The Blues' late-season revival under interim boss Roberto Di Matteo shows no signs of abating and that will worry Fulham when they turn out to host Chelsea in this Monday night league game.
Chelsea will come to Craven Cottage on the back of a five-game unbeaten run in all competitions and having won eight of the 10 games they have played under Di Matteo; they have drawn one and lost the other. It is sometimes a little difficult to believe this is the same side that floundered under Andre Villas-Boas, whom Di Matteo replaced after the side were beaten 0-1 by West Brom at the Hawthorns. What has been particularly impressive in recent weeks is Chelsea's performance in the Champions League (they turned a 1-3 first leg deficit against Napoli around, before beating Benfica both home and away to set up a semi-final clash with Barcelona) and the very positive vibes that seem to be coming from the dressing room. The latter was particularly conspicuous by its absence under Villas-Boas.
In terms of the importance of the fixture, Chelsea will kick off after having seen one of their three rivals for the two remaining Champions League spots for next season stumble and fall. Spurs' shocking 1-2 home defeat to Norwich has not only derailed their own recovery from a slump but also thrown Chelsea, who will kick off in sixth place, a lifeline.
Win this one and they will find themselves, all of a sudden, in fourth place in the league, in the final Champions League position and in control of the race for that slot. Moreover, three points against Martin Jol's men will also put them within two points of Arsenal in third, although the Gunners do have a game in hand.
Di Matteo will have a few injury concerns to deal with. Key players like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole all missed Saturday's 2-1 win over Wigan, as did Brazilian midfielder Ramires. The last three could still take part. Terry, however, has been ruled out.
Meanwhile, life is both good and bad at Craven Cottage. Martin Jol's men are in a comfortable 11<sup>th position in the league. However, motivation may be a problem for Fulham - relegation is not a worry and neither is there any chance of making it to fifth and the final European football spot for next season (Newcastle, in that position, are 17 points ahead).
In addition, Jol will also have the Clint Dempsey situation at the back of his mind. The American utility player has been in exception form so far this season and has reportedly attracted the interest of both Arsenal and Tottenham, with Manchester United also hovering. The 29 year old is out of contract at the end of next season and despite pressure to extend his deal, is holding out in the hope of a move to a bigger club.
The Dutch manager also has his share of injury problems, with Costa Rican forward Bryan Ruiz ruled out. However, Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak (who has five goals in six games for Fulham) and veteran midfielder Danny Murphy could be in line to return from an ankle injury and illness, respectively.
This could be a tricky game to call. On the face of it, given Chelsea's talent (on paper, at least) and the degree of motivation that seems to be driving them, Di Matteo will expect nothing less than three points. However, there are various sub-plots at play.
For one, Fulham's Dempsey will be eager to continue his run of goal-scoring form and build a strong case for a Champions League side to swoop in and pick him up. Expect the American, then, to be very active and a thorn in Chelsea's side.
Then, despite the fact that Chelsea are in good form (and getting the bit of luck all sides need) is countered by the fact that Fulham too are in decent nick. They've won two back-to-back games - at home to Norwich (2-1) and away to Bolton (3-0), which were results arresting a run of three straight defeats. Moreover, they have not done too shabbily at home, having lost only four times this season.
It could well be that despite the chance to close in on Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle, Chelsea may have to settle for a draw here
Fulham 1 - Chelsea 1