Game preview - Stoke City (a)

LONDON ENGLAND - JANUARY 22: Clint Dempsey of Fulham is held back by Dean Whitehead of Stoke City during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Stoke City at Craven Cottage on January 22 2011 in London England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

A break wasn't really what we needed after humiliating Queens Park Rangers in early October. We were arguably fatigued, what with our current battle on two fronts, but we were clearly in form. Two weeks later, though, and who knows?

Well, what we do know is Pajtim Kasami is funding the boys' Christmas party, Jol is already looking at January signings and Craven Cottage is set to get bigger. Doesn't make a visit to the Britannia any easier to predict, however.

Stoke City have had the chance to undergo a new revolution this year and it's safe to say they have done so. Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios are but two of their illustrious summer signings and it is clear that chairman Peter Coates and manager Tony Pulis have bigger and better things aimed at in their cross-hair. 

For all their lavish spending, though, their style of play has only altered marginally. We can still expect a physical battle of the utmost proportion on Saturday afternoon but there'll be a new craft to their play which has undoubtedly made them harder to contain. They currently sit in 8th place and have had a mixed bag of form.

In the league, wins over Liverpool and West Brom have lifted them up the table whilst well oiled European performances have given them 4 points from a possible 6, in what is a very tough Europa League group. Their last outing, though, saw them out-gunned in Wales by a resilient Swansea side. Stoke hit the woodwork twice while Swansea were ironically clinical, getting two goals, after a relatively fruitless start to the campaign.

Fulham, meanwhile, are on a high after defeating local rivals QPR by six goals to nil. For all the outlandishness in the scoreline, it is still fair to say the result reflected the performance as Fulham looked creative and deadly in equal proportions. Two competitive wins out of two should give Fulham an edge, but the international break was not timed quite as astutely as Jol would have hoped. 

In the same fixture last season, Chris Baird single handedly got Mark Hughes his first away Premier League victory in his Fulham reign, scoring two well struck goals to give Fulham a 2-0 win. At Craven Cottage, the scoreline was repeated in what was a polished performance by Hughes' men.

Matthew Etherington may return for the hosts, following treatment for a hamstring complaint. Kenwyne Jones may be welcomed back to the line up after a similar problem. Palacios, Fuller and Higginbotham are confirmed non-starters. 

For Fulham, Aaron Hughes is given a grateful return to the first team but Bryan Ruiz and Phillipe Senderos cannot take part. Stephen Kelly has also put to bed rumours of a Jol-Zamora bust up which should pave the way for the striker to lead the line on Saturday:

'Bobby's huge for us. He's such an outlet and brings others into the game. A lot of our football is played around him and getting shots off his link-up play.

'I've not seen any bust-up - I think it's just stuff in the press. The manager's keeping things fresh and changing things to keep everyone on their toes.'

Predicted line-up: Schwarzer; Riise, Hangeland, Hughes, Baird; Dempsey, Murphy, Etuhu, Duff; Zamora, Johnson

Score prediction: Stoke 0 - 0 Fulham

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