Martin Jol is hoping Fulham can extend their good recent record at Stamford Bridge when they face Chelsea on Saturday afternoon (5.30pm).
The previous three SW6 derbies at the Bridge have all ended in stalemates (although Chelsea emerged victorious from the first courtesy of a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup), and the Fulham Manager hopes that statistic breeds confidence among his squad.
“I have to put it in the minds of my players that we had good results [there],” Jol said in Thursday’s press conference. “I don’t know what that means to have good results in the away matches against them but we still know the way we played against them so maybe that will help.
“I can remember a few games; the penalty kick with Pajtim Kasami that we should have won, but that was for the cup. We had a few situations last year in the away match where we could have scored in the last 10 minutes, so we could have had a win. It’s a good thing that we haven’t lost, although remember that we lost at home [to Chelsea] a couple of months ago.
“We had three draws there so we did particularly well. It’s 10 minutes from our place so it’s the same as a home game almost. We’ve got good support from our supporters, and hopefully we can do something nice.
“We’re in the Fulham area with Chelsea and their stadium is in the Fulham area so that’s why it’s a big and important derby. If you look at the support we always get at Chelsea from our away fans, it’s terrific.”
Chelsea brought former boss Jose Mourinho back to English football in the summer, but Jol says the managerial change won’t affect how his side approaches the game.
“They changed managers, although he [Mourinho] plays almost a similar system now to Rafa Benitez. Before he played a different system in a 4-3-3,” he explained. “He changed it a bit so that’s different but we’re quite confident.
“With or without Mourinho, this is the best league in the world, but I’m happy that he’s back. He’s almost like a friend to me – he’s a very nice guy so we’ve got a little connection with each other.”
The Blues go into the match on the back of a four game winless run, with their most recent fixtures both ending in defeat as they lost 1-0 to Everton in the Barclays Premier League, and 2-1 at home to Basel in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.
Jol was quizzed as to whether or not that poor run of form will work in Fulham’s favour, and the Dutchman admitted that Saturday’s derby is already a significant fixture for our hosts.
“I think if we beat them it will be the first time that they’ve lost three games in a week,” he said. “So it puts a little bit more pressure on them, but I don’t know if it’s an advantage or not.
“When they lost against Everton, it put pressure on them in the Champions League, so they had to win that game. To talk about must-win games, I think that for Chelsea it’s a must-win game against us because they want to be champions in England.
“I won’t say there’s nothing to lose when we go there because it’s a difficult game, but I think the last two or three away matches against Chelsea we did quite well.”
There could be a significant change to the Fulham starting XI from the one that drew with West Bromwich Albion last Saturday, with Dimitar Berbatov requiring a fitness test on Friday, while Bryan Ruiz will certainly miss out.
“Berbatov will have an assessment on his hamstring which is a bit tight and hopefully he’ll be fine,” Jol stated. “Bryan Ruiz is out and will be back probably next week. He had a traumatic ankle injury but not as bad as we thought. It’s one ligament and it’s getting better and better so he’ll hopefully be back next week.
“Aaron Hughes has still got a problem with his thigh and Maarten Stekelenburg will be out for the next couple of weeks with his right shoulder. Matthew Briggs had an operation on a hernia so he’ll be out for at least three weeks.”
Our Manager also commented on the absence of Ashkan Dejagah in the Fulham squad. The Iran international has yet to feature in the league this season, and Jol has challenged the right winger to stake his claim for a starting spot.
“I want a number one in a position, so I’ve got two good players in every position in the team,” he said. “And on that wing I’ve got Dejagah, Damien Duff, Bryan Ruiz and Mesca, so the only thing I always say to Dejagah is ‘you have to show us that you are the number one.’
“But the same applies for Damien, and I told Mesca this morning that if he starts scoring goals and giving assists then he could be the number one. They have to fight for their place.”
At the end of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Baggies, a smattering of the Cottage crowd directed a series of boos in Jol’s direction. Our Manager made some comments about those fans in his post match press conference, although now insists that such action was perhaps a mistake. He did, however, reaffirm that he shared the disappointment of the supporters at not winning the game.
“I think it’s better not to talk about it, but I did, and I shouldn’t have because they’re entitled to express themselves,” he said. “They pay us to play football for them and they’ve got an opinion and to lose [two points] in the 92nd minute was very disappointing, not only for them but for me and the Club.
“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’ve got good players but five of the seven new players were not even there last week so we still have to find a balance.
“It isn’t easy but I think there are probably 10 or 11 other teams that are not settled and play with different players, new players. So what I mean is that as soon as we gel together we’ll be fine.”
Our Manager also commented on recent media reports stating that former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen was set to become part of his backroom staff at Fulham; a notion he denies.
“It’s the same with 90 per cent of players – it’s speculation,” Jol explained. “There’s nothing in it whatsoever. I know him and he’s an excellent coach. We will always look to strengthen with players and with coaches but, now, it’s speculation.”