West London derby victory crucial to keep Chelsea in check with early front-runners.
Jose Mourinho finds himself in the unexpected position of attempting to turn around Chelsea’s alarming early dip when Fulham make the short trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Successive defeats by Everton and Basel have prompted some soul-searching at Chelsea with Mourinho claiming his squad’s lack of experience has been exposed.
Having started the campaign positively with the hard-earned point at Manchester United following on from victories over Hull and Aston Villa, Chelsea have since lost the European Super Cup on penalties to Bayern Munich before the latest painful defeats.
Without a win in four games and with goals proving hard to come by, the meeting with west London neighbours Fulham has taken on more significance, particularly given the Cottagers’ record of have drawn on their last three visits to Stamford Bridge.
The loss to Basel was particularly frustrating, ending a run of 29 home Champions League games without defeat and coming after Chelsea had secured a first-half lead.
Blues centre back Gary Cahill acknowledged there must be improvements.
“You can always do better, you can always analyse goals,” said Cahill. “The back four, goalkeepers, individuals. We’ll have a look at that.
“It’s not a disaster, but it’s not ideal. A club like this wants to win the majority of games it plays. That’s the expectation. It’s a blow but it’s not the be all and end all.
“We need to win our next game now, as simple as that. The manager will stress that. We’ve got the squad to do it, we need to go on now and get back to winning ways on Saturday.”
The defender added: “It’s two disappointing results. We lost at Everton and someone was saying it was the worst start in however many years but before then we were bang on track.
“The lads are hurting but we have to move on and go again on Saturday.”
Mourinho’s side have struggled in front of goal during their last two games, with Samuel Eto’o still acclimatising to his new surroundings following his arrival from Anzhi Makhachkla.
Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, Mourinho’s other strikers, have also failed to make a major impact.
Torres was left out of the squad against Basel but is expected to return while John Terry and Juan Mata could start after being named as substitutes in midweek.
Fulham manager Martin Jol is also attempting to lift his club’s fortunes after coming in for criticism following last weekend’s draw with West Bromwich Albion.
Jol was the target of jeers from some Fulham supporters following West Brom’s added-time equaliser and expressed his frustration at the reaction after the game.
But Jol, speaking before the trip to Chelsea, said: “I think it is better not to talk about it, but I did, and I shouldn’t have because they (the fans) are entitled to express themselves.
“They pay us to play football for them and they have got an opinion, and to lose a goal in the 92nd minute was very disappointing — not only for them, but for me and the club,” the Dutchman added.
“I talked about the fact that expectations can make you very unhappy at any club — Chelsea, even Manchester United, big clubs, smaller clubs, and especially at Fulham as well.
“We feel that we have got good players, but five of the seven new players were not even there last week so we still have to find a balance.”
Dimitar Berbatov is battling to recover from a hamstring problem but Bryan Ruiz and Aaron Hughes will miss out.