 changes to their starting XI, 18 more than any other side. But with talent such as Raheem Sterling, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and, when fit, Christian Pulisic, to fit into the attacking lines, you can hardly blame Potter for the selection shuffling in trying to get the misfiring Blues going.
Fulham – Aleksandar Mitrovic
In complete contrast, so long as he’s 1) fit and 2) not suspended, Aleksandar Mitrovic is probably the first name on Marco Silva’s team-sheet.
The Serbian leads the way for Fulham when it comes to a host of attacking metrics: goals (11), shots on target (28), shots off target (31) and even some slightly more surprising ones such as fouls won (29) and dribbles attempted (34).
The shot map above tells you where Mitrovic is at his most lethal and it’s no surprise that he has also been the recipient of more open-play crosses than any other player in the Premier League this season (27). As a result of his, João Palhinha, Andreas Pereira and Neeskens Kebano’s efforts, the Cottagers have scored a league-high 11 goals from such phases of play. Chelsea, meanwhile, have seen six of the 21 goals they’ve conceded this season come from crosses so it’s maybe something Fulham will be able to take advantage of on Friday.
But, apart from the Willian and Carlos Vinicius goals in the reverse fixture, Dan James is the only other member of the Fulham squad to score against Chelsea in the Premier League. The pressure is on Mitrovic to add himself to that roll call.
Chelsea vs Fulham Prediction
Despite all of this, our supercomputer is still backing Chelsea to take the spoils in the Friday night kick-off at Stamford Bridge.
A victory will bring up their 150th Premier League victory in a London derby, and they’ll become the first team to reach that landmark. At 52.7%, the Blues have the highest win rate in such matches whilst Fulham have the lowest (19.3%).
You’ve seen how the Opta supercomputer thinks the match will play out this weekend, but what do you think will happen? Let us know…
Who do you think will win this Friday night Premier League clash?— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) February 2, 2023
Potter might be helped with some key team news as some of his key players are set to return to action in this league match. Reece James and Ben Chilwell might start against Fulham, although it might come just too soon for Wesley Fofana to make his long-awaited return. Trevor Chalobah’s substitution against Liverpool has been confirmed as being down to cramp with him expected to play alongside Cesar Azpilicueta in defence.
Midfielder N’Golo Kante still appears to be a month away from making his comeback though – although Jorginho ended up being the only departure on transfer deadline day with Hakim Ziyech’s expected move to PSG curtailed. Armando Broja and Eduardo Mendy remain long-term absentees through injury.
Our supercomputer isn’t feeling too high on the Blues hopes of European football next season though, giving them just a 5.1% chance of finishing in the EPL’s top four and securing a Champions League place, which feels more than generous considering seven other teams are being given more of a chance of doing so. More concerning will be their 8.8% chance of qualifying for the Europa League, less of a chance than Liverpool, Newcastle, Spurs, Brighton and Manchester United. Victory against Fulham is a must to solidify those chances.