There are far easier settings than a west London derby to try to end a dismal run of form in the Premier League. Yet Chelsea can’t be choosy – and neither can Graham Potter. So no matter the performance, victory is imperative against Fulham this evening at Craven Cottage.
Chelsea head into the match 10th in the top-flight table and three points behind Marco Silva’s side, who spent last season in the Championship. It is a situation that few could have envisaged at the start of the campaign.
“They’ll play with courage and personality,” Potter explained ahead of the game. “The points they have are not an accident, they’ve earned them and deserve them. They’re up there on merit and they’ve got the points on merit. It’s a tough game, a London derby, and we’re looking forward to it.
READ MOREEvery word Graham Potter said on Chelsea form, Joao Felix signing, Pulisic, Sterling, Aubameyang
“He’s [Silva’s] done a fantastic job. They won promotion and they had the belief to build on that. They’re really well organised both in and out of possession, know exactly what they’re doing, and are a tough team to play against.”
What has underpinned Chelsea’s poor run of form is the number of injuries Potter has had to contend with. Against Fulham, there will be no Edouard Mendy, Reece James, Wesley Fofana or Ben Chilwell. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and N’Golo Kante are also ruled out. While the forward line has also been hit with Raheem Sterling, Christian Pulisic and Armando Broja sidelined.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is available for selection after overcoming a back injury and Chelsea will be hoping to be able to call upon new signing Joao Felix, who completed a loan move from Atletico Madrid yesterday. The Portuguese star will spend the remainder of the campaign at Stamford Bridge and trained with his new teammates at Cobham.
“He’s been training regularly and had game time, so from a physical perspective he can go in,” said Potter in his pre-match press conference. “It’s always a bit of an unknown going from one country to another and there is always an adaptation period, but how long that takes goes from player to player.
“I see a confident person, a confident player, a player that can impose himself on the game. His personality and attributes are that he can take the ball in tight spaces, make the difference in the final third, and play passes. I think he compliments what we have as well so I’m looking forward to working with him.”
With Mendy ruled out after undergoing surgery last week on a fractured finger, Kepa Arrizabalaga will continue in goal for the Blues. And if Potter continues with the back-four system he has used since the World Cup break, Cesar Azpilicueta is almost guaranteed to come in at right-back.
Kalidou Koulibaly has struggled for form since his arrival from Napoli in the summer and the Senegal international may step out of the side for Trevoh Chalobah, who has impressed this term. Thiago Silva would then take up the other centre-back role alongside Marc Cucurella.
Denis Zakaria has quickly established himself as a key figure in the side and will return to the starting XI. Mateo Kovacic should keep his place and the midfield may be completed by Jorginho.
There are very few options to choose from in the frontline with Felix not yet attuned to Potter’s tactical demands and David Datro Fofana very raw. That will likely see Hakim Ziyech start once more while Kai Havertz may also get another opportunity to lead the attack. Mason Mount could complete the front three ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Predicted Chelsea side: Kepa; Azpilicueta, Chalobah, Silva, Cucurella; Jorginho, Kovacic, Zakaria; Ziyech, Havertz, Mount.