Opposition Focus: Chelsea


Image: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

In this weeks Opposition Focus, Matt Wiggins spoke to Shola from Talk Chelsea to get a Blues perspective ahead of today’s West London derby…

Fulham vs Chelsea, what comes to mind when you think of this fixture from years gone by?

Immediately I think of a huge London derby. The proximity of the two clubs makes it even more interesting. I am not an English native, but I can imagine that  the two fan bases are not the best of mates. From recent years I mostly recall Chelsea getting the better of Fulham, but the encounters were never straightforward. Most of the time it took a moment of brilliance to break the deadlock. 

Frank Lampard is in his second season as manager now. How would you describe his reign as boss so far?

So far I think he has been true to himself. Some of his managerial decisions are very questionable, but he has stuck to his morals – which I respect. Asking whether or not he is the right man for the job, is not a question that can be answered after two seasons. He was always going to need time because of his very little managerial experience. Whether or not Chelsea will give him time is the real question. However, as a Chelsea supporter, it has been nice to have a club legend managing our younger generation. When he was appointed I think it truly signified Chelsea’s intentions to rebuild. 

Lampard gained a lot of plaudits last season for his faith in the youth system, with the likes of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham being key. How does this season’s squad compare to the one that existed under a transfer ban?

This squad is notably more expensive, there is no hiding that. I also believe that we have more talent than last year. The new signings bring a different quality to the players we currently have, but I also believe our younger players from last season have benefited from last season’s campaign. This season’s squad has younger attacking talent, but I think our element of surprise has disappeared. Last season the team looked energetic and free on the pitch, something Chelsea isn’t always known for. This season we look very predictable and rely too much on patterns of play. So if you were to ask me what the major difference is between the two teams, I would say that this year’s team is playing with fear, because of the expectations that fans and media have placed on them. 

At the time of writing Chelsea sit 9th on 26 points and are 10 points off Manchester United at the top. What are your hopes for the season and where do you think you’ll finish?

Our performances last season gave me hope of a very good 2020/2021 campaign. However, our recent dip in form cannot be ignored. I still believe that this season’s title race is wide open, but it is very unpredictable. Manchester United looked on the brink of turmoil at the beginning of the season and are now on top. We were on top at one point and are now 9th. I still believe we will finish much higher than we are at the moment, but my ambitions of winning the league have been cooled slightly. It is still possible, but our performances on the field have to improve. For the time being, I have us finishing 4th. 

Olivier Giroud is still a clinical striker even as he hits his mid 30s. Why do you think he’s not getting as much game time as he perhaps deserves?

I believe it is down to Lampard wanting to justify his big-money signings. I believe Werner should be last in the pecking order. Werner may have the greatest potential of our three strikers, but he is also the most out of form. Lampard probably realizes that Giroud isn’t the long term solution for Chelsea and treats him as so. It’s very unfair, but Lampard has the authority to make these decisions. Only time will tell if he will come to regret them.

Timo Werner was seen as a big signing this summer from RB Leipzig but doesn’t seem to have quite lived up to expectations. Where is it going wrong for him at the moment?

From his performances this season, the desire and work rate is still evident m. His goal-scoring has been below par though. However, Lampard has not done him any favors by starting him so consistently, and consistently out of position. He needs a break and some time to reflect on his performances. At the moment, he is void of confidence and his performances of late are reflective of that.

Who’s one Chelsea player that Fulham will need to watch out for at the Cottage this weekend?

Callum Hudson-Odoi is the player to watch for me. He is an exceptional player with fantastic ability. He brings energy and excitement to our team whenever he plays. I would keep an eye on him during our encounter this weekend.

Are there any Fulham players that you think can threaten Chelsea on Saturday?

Ademola Lookman seems like a very talented player. His assist against Spurs was fantastic as well. He will be a threat to us this weekend. Bobby Decordova-Reid leads your team in scoring so he is an obvious threat to us too.

There are a number of players to have played for both sides. Who would you say is the best player to have played for both the Cottagers and Chelsea?

I have to admit that I’m quite young, so my opinion may reflect my age. I do remember Damian Duff having great success for Chelsea and then helping Fulham to reach the UEFA Europa League final. However, I would name Andre Schurrle as the best player to play for both teams. I loved the way he played and his finishing ability was top class. He also had huge success at Chelsea and won the World Cup with Germany. 

What are your Top 4 and Bottom 3 predictions?

In no particular order…

Top 4: Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Manchester United.

Bottom 3: Sheffield United, West Brom, and Brighton, again in no particular order. 

Finally, how do you see the game panning out and what do you think the score will be?

The possession and pass completion stats will likely favor Chelsea. With Fulham coming off a high-intensity game with Spurs, you will probably want to stay compact and not press a lot. This now leaves Chelsea with the responsibility to create chances, something we have struggled with of late. The return of Hakim Ziyech and Reece James is a huge plus, they should help with this issue. Fulham however has shown resilience and the ability to counter-attack with pace and power. I saw your recent performances against Liverpool and Tottenham and you pose a genuine threat on the break. Furthermore, there is the potential of it being a tight affair, but I still predict Chelsea to come out on top, 3-1, in a must-win game for the Blues.

Thanks to Shola from Talk Chelsea for answering our questions.