The Cottage was bouncing on Thursday night and Fulham responded with a vibrant display of flowing football that keeps their hopes of reaching the last 32 of the Europa League nicely on track. Martin Jol’s side have seemingly better suited to continental competition than the rigours of the Premier League this season and they face another stern test of their domestic credentials this afternoon with the visit of Tottenham.
The memories of last year’s swashbuckling FA Cup success may linger lovingly in the back of our minds, but Spurs have won nine of their last ten league games against Fulham – including the league game at the Cottage last season, which was settled by Tom Huddlestone’s controversial goal. Harry Redknapp achieved what Jol fell agonisingly short of at White Hart Lane – a place in the Champions’ League – and his side look a good bet to return to Europe’s premier club competition again next year if their start to the new campaign is anything to go by.
Tottenham are unbeaten in seven league games since Manchester City swept their aside with a flair that has humbled plenty of Premier League defences already this season. Redknapp’s astute summer signings seemed to have supplemented a squad that looked a little laboured after their Champions’ League exploits last year. Scott Parker has added steel and guile to the midfield – and looks every inch the international player he always threatened to become – looking a relative steel at £5m. Brad Friedel has replaced Heurelho Gomes, who will always be fondled remembered by the Fulham faithful, in goal and looks set to go on and on, even at 40. Emmanuel Adebayor offers pace and potency up front and has had little trouble in reacclimatising to life in the Premier League, after a loan spell with Real Madrid, scoring three in his first two outings for Spurs.
It wasn’t as if Tottenham were struggling for attacking flair before Adebayor arrived. Gareth Bale’s ‘whoosh’ – as a seemingly awestruck Moussa Dembele put it the other day – has captured the attention of plenty of Europe’s top sides. The Welsh youngster was always a precocious talent – as we saw when he tore Fulham’s defence to shreds on a see-saw day in 2007 – but freed from any defensive shackles has emerged as the league’s leading left winger. On the opposite flank, there’s an abundance of pace as well in the shape of Aaron Lennon. Lest we forget, the mercurial Rafael van der Vaart could equal the Premier League’s consecutive scoring record as he has five goals in his last five games.
On paper, Spurs look formidable – and there won’t be any worries as to the fitness of their key players as Kevin Bond and Joe Jordan, currently deputising for Redknapp as he convalesces from heart surgery, took a largely second-string side to Russia for their Europa League engagement in midweek. Where there may be the odd creak could be in central defence with Ledley King, whose consistently high class performances belie a lack of cartilage, likely to be partnered by William Gallas, who has yet to start a league game this season.
Jol’s most pressing decision will be whether to test his former employers with the 4-4-2 that ran Wisla ragged or revert to his favoured 4-2-3-1. Andy Johnson fulfilled a wide right role with some success at Wigan but looked much more dangerous as a conventional partner for Bobby Zamora on Thursday – as he did when he gobbled up that hat-trick against QPR. Both Moussa Dembele, a scorer at the DW Stadium, and Bryan Ruiz will be available again, which could see Damien Duff – excellent in midweek – drop to the bench again. Ruiz will most likely start on the sidelines despite his memorial chip that looked to have salvaged at least a point against Everton a fortnight ago. Captain Danny Murphy, withdrawn as a precaution against Wisla, will be desperate to shake off a knee problem to line-up against his old club.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Grygera, J. A. Riise, Hangeland, Baird; Sidwell, Murphy, Dembele, Dempsey; Zamora, Johnson. Subs: Etheridge, Grygera, Briggs, Etuhu, Duff, Ruiz, Kasami.