David Luiz set for first start as Jose Bosingwa misses Craven Cottage trip...
After enduring a topsy-turvy start to his Fulham career, Mark Hughes has admitted that he always believed the second half of the campaign would be the time his team would shine.
Speaking to the club’s website ahead of Monday’s game, he said: "I've always stated that the second half of the season would be better for us
"The results are backing up the performances we've been producing. It was always going to change because we were getting players back and Dembele and Johnson are playing really well for us at the moment.
"We've got a real cutting edge now which we were lacking earlier in the season and as a consequence we're winning more games. Confidence is high at the moment and given the opposition on Monday I would suggest we're in as good a state as we could possibly be, confidence wise, going into the game.”
Ancelotti Sings Luiz’s Praises
Carlo Ancelotti sang the praises of new boy David Luiz ahead of his side’s derby date at Craven Cottage, and suggested he could become world class.
Speaking to the club’s website ahead of the game, he said: “I think he will be one of the best defenders in the world in the future. He is young but has fantastic experience; he played in Benfica and the Champions League. We are upset because he cannot play in the Champions League for us but he can show his quality in the Premier League and FA Cup.
"With David Luiz we can have more rotation and maintain freshness in the other defenders. Now we have a lot of opportunity to choose players, give someone a rest and keep every defender fit for the rest of the season.”
A One-Sided Rivalry
Fulham and Chelsea are two of the closest Premier League teams in terms of distance with Craven Cottage and Stamford Bridge just two miles away from each other; but in footballing terms these two clubs have seldom been close.
In fact Chelsea have lost just once in their last 28 league and cup meetings with their London rivals, which came in 2006 when Fulham triumphed 1-0 courtesy of a Luis Boa Morte strike.
But Mark Hughes’ side are in terrific form at their home ground, winning their last three games without conceding a goal, while Carlo Ancelotti’s side have been less than impressive away from Stamford Bridge, failing to keep a clean sheet in all but one of their last nine away matches - though they have won their last two matches, scoring eight goals in the process.
Fulham striker Bobby Zamora made a scoring comeback for the club’s reserves in their midweek game against Brighton as he played 45 minutes on his return from injury. However Monday’s game comes too soon for the striker who will not feature for Fulham against their local rivals as he continues his drive for full fitness following recovery from a broken leg.
Meanwhile manager Mark Hughes must also do without the services of Dickson Etuhu, who is out with a hamstring injury, and also on-loan Chelsea attacker Gael Kakuta, who is ineligible to face his parent club.
However, there will be several familiar faces in the Fulham squad for Chelsea fans, as old boys Steve Sidwell, Damien Duff and Eidur Gudjohnsen could all come up against their former club along with manager Hughes who won an FA Cup with the Blues.
Possible starting XI: Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Baird; Sidwell, Murphy, Duff; Dempsey; Dembele, Johnson.
Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that £21.3 million defender David Luiz will make his first start for the Blues following his January move from Benfica.
However, defender Jose Bosingwa picked up a knock while on international duty with Portugal and misses out, with Branislav Ivanovic likely to move to right-back as Ancelotti otherwise has a full squad to choose from bar long-term absentees Alex, Yossi Benayoun and Yuri Zhirkov.
£50m man Fernando Torres is likely to start alongside Didier Drogba with Ancelotti looking to move to a two-man forward line after the team struggled for fluidity with a three-man strike force against Liverpool.
Speaking to the club’s website ahead of the game, Ancelotti said: “My aim as a coach is to try to find the better solution with the players we have in the squad. I think Drogba and Torres are fantastic strikers and we have to try everything to put them together to play.
“There is not a sacrifice, if sometimes I choose one player or another, because in the future we will have very important games and I think rotation of the players will be very important.”
Possible starting XI: Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Luiz, Cole; Essien, Mikel, Lampard, Malouda; Drogba, Torres.