Preview of Fulham (A)
Manchester United – 2-2.
Port Vale – 6-0.
Wolves – 2-1.
Everton – 0-0.
In fact, they have only lost once this season – 2-0 away at Stoke in the Carling Cup, where they conceded two headed goals from set pieces. This could suggest that Crouch is worth a start.
The draw with Manchester United was a particularly impressive result, but they arguably should have won the game – Dickson Etuhu had two good chances, as he burst forward from midfield with some regularity – and Bobby Zamora put in a superb all round performance.
Obviously Fulham will be without Zamora on Saturday, and will also be missing Etuhu and Duff (who always seems to play well against us), although Moussa Dembele, the dangerous young Belgian forward, will return. Their line-up is not easy to predict, as they have a number of injuries, and Hughes hasn’t yet been able to settle on a best eleven, but it could be along the lines of:
For those having a bet, a draw does seem to be the most likely result on paper, for a number of reasons:
- We haven’t won a league game at Craven Cottage since March 2002.
- Twice last season we went there and drew 0-0.
- Hughes has drawn 14 of his last 18 games as a manager, with Manchester City and Fulham.
However, I can’t help but feel quite confident about the game and I think we have enough quality and creativity to break down a well-organised Fulham side, and score at least once.
The movement of our attacking players will be vital – if Crouch starts, and we try to seek him out with long balls, then we will be playing into Fulham’s hands – Hangeland is excellent at dealing with these type of passes, and in my opinion it is key that we mix up our play. Neither Hughes nor Hangeland are blessed with tremendous pace, and Hangeland in particular is not so good on the turn. For that reason I would like to see Jenas start, with specific instruction to run in behind the Fulham centre backs as often as possible. With Lennon doing well as an impact sub, we could start with van der Vaart on the right, and both Crouch and Pavlyuchenko up front – however, I tend to think that Redknapp will go with Crouch as a lone forward, and van der Vaart in a free role again, and that could even allow him to start Jenas from the right (interchanging with van der Vaart), whilst sticking with the tried and tested Huddlestone and Modric combination in the middle.
Crouch performed poorly for England in midweek, and Redknapp wrote in his Sun column that he wasn’t used as he should be; he highlighted that Capello should have asked his players to aim high balls towards him. The problem with Crouch is that when he plays well, he undoubtedly adds more to the team (the two assists against Villa for example), but is still arguably less of a consistent goal threat than, say, Pavlyuchenko. When Crouch plays poorly (see West Ham game), he’s neither a goal threat, nor a help to the team. On the other hand, Pavlyuchenko frequently adds little, but scores – Young Boys was a prime example, but he did this many times last year.
I would personally prefer to use Pavlyuchenko, with van der Vaart behind him this week, as Fulham’s centre backs tend to struggle against good movement, rather than old-fashioned centre forwards, and this is something that Pavlyuchenko can offer. Having said that, if our wingers play well, then Crouch’s presence in the air could be vital (see Zonal Marking’s excellent article on Crouch from earlier today).
Defensively, it looks as though there will be yet more changes, which are surely the reason behind our lack of clean sheets this season. Huddlestone and Bassong didn’t fill me with confidence as a centre back pairing against Villa and, with Kaboul, Gallas and King all seemingly overcoming injury, I would imagine that at least one of them will play, probably partnering Bassong. There will be an interesting decision at right-back, where Hutton has done well on the whole in recent weeks, but is weak defensively. Corluka has acknowledged his poor form (personally I think he is also suffering from Lennon’s lacklustre showings ), and Kaboul will also be pushing for a start.