Not long now, six hours odd until probably our most anticipated game of the season. We say we don’t like Chelsea, and we don’t, but on the whole the Chelsea Fulham rivalry is relatively… I’m not sure of the word, but there isn’t the animosity between the two clubs that you normally see in rivalries. I mean it’s there, just not as fierce. You can’t say that about QPR though. There a is strong resentment from the fans toward each other, despite only having played each other 27 times in the last 130 years or so. Surely figures at the club now go on to accentuate it. Joey Barton, Neil ‘Colin’ Warnock, neither do much to endear QPR to fans normally, let alone a heated derby. As stats go they bode well; we’re on a four match winning/clean sheet run against QPR, infact they haven’t scored against us for 28 years, and interestingly enough this is the first time we are playing each other in the top division of English football. Let’s hope we’ll make it five in a row.
Our team news is quite promising. Hughes could be fit to play and will face a fitness test whereas both Dembele and Zamora have recovered from the bugs that kept them out of Odense. On QPRs side first choice left back Traore is banned after the two yellows against Villa.
Our team selection will be interesting. There is no general consensus amongst the fans towards our best XI. Dembele is either a genius or a fraud depending on who you ask, Baird or Kelly?, Etuhu’s a joke or a good player to break up play, Duffs past it or Kasami’s too inexperienced, but that’s the par for football fans. What is more worrying is that Jol doesn’t seem to know his best XI either. Alright there are some names that fans and Jol alike will agree are first team garuntees in the shape of Schwarzer, Zamora, Hangeland, Murphy, Hughes, Dempsey, but it’s the players around them. This disruption, especially among the back four, will not be healthy for the team and in hindsight I’m quite pleased then that a strong team was out against Odense. And to be fair to Jol, his selections have been disrupted by illness, including a few literal last-minute withdrawals, and injury (has Hughes missed this amount of games through injury for us in his entire Fulham career?).
Schwarzer picks himself at goal and if there was any doubt about Riise’s place in the team then that’s been quashed, for today at least, by the knock Briggs sustained midweek. Hangeland again will play centre half and I think Jol will go with Baird and Grygera again as he did against West Brom. Baird at centre half certainly, following impressive league form, and although right back is more contentious I don’t think Kelly would have played the full 90 against Odense if he was also going to play today. Probably the best choice tactically too, since Taraabt will most likely play on the left as he has done the last three games and because his game is totally full of trickery rather than direct running at pace, especially since he cuts in from that left side onto his stronger foot, you would think that Grygera, used to standing up to players like that compared to those running at him with which he struggled a couple of times against West Brom and with the positioning and anticipation of a centre half, would be the better choice, made even better that Traore, whos pace is rediculous, won’t be bombing down the wing from left back either thanks to suspension. Grygera should also be positive and aggressive with his forward runs. I trust him to make sensible ones but with Taraabt’s reputation for not always working as hard as he could it would help leave us with one man over on this side, and I expect Bothroyd or Campbell upfront to be relatively isolated so the left centre half can help cover Grygera’s runs. This is all assuming Hughes fails his fitness test by the way. If he passes it he’ll slot in alongside Hangeland.
In midfield I’m almost certain Dempsey, Murphy and Sidwell will play. I don’t think Etuhu’s inclusion midweek over Sidwell means anything about Sidwells place in the first team, just that he wanted Etuhu to get a game. I think Kasami’s played his way into the first team too with good performances against City, Chelsea and West Brom, and will start ahead of Duff. This selection at right midfield is quite key actually, because in Traore’s abscence it is likely that Connolly, a centre half/right back usually, will start in his place. He is relatively unagile and in an unfamiliar position so good wing play on that side could be a good source of chances for us. Get Duff or Kasami one on one and they will be favourites you’d imagine. I think that Kasami will be the brighter of the two though so, as I say, I’m sure he’ll get a chance.
Zamora has recovered and will start upfront. Johnson’s performance against Odense was certainly a good way to say ‘Hi Jolly I’m still here’ but I think that it’ll be important to play a second, more fluid frontman next to Zamora. Derry and Barton are not mobile so we should have someone drop deep we will be able to play around them relatively easily. Neither Fitz Hall or Ferdinand are intelligent defenders either so someone who comes short will be able to outfox them I think. The three that they play in the centre (Faurlin, Derry and Barton) do work hard however so we will need someone who will commit defenders and after a run of games in the first team anyway I think it’ll be Dembele over Ruiz. Ruiz is clearly so talented but he hasn’t yet come to terms with the pace of the game and should Dembele perform like he did against City we will be on to a match winner.
QPR are organised at the back and play nice possession football. With Bothroyd upfront they have someone they can rely on to hold the ball up and compete upfront, not unlike our Bobby, and with Derry in midfield they have an experienced, intelligent defensive midfielder who can read the game well and break up play despite his advancing years. Faurlin is a decent passer although nothing special, and Barton has a sweet right foot so we will need to watch out for him. On the wings too they have two potentially dangerous players. Wright-Phillips on the right has an abundance of pace whatever you say about him, headless chicken/no end product/etc. (which I think is harsh actually), sheer pace alone is a dangerous attribute. Riise will have to concentrate, and Dempsey must work hard to null Young’s intelligent and sometimes piercing runs from right back. On the other side Adel Taraabt will almost certainly line up there. He is a supreme talent, tricks for days, the arrogance to try something when he really shouldn’t and the ability to make it work, a burst of acceleration, low balance and agility, no doubt a very good player. His temperament and work rate however isn’t consistent, whereas some days he can be unplayable and create at will, others he will not try so hard and will hardly be seen. Conolly at left back won’t be a threat so that will help when it comes to dealing with threats down that side. On the whole, QPR under the management of Warnock are solid but they have that flair and quality in three talented players to create chances which we must be wary about. We must also be patient with our passing, aim to keep possession and use Dembele, Dempsey and Kasami to commit players to make space, and have Kasami and Riise out wide to stretch play.
As long as we play well, we’ll be smiling come 5 o’clock.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Grygera, Baird, Hangeland, Riise; Murphy, Sidwell; Kasami, Dembele, Dempsey; Zamora; SUBS: Etheridge, Ruiz, Etuhu, Senderos, Sa, Duff, Kelly
MY SCORE PREDICTION: Fulham 2 – 0 QPR