Fulham are a decent side. Great? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. But yes, decent, especially at forward. We're the better side and we're favorites, but something feels iffy about this game to me. Perhaps it was the Cup embarrassment at Craven Cottage last season? Maybe that has me feeling like Tottenham Hotspur always screw up at the Cottage, when that isn't actually the case.
For some reason, my brain tells me that Fulham is a bogey team and that they give us problems. As Bryan Ashlock pointed out on the podcast on Friday, this simply isn't true. Fulham have only defeated Tottenham once in their last 10 Premier League meetings. Quite the opposite of what I thought is actually true. We usually beat up on these guys.
At the start of Saturday's action, Fulham sat 15th in the table with two wins from 10 matches. They only managed a draw against Blackburn. They were thoroughly defeated by Stoke City. Their last home game was a loss against Everton. The 6-0 thrashing of QPR and the draw against Manchester City look good, but for all intents and purposes, this team actually isn't performing that well.
Both teams will have some serious matchup advantages, though I think we have the more important ones. Let's do a Tottenham compliment sandwich! I'll point out something good, something they need to improve on, and finish it with something good! Corporate America!
Out wide, Fulham's fullbacks are questionable. Zdenek Grygera, once a very well respected player for Juventus and Czech Republic, no longer plays for either simply because age has not been kind to him and he's not good enough to play for those teams anymore. John Arne Riise, a man with an unbelievable left foot plays on the other side. At 31, his pace is not what it once was.
I'm not on this "inverted wingers are bad" trip like a few of you are, and I liked a lot of what I saw from Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale cutting in last week. It makes a whole lot of sense when we don't have much for height in the middle. However, Lennon and Bale should be able to get to the byline against these guys. They should be able to cut the ball back and find late runners at the top of the box. I'm hoping to see a lot more of this than we saw against QPR.
The spot where Fulham should have an advantage over Tottenham is on set pieces. We saw in both the Blackburn game and the QPR game how vulnerable we can be defending set pieces, not that this was really news. We've always had some trouble in this area, even under Martin Jol and Juande Ramos, and it's made worse by the fact that we can't keep the club's two longest serving defenders healthy. Christopher Samba terrorized us in the air two weeks ago, while Jay Bothroyd and Heidar Helguson created a goal on a set piece last week. These problems will still exist against Fulham.
Brede Hangeland is a bit overrated as a defender in my opinion, but he's absolutely elite in the air, both defending and attacking set pieces. Clint Dempsey, Bobby Zamora, Chris Baird, and Bryan Ruiz also make fantastic targets in the box for an attacking set piece, and Danny Murphy is fantastic at delivering them. We could play a nearly perfect game from open play and concede a couple of goals in this manner, without a doubt.
Of course, if we are as dominant as we should be in the middle, that really should not matter. As good as Murphy is at delivering a dead ball and as intelligent of a player as he is, he is 34-years-old and occasionally looks the part in the center. He's no longer a great athlete in the center, and there's no reason to believe that Murphy and Steve Sidwell can match Luka Modric, Scott Parker, and Rafael van der Vaart in their current form. Even if Fulham has one of their forwards playing deep to harass Parker, Tottenham have a huge leg up in that regard.
While it won't make a huge difference if Tottenham is on their game, the biggest way that Fulham can influence this match is with who they choose to play on the wings and up top, as well as who plays where. Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora are locks to start, and Zamora will start up top. Where Dempsey plays and what other two players Martin Jol selects and how he plays them will be the biggest tactical decision made to start this match. Dempsey can play left, right or center. Same goes for Moussa Dembele. Ruiz can play up top or on the left. Damian Duff is still effective on the left, while Pajtim Kasami could spice things up a bit as well.
I like Tottenham to win this match, but Jol is smart enough to put together a Fulham side to challenge Tottenham, and it doesn't hurt that he has plenty of competent personnel to choose from.
Tottenham Hotspur Projected Lineup (4-4-1-1): Friedel; Assou-Ekotto, Kaboul, King, Walker; Bale, Modric, Parker, Lennon; van der Vaart; Adebayor
Fulham Projected Lineup (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Riise, Baird, Hangeland, Grygera; Dembele, Murphy, Sidwell, Dempsey; Ruiz, Zamora
Pick: 2-1 Tottenham
Fulham vs. Tottenham kicks off at 11:00 am ET, 4:00 pm GMT (clock change!). It can be seen on FOX Soccer Channel in the USA, Sky Sports 1 in the UK, and Rogers Sportsnet World in Canada.