After exiting the FA Cup at the semifinal stage to Manchester City on Sunday, Chelsea return to trying to secure a Champions League place for next season when they take on west London rivals Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Following Arsenal’s draw with Everton on Tuesday, Chelsea can move back into third place in the Premier League with a win and would still have a game in hand on the Gunners.
Despite their FA defeat, Chelsea’s hectic schedule shows little sign of relenting with the club still also involved in the semifinals of the Europa League. Manager Rafael Benitez has continued to stress the importance of squad rotation to keep his players sharp.
“We have had a lot of games and still have another nine or 10 to play,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official Web site. “All the players are important and will be important until the end. We have to manage the squad and we will do it until the end.
“Managing the squad is part of our job and you can see that still we have some legs and determination to win games.”
Benitez confirmed that neither Ashley Cole nor Gary Cahill are yet ready for a return from injury.
Having all-but secured their Premier League status for another season at the beginning of the month, Fulham have taken just a point from two matches since -- in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa. With the team currently sitting 10th in the table, manager Martin Jol will want to ensure a top-half finish and feels that his squad should have ample motivation against local rivals Chelsea.
“We have players here like Mark Schwarzer, Brede Hangeland, and Aaron Hughes, who have been here for years and they know how important it is,” he said, according to Fulham’s official website.
Jol will be without former Chelsea winger Damien Duff, who has a thigh strain, while midfielder Steve Sidwell will complete his three-match suspension.
D: Riether, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise
M: Richardson, Enoh, Karagounis, Emmanuelson
D: Azpilicueta, Terry, Luiz, Bertrand
M: Mikel, Lampard
Moses, Mata, Hazard
Prediction: Fulham have an awful record against Chelsea, having won just once in their last 32 meetings. The last four matches between the two sides have ended in draws, however, and, with Chelsea not having won away from home in the league since January, that streak could continue.
Chelsea’s heavy workload appeared to catch up with them against Manchester City and it will be interesting to see how Benitez changes his side for the trip to Fulham. Jol’s side, though, aren’t one that relies on a high tempo and that should suit Chelsea if there is weariness in the legs.
With Chelsea also in greater need of the points they could well just edge the contest.
Fulham 1-2 Chelsea
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.