Saturday sees us take a trip to London to face Martin Jol’s expansive Fulham side. It’s hard not to like Fulham; they let us win at Goodison every year, play some great football and their ground is ace which combined makes it one of the best away days on the circuit. This tactical preview will inform what’s in store this time round and provide some pointers on where the game will be won and lost…
The game pits the side who make the highest % of touches in their defensive third (Fulham) against ourselves who make the highest % in the opposition third, so whoever is on the ball expect the bulk of the game to be played in Fulham’s half. Fulham look a bit more workmanlike in midfield this season and this has afforded greater defensive protection – they’ve lost the fewest challenges (39) in the top flight. This has been as a consequence of key man Dembele’s departure, with the more rigid Baird generally partnering Steve Sidwell in the centre of midfield since- although Diarra should be deployed here on Saturday. Whereas Dembele provided fluidity and flair for the unpredictable, now the attacking is provided by the wide men (duff / Richardson) and the strike pairing. They’re not a side who will go to ground easily or press ‘in your face’ – they make the fewest tackles and second fewest fouls in the top flight but tellingly the most interceptions. Therefore don’t expect too many cards.
Fulham will look to attack through the middle and look to work the ball out from the back with a high tempo on the ball. Our close season study showed nobody had a higher passing tempo in the league last season than Fulham. Up front, Berbatov is clearly ace and after 2 years of doing very little, he looks keen to make up for lost time – even turning up against some of the league’s dross sides like Reading. Ironically, it was his slower tempo that was one of the reasons for him slipping down the pecking order at United. Given his cameo from the bench last week expect Ruiz to play just off him in what is a potentially tasty (if unpredictable) forward duo. The Costa Rican is a gifted player who would fall into the ‘pay to watch’ category and will try all kinds of stuff if we let him although he can be erratic – he’s been dispossessed and made more unforced errors than anyone in the Fulham side – so when we are not in possession our full backs will need to tuck in and deny space for him to pick passes and show him out wide. In £70k per week Hugo Rodallega they have the quicker, more direct option should they choose. He and Richardson’s pace would certainly worry us in terms of quick transitions against our high line given that 5/11 goals we’ve shipped have come from quick counters. At right back, Riether has a decent long diagonal ping on him to start such transitions.
Fulham appear to be close to full strength for this one *surprise* with Berbatov expected to play on with a broken rib. Pienaar is back for us with Mirallas 50-50 so it will either be like for like or if the Belgian is fit he will move across to the right and Naismith will drop out. In midfield Gibson could return which would be a massive boost although given the look of his carriage at times you wouldn’t fancy him playing at anything below 100% .
Fulham’s home form is very decent; they shlacked a feeble Norwich and also beat midland meffs villa and wba – indeed their only defeat at the Cottage came against the Champions so its a big ask to get a win here. The only team to give them a real shoeing this season was Fatty Allardyce’s mob. Unsurprisingly the key to the win was ‘percentage’ direct balls into the box and then looking to hoover up the second balls with fellow fatty kevin nolan the chief recipient. We showed in April’s 4-0 that we can out football fulham on the deck should we choose, but if we need play a more direct style *at times* then so be it. Whilst I’m not advocating long balls here- there is a difference Sshtttevie – if you have the tools to mix it up and push it to fellaini’s chest as we do then you use them.
We’ve won 5 of the last 6 against Fulham and last season won all 3 with an aggregate score of 9-2 so the game shouldn’t hold any fears. Last time out at Goodison we demolished a sorry looking Fulham 4-0 in a game that was over after 25 minutes. They played very narrow attacking centrally with Frei and Duff both playing on the flank of their unfavourable foot – an inverted winger if you like – but failed to really penetrate us at any stage of the game. Fulham found it particularly difficult to track midfield runners with Pienaar in particular having a day of days with three assists. When in the defensive phase our wide players tucked in and overcrowded the centre of the field making it tricky for Fulham to play through us. Expect more of the same on Saturday.
Paddy Power can’t split the sides with both at 13/8 for the win with the draw at 23/10. Given last season’s form you’d say an away win looks a decent shout although we are in a spell of draws currently with 3 on the bounce. There have been over 2.5 goals scored in 8 of Fulham’s last 9 games and 5 of our last 6 . Overall our games average 3.11 goals and Fulham 3.67 so that appears a banker at 8/11. Both sides have failed to score just once each so the btts market also looks fertile at 4/7. If the h/t f/t wager is your bag you may be interested in the fact we’ve scored 76% of our goals in the first half and Fulham 63% in the second half. ….you can get 20/1 on Everton winning 1-0 H/T and for it to finish 1-1.