Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Fulham

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  • Fulham have only beaten Chelsea once in 34 league and cup meetings, a run spanning 34 years
  • Four of the last five games between these two have ended in draws
  • Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho has never lost a Premier League home game (W48, D14)

What a difference a week makes.

Last Saturday everyone was praising Jose Mourinho’s solid, yet unspectacular, return to the hot seat at Stamford Bridge. But following a 1-0 defeat to Everton and a shock 2-1 home loss to FC Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday, the Blues are under pressure to pull out a win against neighbors Fulham.

On Saturday (12:30pm ET, live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) the Cottagers make the short trip up the Kings Road to face West London rivals Chelsea, as just two miles separate the two capital clubs. But don’t be fooled by their close proximity, there will be no neighborly love shown on Saturday afternoon at the Bridge.

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It has been a bad week for Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side. Can he turn things around against West London rivals Fulham?

As mentioned, Chelsea desperately want to get back to winning ways, while Fulham are also struggling after gaining just one point since the opening day of the season. And Martin Jol’s men have a terrible record against Chelsea.

The last time Fulham beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Gordon Davies and John Beck scored the goals in a 2-0 victory in 1979. And the last time Chelsea have tasted defeat against Fulham was back in 2006 when Luis Boa Morte scored the lone goal in 1-0 win.

As for team news, Mourinho has some really interesting decisions to make following the disappointing midweek defeat to Basel. Captain John Terry could return to defense after injury, while Fernando Torres and Juan Mata may also come back into the lineup after being left out.

Injury-wise, Fulham are still without Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg following his bad opening-day injury, while Bryan Ruiz, Aaron Hughes and Matthew Briggs are also missing. However, the big concern for the Cottagers is star striker Dimitar Berbatov, who will undergo a late fitness test to try and make the West London Derby.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho on facing Fulham: “I think they have a very experienced team, with players completely adapted to the Premier League. They know everything about Derbies and everything about the Premier League, a midfield with Parker and Sidwell is a great example of their experience at this level. I think Fulham are a difficult opponent, it is going to be a difficult match for us. We need points, so do they. Between the needs of the two teams, plus the local derby, I think it will be a proper Premier League match.”

Martin Jol on Chelsea’s struggles: “They will be a little insecure. That is always an advantage, but you never know, maybe they are so fired up to win this third game in the week, they will probably be more motivated than before. So that maybe is a disadvantage for us. They lost against Everton and against Basel, who is a very good team, so I don’t think they would like to lose a third match in six or seven days.”

Prediction

This one will be a nervy encounter at Stamford Bridge in the late game on Saturday, and only an early goal will help settle the home crowd. After two-straight defeats, surely Mourinho’s “young-eggs” will not have yolk all over their faces when the final whistle blows against rivals Fulham. I expect to see plenty of changes for Chelsea, with Fernando Torres and Juan Mata coming into the lineup as the ‘Special One’ is still figuring out his best XI. He has to figure it out quickly, as Chelsea have made their worst start to a PL season since 2003 with seven points from four games. Regardless of their problems, I see Chelsea winning this game…. just.

Chris Wondolowski thankful for call-up to national team

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Chris Wondolowski didn’t have to travel far when he got the call to join the U.S. national team ahead of two key World Cup qualifiers.

The U.S. will be playing Honduras on the home field of Wondolowski’s San Jose Earthquakes on Friday night as the Americans look to bounce back from an 0-2 start in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

“To represent your country is the ultimate pinnacle, especially as a soccer player in a World Cup qualifier in your hometown,” Wondolowski said. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. I’m very excited. I’m very honored to be a part of such a big game. It’s not necessarily the place we want to be, but it is an exciting place for U.S. Soccer right now. We have meaningful games in meaningful places.”

And Wondolowski might need to play a meaningful role with the U.S. short-handed at forward headed into the games against Honduras and then at Panama next Tuesday. Bobby Wood is out with a back injury, Jordan Morris has not practiced this week because of an ankle injury and Clint Dempsey said he might not be able to play 90 minutes after missing the final four months of the 2016 MLS season due to an irregular heartbeat.

That leaves just Jozy Altidore and Wondolowski as the only healthy forwards. The 34-year-old Wondolowski didn’t know whether he would get another chance at World Cup qualifying.

He didn’t get his first call-up to the national team until six years ago despite a prolific MLS career. He has played 35 international games, including two at the 2014 World Cup.

Wondolowski has scored 11 goals for the national team, but is most remembered for one he missed in the round of 16 against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup. With the game scoreless late in regulation, he had a chance at a game-winner but shot over the crossbar from inside the 6-yard box.

The U.S. lost 2-1 in overtime and Wondolowski has not played in any 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

“If you play well at the club level, you figure you can get a chance,” he said. “You never know if that will keep happening. You always have to cherish the times that you have.”

Wondolowski has done that by scoring 28 goals the past two seasons for the Earthquakes and one so far this season in three games. He doesn’t know if he will get a chance to play but has already been a valuable resource for his familiarity with the home stadium.

“They’ve been asking me about the field, the atmosphere,” he said. “I don’t have enough adjectives to tell them how great it is. The atmosphere you feel, the presence that the crowd provides throughout the game will lift you. It’s an amazing pitch, amazing fans, and hopefully we can get three points.”

After the losses to Mexico and Costa Rica last November that led to coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s firing and the return of Bruce Arena as coach, the U.S. has little margin for error.

The Americans are in last place in the six-team group that will send the top three teams to Russia in 2018 and the fourth into a playoff with the fifth-place nation from Asia.

“Some games you go in and you’re trying to implement things and work on your style,” Wondolowski said. “We’re worried about three points. Pretty, ugly, it doesn’t matter. Just grind it out any way possible.”

Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson dreams of “big club”

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This will unnerve Swansea fans.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Gyfli Sigurdsson, 27, has scored eight goals and assisted 11 times in the Premier League as the Swans have dragged themselves out of the relegation zone.

Swansea boss Paul Clement recently stated that Sigurdsson has the same ability of players he’s coached at Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid and with his quality from set pieces, finishing in and around the box and dictating play, it’s hard to argue with that.

Speaking to Goal.com, Sigurdsson revealed that Clement’s kind words were appreciated and he feels he can play for a bigger club.

“Of course that’s very flattering. Maybe he was just trying to give me confidence,” Sigurdsson said. “Of course, it would be a dream to play for one of these big clubs. Hopefully if I continue doing well for Swansea and Iceland then in the near future, I can play in a big club. I am enjoying being one of the senior players, though.

“We may be in a tough spot, but I am kind of enjoying the pressure of that. I am trying to make the most of that and help the team to get three points every week.”

Late in the January transfer window it was reported that some top teams in the PL came in with bids for Sigurdsson and the former Hoffenheim and Tottenham Hotspur attacking midfielder is definitely entering his prime.

He’s scored 33 goals in 115 appearances for the Swans over the past three seasons since joining from Tottenham and perhaps the main criticism some people have of Sigurdsson is that he prefers to be a big fish in a small pond. During his time at Spurs he scored just eight times in 58 appearances in the Premier League but now it seems like he is ready to go to the next level.

Swansea will ask for over $35 million for Sigurdsson but with clubs like Everton and Arsenal rumored to be interested in his services, a nervous summer could be ahead for the South Wales side. Swansea’s Icelandic playmaker will be a man in demand, irrelevant of whether or not the Swans survive relegation.

Everton agree deal to buy land for new stadium

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Everton have moved a step closer to a new home on Liverpool’s waterfront.

[ MORE: PL clubs on preseason tours

The Guardian is reporting that the Premier League have “agreed a deal to purchase land at Bramley Moore dock” which is where a new $375 million stadium is proposed for the Toffees.

Per the report, a deal has been agreed in principle with the landowners Peel Holdings and now Everton, led by new billionaire majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, will try to kick their new stadium project on. It is widely expected that the club will announce more details later on Thursday, with Liverpool City Council set to be heavily involved in the huge regeneration project.

Moshiri now has to acquire funding for the stadium and also get planning permissions from the council but things appear to be moving in the right direction.

Back in November 2016, Moshiri said having a stadium which “rewards the fans” was his “key aim” at Everton.

Everton’s search to find a new home after 125 years at Goodison Park has been exhaustive and frustrating. They’ve had three separate sites turned down since 2000 but with Moshiri’s arrival last February there is renewed optimism that building a new luxurious home in Liverpool’s docks is possible.

With Manchester City expanding the Etihad Stadium in recent seasons, Liverpool drastically improving Anfield, West Ham moving into the London Stadium, Chelsea closing in on securing a deal for a $600 million revamp of Stamford Bridge, plus Tottenham Hotspur moving into a new 61,000 home for the 2018-19 season, the rest of the Premier League is kicking on in terms of stadium expansion.

Moshiri has lofty heights for Everton and with Ronald Koeman as manager and plenty of funds promised to improve their exciting squad, the final major hurdle to overcome is the construction of a new home.

VOTE: Select Premier League Goal of the Month – March

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The 2 Robbies have selected their contenders for the Premier League Goal of the Month for March.

[ VOTE: Select your GOTM here ]

Now it’s your job to select the winner by clicking on the link above.

Watch the contenders in the video above and then vote for your favorite.

Enjoy.