The first true London derby of the new Premier League season gets underway on Sunday...
Kick-Off: Sunday, August 23, 2009, 16.00 BST.
Craven Cottage, west London, SW6
Craven Cottage, west London, SW6
Carlo Ancelotti may be new to English football, but there is perhaps no excuse for declaring that Sunday's fixture against hated neighbours Fulham was not the real derby for Chelsea - that title was reserved for their clash against north London club Tottenham Hotspur, opined the Italian trophy-magnet.
"I know the history of this club and the real derby for Chelsea is against Tottenham," the former AC Milan manager said to assembled journalists during yesterday's pre-match press conference.
Captain John Terry and Frank Lampard may feel differently, for the two Chelsea men, aside from the top of the table clashes, this is the earmarked tie, upon the release of the fixture lists.
The pair have often stated in the past that they feel it is their duty to inform the imported foreign lads about what makes this tie special (a history dating back to 1904, a stadium called Stamford Bridge being offered to Fulham first and the consequent squabbles for tactical superiority and local pride). Perhaps it would be in the team's best interests if Terry and Lampard had a quiet word with their new manager too.
Not many Premier League managers will be aware of Ancelotti, team-to-team, face-to-face and toe-to-toe in the dug-out, aside from Arsene Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez's continental excursions, but Roy Hodgson has fought Carlo domestically, in Italy's Serie A. The Englishman has been victorious once, while Ancelotti triumphed twice.
An interesting tactical battle could erupt on Sunday afternoon, as Ancelotti has conceded that Lampard's talents have been wasted 'in the hole' and the Italian could shunt, in Guus Hiddink's words, the "complete box to box midfielder" out wide on the left in his famous diamond midfield. Deco could, therefore, be selected behind the striking pair, and the Portuguese playmaker's ability to pick a pass will be tested by Hodgson's rearguard, who have proved to be an extremely organised unit.
Last Five Results
Aug 20: Fulham 3-1 Amkar Perm
Aug 15: Portsmouth 0-1 Fulham
Aug 6: Fulham 3-0 FK Vetra
July 30: FK Vetra 0-3 Fulham
July 25: Peterborough 3-3 Fulham
Aug 18: Sunderland 1-3 Chelsea
Aug 15: Chelsea 2-1 Hull City
Aug 7: Chelsea 2-2 Manchester United
Aug 1: Reading 2-2 Chelsea
July 27: Chelsea 2-0 Club America
New signings Damien Duff and Jonathan Greening could be set to make their debuts. Dickson Etuhu is a doubt, so too are Erik Nevland and Andrew Johnson.
Possible Starting XI: Schwarzer, Painstil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Gera, Greening, Murphy, Duff, Johnson, Zomora.
Ricardo Carvalho will continue in place of the crocked Alex who is nursing a groin injury. Juliano Belletti has an ankle issue, while Joe Cole, Paulo Ferreira and summer recruit Yuri Zhirkov are all still experiencing knee problems.
Possible Starting XI: Cech, Bosingwa, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole, Mikel, Essien, Lampard, Deco, Anelka, Drogba.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
If Ancelotti, as expected, continues with his diamond, then Michael Essien may be played on the right. With this in mind, together with Jose Bosingwa's penchant for forward runs, Fulham would do well to utilise their left flank. Paul Konchesky and recent import Damien Duff, if they build up a good understanding, could pose many problems for the aforementioned Chelsea men.
One player to seemingly slot into Chelsea's set-up last season with a relative ease was Deco, but the Portuguese - who had only played in warmer climes - witnessed a dip in form around Christmas and beyond and also had injury trouble. The two-time Champions League winner, though, has shown at the start of this season that he is still a playmaking threat, and should he start then Fulham's backline will need to be at their stifling best.
The Blues have come from behind twice in two games to take the win. They look steady, and despite the Cottagers good form, I expect them to take this one, too. Didier Drogba has been in good form, and I imagine he will provide one of the goals.
Fulham 1-3 Chelsea
Alan Dawson, Goal.com