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.

Sweden announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s public flirtation and seeming committal to returning to the Swedish national team for the World Cup was a big tease.

Whether it’s his call or not is up for debate.

The Swedish Football Association reports that it’s spoken with Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has declined the chance to return to the fold.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Sweden’s sporting director Lars Richt says Ibrahimovic has not changed his mind on international retirement despite his own words.

Sweden’s current team may have a role in that.

We imagine Richt and Sweden may be cushioning the blow for Ibrahimovic, especially if national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson is speaking on behalf of a team vibe when he speaks of Zlatan being “an individualist” who could ruin Sweden’s team-first concept.

Report: Fulham, NFL owner Khan agrees $700m price for Wembley

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Fulham owner Shad Khan also owns a National Football League team, and could have two top-flight teams from different nations playing in England soon.

For Fulham, the Cottagers are currently very much in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League and at the least will have a chance at qualifying through the playoffs.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

For the Jaguars, who have rarely needed all the seats in their stadium, it could mean a move to London if Khan goes through with what’s being reported as an accepted $700 million bid to buy Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was also built with the design to host NFL games.

Here’s how ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith puts a bow on it (on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar, nonetheless):

So it’s possible that there could soon be two iconic soccer stadiums in London with strong NFL ties, one which was built with NFL games in mind, and another that is owned by an NFL owner. The league is pouring serious resources into London.

It seems unlikely Khan would move Fulham from Craven Cottage, but there are other repercussions of this move for soccer in England.

There’s the potential for the England national team to no longer utlizie a permanent home, and the FA Cup and League Cup both potentially requiring new or rotating venues for their final rounds.

A lot to monitor here, and we’ll surely have all the details as they emerge from Khan’s crew.

TFC on CCL loss: “Feels the heart has been ripped from the chest”

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Michael Bradley went 90 minutes at center back, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco scored, and Toronto FC nearly, oh-so-nearly, became the first Major League Soccer side to win a continental title in the CONCACAF Champions League era.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“We wanted to be the first (MLS side) to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono, according to MLSSoccer.com. “We failed in that goal; that’s massively disappointing. … This is the way the game goes, it’s unjust; it feels the heart has been ripped from the chest sometimes.”

Bono made some big saves in regulation as TFC flipped its 2-1 first leg loss on its ear over 90 minutes, but Chivas Guadalajara scored all four of their penalty kick attempts as Jonathan Osorio hit the bar and Bradley set his effort on a path to the moon.

That part was possibly academic, as Chivas could’ve sealed it with their fifth penalty, but Marky Delgado’s miss of a perfect Sebastian Giovinco stoppage time cross is what sent the match into kicks.

Here’s how The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson framed his post-match interview with Delgado, described as one of the few players not to walk past the media after the loss:

“That’s football sometimes,” Delgado searched for words. “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it goes in. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s heartbreaking.”

It felt cruel to keep him standing there any longer.

“Wherever we are, we want to win,” the soft-spoken American said. “Unfortunately today we didn’t, but we know we dominated the game.”

And Bradley, in the season after Toronto won a trouble but also 18 months removed from missing a PK in the MLS Cup Final — not to mention marshaling the USMNT midfield in its monumental failure to qualify for the World Cup was mostly good in playing out-of-position.

“In the biggest moments, we threw caution to the wind and played with balls, bravery, and pride in ourselves, in each other, in our club and our city,” Bradley said on Canadian television outlet TSN.

They did, and now they must hope to win the Canadian Championship, MLS Supporters’ Shield, or MLS Cup to get another shot at qualifying for the Club World Cup.

Toronto loses CONCACAF Champions League in PKs

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Chivas Guadalajara scored on all of its penalty kicks to clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, breaking the hearts of Toronto FC in Mexico on Wednesday and earning a berth in the 2018 Club World Cup.

Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore scored in regulation as Toronto FC picked up a 2-1 win to reverse their first leg loss and push it to kicks.

Orbelin Pineda scored Chivas’ goal.

Hometown kid Jonathan Osorio hit the cross bar on Toronto’s second PK and Michael Bradley sent the fifth offering into outer space.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

Toronto flew out of the gates, and Rodolfo Cota came flying off his line to deny Altidore a 10th minute chance.

Alex Bono collected a header off a Chivas corner kick earned by a counterattack.

Pineda then made Toronto’s task even harder with a 19th minute goal, cooking Auro’s mark to reach a through ball and dancing around Bono for 1-0.

But Altidore was somehow unmarked for Nic Hasler’s pass despite five Chivas defenders and Cota inside the six-yard box, and TFC leveled the second leg at 1.

And TFC got the next goal through Giovinco, slipped through by Marky Delgado and taking advantage of a yard of space and a second to shoot with his fourth goal of the CCL knockout rounds.

The Reds kept coming in the second half, with Delgado winning a big 50-50 ball deep in Chivas territory and Victor Vasquez ripping a shot that Cota dove to smother.

Chivas found its footing in 58th minute, sending a shot over the bar before Jesus Godinez hit the post in the 61st (though his dive seemingly had the near post covered). Bono the next knocked a free kick over the bar from a similar position as the ball that beat him in the first leg.

Javier Lopez curled a vicious attempt just over the goal in the 72nd. He’d have the next best chances moments after Altidore subbed off with an apparent hamstring injury, but dribbled onto Bono’s lap and fired off the keeper.

Giovinco worked a 1-2 with Osorio and cruised a shot just wide of the far post in the 87th minute. Delgado then mailed a sitter over the bar in the first minute of stoppage time.