Chelsea, as you may have heard, are having a tough year. Their incoming transfers outnumber their victories, by a good bit, two totals that together, really compound the issue of pressure for some positive results. Fulham have done incredibly well in their return to England’s top flight after emphatically winning the Championship a year ago, but they’ve been slipping a bit as of late; clearly, both teams really need a good performance to get back on track. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for an intriguing Premier League matchup
Chelsea vs. Fulham Odds
Chelsea are favored at home in this one, although not by a ton- they have odds of -160 to win. The draw is set at +310, while Fulham are a whopping +450. For a goalscoring line of 2.5, you have essentially even odds; the over is -115, while the under is -110.
Chelsea vs. Fulham Prediction & Pick
Interestingly, these teams played not too long ago, on January 12th, a bit of a scheduling wrinkle caused by the rescheduling of matches originally slated to be played around the time of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. That match, perhaps most notable for the Chelsea debut, and then ejection and suspension, of Atletico Madrid loanee João Félix; when the young Portuguese star was shown the red card the match was 1-1, and would eventually finish 2-1 in favor of Fulham with the man advantage. However, that was Fulham’s most recent win; they’ve lost a pair of 1-0 clashes with Newcastle and Spurs in the league, and they drew Championship side Sunderland in the FA cup, so it’s been awhile since they’ve beaten an 11-man, top-flight club.
Of course, Chelsea have struggled as well since the World Cup; they’ve won just twice, one of which was against relegation-bound Bournemouth, drawn with Nottingham Forest and Liverpool, neither of whom is having a great year, and suffered two shutout losses at the hands of Man City. Fulham are ahead of Chelsea by 2 points in the league, but have played an extra game, and their goal differential (+2) is also just a hair better than Chelsea’s (+1). These teams have had profoundly similar seasons, and are both in far from their best form; it might be an ugly match, but I can’t imagine it’ll be a boring one, it should stay close for all 90 minutes.
While a close match is entertaining, it’s also quite hard to pick! While I do think they should win this match, I’m not a huge fan of Chelsea being in the minus; they’ve not played well enough as of late to make me fully confident in that kind of investment. However, Fulham are by far the less talented side, and it’s not like they’re riding a hot streak themselves; I’m going to reluctantly have to pick Chelsea -160 as my moneyline projection for this one. The goalscoring total I do feel a bit better about; if Chelsea do fail to win, I would not imagine it’s because both teams fire in a litany of goals, it’s much more likely to be due to an outright failure to launch for Graham Potter’s squad. For this reason, I think that under 2.5 goals at -110 is the best value on the goalscoring line.
Chelsea Attack vs. Fulham Defense
The Blues of London are just the 13th-highest scoring Prem side this season with 22 in the bag thus far, while Fulham have allowed 30 league goals, the 7th-worst total in the league. Suffice it to say that this is a positional battle between a movable object and a stoppable force, and if either is able to buck its season-long trend and have a strong performance, it would give their team a major upper hand.
We’ve already talked about how new Blue João Felix won’t be playing, but let’s take a look at one winter arrival who will be on the pitch; Mykhaylo Mudryk, the Ukrainian sensation who didn’t score or assist in his debut off the bench against Liverpool, but thoroughly impressed all viewers in his stint of just over a half hour. I’d imagine he impressed coach Potter as well, so I’d expect him to get the start and play most of this match; he looks like he could be a major difference maker, and is one of the top reasons I am picking Chelsea to win.
With Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic both injured and likely out of the squad, the right wing spot across from Mudryk could be filled by a couple of players. Hakim Ziyech would be the natural pick, but he’s had a bit of a transfer saga; he was all set to head to Paris as a new PSG player, but the contracts were not processed in time so he was returned to Stamford Bridge.
I have absolutely no idea what this means for his standing with the team, or if he’s going to play, and if not, Chelsea will be fitting something of a square peg into a round hole; Mason Mount and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can both slot in there, but it’s neither player’s preferred position. Lastly, it’ll probably be leading scorer Kai Havertz in the middle at striker, but all eyes are likely to be on the newcomer; it’ll be on Mudryk to inject some life into what has often been a lethargic attack.
Fulham’s defense contains some names that will be familiar to fans of the United States Men’s National Team, or at least followed them at the Qatar World Cup in November. Centre-back Tim Ream actually leads all Fulham players in minutes played in the league, as he continues his late-career renaissance with another nice season. At left back is another American, Antonee Robinson, who had been linked with Manchester City in the waning moments of the transfer window, but ended up staying put. Dutchman Kenny Tete has been a strong contributor at right back, while the final central defense spot will be filled by one of Issa Diop or Tosin Adarabioyo, both of whom have had decent if unspectacular Premier League seasons.
In the net is Bernd Leno, having found a new home and starting job after a swift fall from grace at Arsenal, and it’s nice to see him putting together a pretty nice campaign for a club like Fulham. It’s a pretty straightforward group, a nice core of guys who have played together a bunch this season. They have the ability to play very well, and if Mudryk doesn’t go too insane, a mediocre and disjointed Chelsea front line could be just what the doctor ordered.
The Midfield Battle
While it’s far from a perfect measure when it comes to quality of midfield play, it’s interesting to note that the Prem possession percentage leaderboard sees Chelsea (58.2%) behind only Liverpool and Man City, while Fulham (47.2%) sit down in 13th. This provides the Blues with probably their biggest on-field advantage in this one, and a clear route to winning the match; possess the football.
If we’re going to discuss Chelsea’s midfield, there’s really only one place to start; the somewhat shocking transfer of Jorginho to crosstown rivals Arsenal. The Italian midfielder is strangely polarizing and not at his best right now, but he’s undoubtedly a major loss; Marc Cucurella got caught in 4k saying he was the cleverest football mind on the squad, just before learning about his departure. With Jorginho out of the picture, Mateo Kovacic, for one, should get in. That being said, he seems to have fallen out of the gaffer’s favor despite an excellent World Cup. The Croatian legend was left out of not just the lineup but the squad entirely against Liverpool- I couldn’t tell you why, but I can’t tell you why Graham Potter does just about anything. Conor Gallagher did get the start against Liverpool, he’s been just about fine for Chelsea this year, but I’m fairly confident he’s going to get the start against Fulham. Youngster Lewis Hall has been picking up some minutes, and not doing too badly with them, especially for a player of his age; I could see him starting or playing a good amount of bench minutes in this one.
Lastly, as we did in previewing the Liverpool game, let’s talk about N’Golo Kanté. He wasn’t in the squad against Liverpool, but seems to be extremely close to a return from injury. If he’s back and able to meaningfully contribute, it could be a huge game-changer; I think at this point, we all know how good he can be when he’s healthy.
Fulham’s midfield, like its defensive group, is fairly straightforward, and less confusing than Chelsea’s. Portugal’s João Palinha and Andreas Pereira of Brazil have been mainstays in the lineup, and have contributed across all levels of the game. Pereira is the team’s assists leader in the league with 5, while Palinha has chipped in 3 goals despite often playing in a low-lying position. Harrison Reed is the third starter and has struggled a bit in jumping back to the Prem, he’s been more or less tied to a defensive midfield role. Lastly, we have Tom Cairney, a Scotsman who has the curious distinction of having appeared in every single league game thus far, but only been in the starting XI once, so I’d guess that you’ll see him come in off of the bench.
This group has not done the best job possessing the ball or holding up play, but they’ve been able to provide plenty of chances to the team’s forwards, namely Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has continued the excellent form he displayed a year ago (although obviously with fewer goals than he scored in the lower tier). They probably won’t buck their possession trend against Chelsea, but if they play opportunistic football, they could create the chances necessary to split the points on the road, or even pick up a big win.