Preview: Fulham v City

This week has been a historic one for Fulham Football Club - an unexpected mauling of Italian giants Juventus seeing them reach the last eight of the Europa League. On Wednesday they can reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup. A club writing its own history before our very eyes, and all whilst, since Roy Hodgson has been at the helm at least, winning the hearts of the neutral. How far they've come since them and Ray Graydon's very good Walsall side forced us to settle for a Play-Off place in what we then referred to as Division Two.

Truth be told, i bloody enjoy watching them, and there's very little of fault at all that i can find about the club, especially given the decreasing public profile of owner Mo Al Fayed. Roy Hodgson's reign as manager must have surprised even him. His appointment at the time was generally thought of as one of desperation, a minstrel whose early successes as a boss seemed well behind him, he's transformed Fulham into a splendid team.

Anyhow, enough of my increasing admiration for Roy and his lads, we've got a game to win. Wayne Bridge has had surgery on a troublesome hernia and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Emmanuel Adebayor serves the penultimate game of his ban. Martin Petrov is still missing with a knee problem, but other than Michael Johnson being out long-term Roberto Mancini has a full squad to pick from.

Fulham's injury problems are improving, though the game will come too soon for John Paintsil (knee), and David Elm (sickness). Andy Johnson is unlikely to play again this season after a serious knee problem. Danny Murphy, suspended for that brilliant victory midweek, will probably replace Stephen Kelly, though given the Cottagers' comfortable league position, and with the cup trip to White Hart Lane midweek, Hodgson could choose to freshen things up.

Javier Garrido seems most likely to come in as a direct replacement for Bridge as Mancini sticks with the midfield three of Barry, de Jong and Zabaleta. Another option would be to give Pat Vieira a start, with either Barry or Zab moving to full-back, both having played there of late. Adam Johnson, whose spectacular injury-time goal at Sunderland earned us a deserved point that day, should get the nod over Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Provided Hodgson doesn't choose to make changes as previously discussed, Zoltan Gera should continue to support in attack. Clint Dempsey, whose cruciate ligament injury in January was expected to keep him out for up to six months, is most likely to start on the bench, with Damien Duff and Simon Davies providing the width and sixteen-goal Bobby Zamora leading the line. Chris Baird, employed in various positions this season, is most likely to revert to a more familiar right-back in an otherwise rarely-changed back five.

The Mayor's Show line has been trotted out by all and sundry since that stunning dismantling of Juve on Thursday, and though Hodgson doesn't deny that the cups are now their priority, their players, though a few may well be leggy, will be as up for the occasion as ever, and their respectable home record, including a hefty win over our near-rivals, commands respect.

This afternoon's three points for Spurs at Stoke certainly puts even further importance on us getting a positive result. Redknapp's side now face Pompey and Sunderland, games where you'd imagine they'll earn at least four points, so it's imperative we don't lose ground. Where a point would have been credible before this afternoon's games, all three might be necessary if we're to hold on to our tag as favourites for that last Champions League berth.

Fulham's main strength at Craven Cottage has been a water-tight defence breached on only nine occasions so far this season, a record bettered only by the club currently in first place, their name escapes me. They come into the game on the back of three successive home victories, January's 0-2 defeat by Aston Villa the only time they've come off second-best in their last nineteen attempts, which perhaps proves just how tough a task picking up three points will be.

My main worry against a team like Fulham, who use their widemen to such good use, is that our full-backs will be terribly our of their depth. The problems on both sides, some steady Wayne Bridge form of late aside, get regular mention, and with good reason. At Sunderland again, despite being quite proactive in an attacking sense during the first half, Micah Richards continuously afforded Steed Malbranque far too much space.

The main problem at present, though, isn't so much tactical, more that we seem to lack motivation early on in games, only able to stamp our authority on teams after the interval, as witnessed at both Sunderland and Chelsea. The gaffer, then, is right in saying that a positive start is essential, though the stats show that the Cottagers are rarely early birds themselves.

It's a tough one to call, a very difficult place to go but by no means a game that's beyond us. I've learned to not write us off, but Fulham keep the ball much better than we do, have a better shape and are generally more well-drilled. With games running out and Spurs pushing on three points would be particularly welcome, but it depends whether we see the Jekyll or the Hyde of a side which continues to be unsure of itself on the road.

Possible teams:
Fulham: Schwarzer, Baird, Shorey, Hughes, Hangeland, Etuhu, Davies, Murphy, Gera, Zamora, Duff

City: Given, Richards, Garrido, Kompany, Lescott, de Jong, Zabaleta, Barry, A.Johnson, Tevez, Bellamy

Prediction: Fulham 2 City 2

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree, just hope with Spurs winning away at (another tough place) Britainnia, we can do the same.