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.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”