It’s about this time of the week that we turn our attention to Fulham’s weekend game. By dint of playing in front of the television cameras, our home fixture with Manchester City kicks off at the ridiculous time of 12.45pm. Now, there is a school of thought that these early kick-offs don’t have the intensity and quality of the normal games or evening ties because players’ bodies and minds aren’t necessarily atuned or used to playing at this sort of time. The recent matches I’ve sat through at this time have tended to bear this out – there’s certainly a good case to made to be made for the poor atmosphere at this time being related to the early start and (or, perhaps, because of) the inability of the regulars to get a few beers down their necks.
But the scheduling is a side issue really. I still reckon that – with a tough month of fixtures ahead of us – Fulham are in something of a false position. That’s not to say we didn’t do well in drawing at Liverpool and Aston Villa but the lack of goals and chances remains a worry. The theory runs that we’re a little more open at home but we’ll have to be careful: we know all about Manchester City’s ability to prise open defences with their midfield quality. Mark Hughes will be desperate for the three points because City, for all their breathtaking football and the danger posed by the likes of Robinho and Shaun Wright-Phillips, have been terribly inconsistent after a poor performance in the Manchester derby last Sunday languish in the lower half of the table.
I talked about the midfield being key against Villa last weekend and I think that’s true of this game too. City have an abundance of quality in that area and it tells you something that Elano, one of Eriksson’s most successful signings in his short time at Eastlands, can’t get a game at the moment. Whilst all the hype might be about the Brazilian (who don’t get me wrong can certainly hurt us) and Wright-Phillips (after he was kicked all over the park last week against United), the man who worries me is Stephen Ireland. He’s already scored seven goals this season, which is a handy return for a midfielder, and he’s made four more more for his team-mates. Our lack of a holding midfielder makes the prospect of keeping him quiet somewhat daunting but we can shackle him effectively, I’ll feel a lot more confident about getting something out of this game.
Danny Murphy thinks that attack might be the best form of defence against an adventurous City. That might mean we’re in for a repeat of last September’s home game with City when Simon Davies scored one of the goals of the season (for me, as a purist, anyway) and we drew 3-3. Such an open game might run against Roy’s footballing philosophy but we’ll certainly carry a bit more of a goal threat than we did at Villa Park.
Simon Davies, whose own form since being shunted out onto the left to accomodate Clint Dempsey has been something of a worry, sounds a note of caution:
But we don’t want to forget our discipline because the Manager drills the shape of the team into us. City have got some fantastic attacking players and they’ll be a threat for us but we’ve been awesome at home so far and hopefully we can come out on top.
If we can marry that discipline which Hodgson demands with creating a few more chances for Andy Johnson and Zamora then we could extend our impressive recent run. City haven’t looked terribly clever defensively this season – perhaps a legacy of having the likes of Robinho, Wright-Phillips and Ireland all in the same side – and I’d fancy the pace of Johnson to exploit any defensive uncertainty. He’s certainly got the speed to trouble Richard Dunne and even Micah Richards, considered a key part of the England side only a year ago, has been a little off his game of late. Something about being too tired, maybe?
I don’t expect Roy to make any changes. Dempsey’s done enough to be one of the first names on the team sheet of late – he’s certainly come back determined to prove his worth (and that shows good management on the part of our Roy in my opinion). The last American in our ranks (at least while Eddie Johnson’s learning how to score at Cardiff – not entirely successfully I might add), Dempsey had our two best efforts against Villa and, although it seems like years ago, there were those two scorchers against Spurs that Gomes did brilliantly – yes, he did! – to keep out.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Murphy, Bullard, Dempsey, Davies; Zamora, Johnson. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Stoor, Baird, Etuhu, Gray, Nevland, Gera.