Saturday's win by Tottenham at Sunderland puts the pressure on Chelsea, at Craven Cottage for today's West London Derby against Fulham. The Blues are now three points behind Spurs, who temporarily hold sole possession of fourth place, England's final 2011-12 Champions League spot. A draw or a loss, and Chelsea stays in fifth, giving their season an entirely new dimension. Though 26 matches, they'd be chasing Champions League.
Against a Fulham team that has seven points in their last four, a road draw may not be the worst result. Mark Hughes is slowly guiding his team out of a relegation battle, one they had embraced after a season's start that saw the Cottagers fall in love with draws. Since the calendar turned, the Cottagers are 5-2-2, three points clear of the drop, leaving their magnanimous ways in September and October.
For Fulham, the key looked to be how Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland dealt with Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba. Now comes word that Drogba will not be in the starting XI, with Florent Malouda in a team set to return to Chelsea's 4-3-3. This could be looked at as a logical decision for Carlo Ancelotti, seeing how his Torres-Drogba tandem failed last weekend against Liverpool. It could also been seen as a reprieve for Fulham, who may have been reluctant to play three central defenders while also lacking a Lucas Leiva-like presence at the base of midfield.
For Chelsea, they'll have to contend with Clint Dempsey. To do so, Ancelotti has brought David Luiz into the team, an inclusion which pushes Branislav Ivanovic to right back, with José Bosingwa out. Ivanovic should be able to dominate Dempsey in the air, where Dempsey has proved increasingly threatening. When Dempsey comes in off the wing, Ivanovic will get help from Ramires, in for Mikel John Obi, and Michael Essien.
SB Nation will have live updates throughout the match, which kicks-off at 3:00 p.m Eastern. Here are the teams:
Fulham, Starting XI: Mark Schwarzer - Chris Baird, Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland, Carlos Salcido - Damien Duff, Steve Sidwell, Danny Murphy, Clint Dempsey - Andrew Johnson, Moussa Dembele. Bench: David Stockdale, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Zoltan Gera, Simon Davies, Jonathan Greening, John Pantsil, Stephen Kelly.
Chelsea, Starting XI: Petr Cech - Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry, Ashley Cole - Michael Essien, Ramires, Frank Lampard - Nicolas Anelka, Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda. Bench: Ross Turnbull, Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Jacopo Sala, Mikel John Obi, Josh McEachran, Paulo Ferriera