Fulham – Chelsea (Premier League)
Saturday, at Craven Cottage, will be Felix Magath’s first take as Fulham’s boss, the challenge as tough as they come. To go head-to-head with the leaders of the Premier League, a side that remains unbeaten for 12 division ties. José Mourinho will be pushing his men to go that extra mile they failed to in the Champions League relative success. To win at the highest level is not enough to be superior, you have to kill the opposition’s hopes as soon as possible. First against last, this could get messy!
After 75 days in charge René Meulensteen was asked to step aside and give way to Felix “Saddam” Magath, a “boot camp” extremist. Sitting at the bottom of the table with 21 points gathered in 27 matches, that just may be what the Cottagers desperately need. Meulensteen took over from Martin Jol in the beginning of December and was in charge for 13 League ties, taking a mere 10 points from 39 possible. Magath is renowned as ferocious disciplinarian, a bully in layman’s terms, and his approach has worked before in teams facing relegation. He also won the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, twice, and Wolsfburg, where he became a symbol as a player. He has the pedigree but his methods are so intense apparently they can only be stand for short periods, then mutiny subsides.
The Cottagers haven’t win a division game since New Years Day, notching 2 draws in 7 fixtures. Felix Magath has is work cut out for him, let’s see if Fulham can survive in the process. Matthew Briggs will be the Dutchman’s only fitness doubt. Kostas Mitroglou is definitely out.
Probable line-up: Stekelenburg – Riether, Hangeland, Heitinga, Riise – Sidwell, Parker – Dejagah, Holtby, Richardson – Mitroglou.
Chelsea secured the only positive result for a Premier League club in the first leg of the last 16 of Champions League. The Blues traveled to Istanbul to face Roberto Mancini’s Galatasaray and came out with 1 point and, more important, 1 goal away. The way the match went you could say they lost an excellent opportunity to really get ahead, had Mourinho’s men showed the killer instinct to kill the game when they had the chance, and they had several in the first and the beginning of the second-half. It’s nothing new, as the Portuguese manager stated it is in character for Chelsea side this season. They do everything right but they lack that resolve to finish the deal when they are ahead, the last movement, the final pass, misses the mark and they are left struggling to the very last minute for a result that should have been theirs. It has cost them points in the League and will probably hurt them in this stage of the European competition. The Blues came out of the blocks steaming and 9′ in Fernando Torres and for the first half-hour the Londoners had total control of the pitch. Willian and Torres had close calls to make the second but Muslera got in the way. And then Mancini made a move than shifted the course of the tie. Sacrificing winger Izet Hajrovic for defensive midfielder Yekta Kurtulus he provide an unstable squad with the balance they needed.
Mourinho’s side is atop of the Premier League, with 60 points, and have not lose a division fixture since early December. But Arsenal (59) and City (57) are right behind, the Manchester boys one game shorter. No margin for errors, least of all with the struggling squads.
Marco van Ginkel continues Chelsea’s only confirmed casualty. David Luiz’s fitness is doutbful.
Probable line-up: Cech – Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta – Matic, Ramires – Willian, Oscar, Hazard – Eto’o.
Chelsea returns to England to face the bottom squad, a desperate one for points, with a controversial new manager eager to make a stand. Halting the leaders of the Premier League would do just that.