After goalless draws, Fulham head to Chelsea in the West London derby

Chelsea v Fulham, Premier League, December 28, 2009

Chelsea 4/9; Draw 4/1; Fulham 17/2

After Chelsea registered a disappointing goalless draw at Birmingham on Saturday, and Fulham were left two points light after Spurs hung on for a goalless draw at the Cottage, the West London derby arrives on Tuesday with both rivals looking to get back on the winning track.

League leaders Chelsea, with eight wins and a draw at home this season, will naturally be the hot favourites. The Pensioners stats are jaw-dropping at the Bridge, Chelsea leading the league table with 25 goals scored in front of their own fans while also boasting the league’s stingiest home defence having conceded just five times. (Chelsea are EVS to keep a clean sheet.)

But if Fulham can follow the Birmingham game-plan which they deployed against the Blues last time out, being a high-tempo pressing game in which the underdogs defended their six-yard box for their lives, then the Cottagers could also have aspirations of snatching a point.

Chelsea’s biggest problem at St. Andrews was their inability to put the ball in the net. Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic have excellent matches from the full back positions, yet when the ball arrived in the box upstart Daniel Sturridge wasted a couple of opportunity to find the net while Didier Drogba was also uncharacteristically off target.

With their strikers firing blanks, and Nicolas Anelka sorely missing from selection with injury, Chelsea began to look light in the final third. Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda and Joe Cole were all unable to impose themselves against Birmingham’s rigid defence, but it will be a tall order for Fulham to shut-up-shop in similar fashion at the Blues.

Unbeaten run stretches to eight games, the Cottagers continue to be a side punching above their weight. Before their draw with Spurs, Roy Hodgsen’s outfit dazzled when smacking three past Manchester United, a result that came hot on the heels of an unlikely 3-2 Europa League win away at Basel that saw Fulham advance to the last 32.

In that period, in which Andrew Johnson has been sidelined throughout, three key players have starred for Fulham. Bobby Zamora has found a purple patch in which the striker looks like scoring every time he is in sight of goal, while Zoltan Gera and Clint Dempsey have chipped in with goals and assists from midfield.

Having scored for fun in recent weeks, Fulham will believe they can breach the Chelsea backline. From the visitor’s perspective though, the game will be won or lost on the back of the Cottagers’ defending. Mark Schwartzer continues to remain one of the Premier League’s top keepers, Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes continue to get rave reviews at the heart of the defence, while Chris Baird’s quiet and confident existence as the team’s holding midfielder remains one of the league’s best kept secrets.

Pre-Christmas, much of the talk surrounding Chelsea was concerned with how the team would cope once the African Cup of Nations stole several of their first-teamers in January. Should Fulham scalp even a point at Chelsea in the derby, then the Blues’ title hopes will likely ben under serious threat from Manchester United and Arsenal.

101predicts: Chelsea 1 – Fulham 1 (9/1)

Chelsea 4/9; Draw 4/1; Fulham 17/2

Full match odds here.