After such a tricky patch of fixtures we now enter a phase of eminently more winnable games against sides further down the table, starting this weekend with Fulham due at L4.
On paper this looks a dead cert toffees win. Harold MacMillan was the Prime Minister the last time Fulham took so much as a point at Goodison and you have to go back to 1948 for their last triumph on toffee soil. Added to this, they’ve lost five of their last six away, have failed to score in all those defeats and didn’t even register a shot on target on their last away day. To provide balance, Fulham are one of only 2 sides to have beaten us this season and there is always the threat of ‘new manager syndrome’ which was evident last week as Rene Meulensteen picked up his first win as Fulham boss against Villa. In this game they had 9 shots on target, so he had clearly had some sort of impact.
His managerial record is relatively unproven however, with nondescript spells at Brondby and Anzhi the subtotal of his time as a ‘number one’. His stock seems fairly good though, as presumably people associate him as the brains behind United’s successes last season with Taggart pre occupied with emptying the Old Trafford Glenlivet reserves and Phelan overlaid with his gatorade and cone duties.
Fulham’s home form has in previous seasons papered over the cracks but this campaign it has deserted them. Established and dependable top tier performers like Dempsey, Dembele and Diarra have all moved on in recent summers and some of their replacements have not been fit for purpose. Whilst Berbatov is still clearly ace – when he wants to be – and also to a lesser extent Ruiz , other acquisitions like Taraabt and Bent provide so little off the ball which has meant Fulham have become a soft touch – a situation made worst by the prolonged absence of defensive lynchpin Hangeland.
Lets take a look at the likely starting line-up….
(GK) Maarten Stekelenburg - Dutch goalkeeper who appeared in the World Cup Final for Holland in 2010. After winning the Eredivisie in 2011, he infamously dropped the trophy while standing on top of the Ajax team coach with Jan Vertonghen. He has also turned out for Roma. Amongst his many talents he possesses a more than decent long kick and he found Berbatov more than any of his colleagues in the 1-2 defeat against Spurs last week.
(CB) Aaron Hughes – 34 year old right footed left sided centre back who was perennially bullied by Fellaini in recent meetings between the clubs. A decent covering defender, he is the top clearance maker for the Cottagers with 9.1 per game and has also won the most aerial per game 3.6
(CB) Phillipe Senderos – This cat appears permanently terrified – presumably due to looking in the mirror and seeing the reflection of Casper the friendly defender, and these supernatural powers enable him to go missing in his own penalty box at crucial times. Amazingly played for Everton -once- during a short lived loan spell. Has made the most defensive errors, most interceptions and has blocked the most shots for Fulham this season.
(RB) Sascha Reither – German right back who won the Bundesliga with Wolfsberg in 2011. Whilst at the Volkswagen Stadium he played with right sided colleague Dejagah and his combination play with the Iranian down the right flank was a feature of Muelensteen’s first games as boss with the duo combining 69 times – comfortably more than any other Fulham duo.
(LB) John Arne Risse – Oh how ‘da reds’ loved this hair dying, slack jawed mutant. ‘I wanna knowwwwwohoooo how you scored that goal‘ sang the edgy Annie road choir with regular gusto. Those days are long gone. Since joining Fulham he has fired in 105 shots but has yet to score and its difficult to see how he is still making a living from the game. He also bears more than a passing resemblance to the weird meth meff from Breaking Bad.
(MC) Scott ‘Puts in a shift’ Scotty Parker – Bryllcream, pie and mash, badger bating, Tower of London loving midfielder who turned down a move to the toffees back in 05′ in favour of Newcastle. Struggled to fit in with the culture and swiftly returned south to his London comfort blanket where he has re-commenced his Challenge Anneka attempt to play for every mediocre London club within a 10 year timeframe. Has won just 4 of 22 games against us for various clubs.
(AMC) Giorgos Karagounis – Ex Inter and Benfica right footed midfield general is a known grafter with good delivery from set plays and uses his experience to buy cheap fouls. At 36 he is one of the oldest outfield players in the division and one of 9 players 30 years or over who appeared in Fulham’s win last week. Can boast over 100 caps for his country but will struggle to last more than 60 minutes. Still has plenty of quality and last week was deployed at the forward peak of the midfield triangle. Fulham have also won 2 of the 3 games he has started.
(MR) Ashkan Dejagah - Iranian born right footed wide forward who was brought to the club from the Germany – a country he represented at youth level before switching allegiances to his homeland. Has a goal and an assist in his last two games of the new era and provides some much needed youth.
(MC) Steve Sidwell - Criminally scored a last minute equaliser against us last season in the 2-2 at Fulham when we dominated so much. Played as the number 8 last week in between Parker behind and Karagounis in front and scored a nice goal as well as creating the most chances. Is Fulham’s top scorer this season with 3.
(ML) Alex Kacaniklic - Swedish left winger who can also play centrally. Spent 3 years across the park without playing one minute of first team football. Will look to whip in corners from the right side with his left peg. One goal and no assists this season is a fairly poor return for a player predominantly deployed in an attacking role.
(FC) Dimitar Berbatov - You know what you’re getting with this cat, and this season it’s basically not a lot. Can obviously do the incredible as he showed last week but such days are increasingly few and far between. His figures against us (4 goals and no assists in 13) would hardly make him stand out as a Les Ferdinand style toffee scourge. With Bent and Taraabt seemingly not in the plans of the new boss, Berbatov will likely lead the line on his own and be central to Fulham’s attacking play
With James McCarthy suspended, the only selection dilemma appears whether to go with Barkley or recall Osman in the Irishman’s slot. I think the desire to get Deulofeu into the side will dictate this call and I could see Barkley moving into a deeper role to accommodate the Catalan.
In truth, Fulham simply don’t have the tools to stop us getting the win that could see us go into second spot in the table depending on results elsewhere. I’m going to be bold and go for a 3-0 home win.