Preview: Liverpool v Fulham

Scott Heavey

Fulham travel to Anfield Saturday and I've literally been reduced to witchcraft in an effort to determine what will happen and how Martin Jol can fix the myriad issues plaguing the Cottagers.

I just cracked open an emu egg on a super heated triangular chunk of slate, pricked my finger and squeezed two drops of blood upon said slate, tossed in some marmot bones and a twelve sided die, and stirred the whole thing thrice with a silver spurtle in an effort to divine the ins and outs of what awaits Fulham in tomorrow's match against Liverpool at Anfield.

The result? I have a boiling mess to clean up and a sore finger which, if I'm honest, is still more interesting than writing what seems like the umpteenth "Fulham in danger of a heavy defeat against high flying Premier League club X" match preview.

Perhaps the tardiness of this article is a measure of how dire the situation has become. Like doing taxes or scheduling an appointment at the dentist or hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock six times before finally struggling out of bed to go to work on a Monday morning, writing about Fulham and the myriad issues currently afflicting the club has become a chore best put off until the last possible moment.

Enumerating the weaknesses of this Fulham vintage has become the debate du jour of beat journalists, bloggers, and message board posters. How and why Fulham are presently so abject is an argument with seemingly one thousand answers and the problem is, rather than nine hundred ninety nine  wrong answers and one unassailable diagnosis, everyone is seemingly able to articulate one piece of the dysfunctional puzzle Martin Jol's side has become.

After the Manchester United match, I hastily composed a piece defending some of Martin Jol's tactical decisions and strongly impeached Philippe Senderos, Fernando Amorebieta, and even Marten Stekelenburg. Through the beauty of Twitter and its capacity for instant feedback, Richard Allen at Craven Cottage Newsround, was able to convince me to call the dogs off a bit and consider the shocking lack of cover in central midfield as a contributing factor to the back four's lumpishness. Even when, in a previous match preview, I had suggested that Derek Boateng might be useful in a covering capacity, Fulham's multitude of frailties made it too easy to articulate just the most obvious. Fulham supporters are spoiled for choice in a really, really, really bad way.

Though cruelly exposed against Manchester United, Philippe Senderos, et al have simply not thus far been up to snuff. Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker have been asked to cover every blade of grass from box to box and at some point an oceanic gap has necessarily opened up between midfield and attack or, more often, midfield and defense. Dimitar Berbatov, as Winston Churchill once said, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Or was that Russia? Whatever. Same thing. Bryan Ruiz? Darren Bent? Parts of Russia too. All around good guy Sacha Riether even stomped on a kid!

And then there's Martin Jol. Even the most forgiving Fulham supporter has to admit that maybe his most positive contribution to the supporter's mental well being has been to keep the dream of a Premier League managerial post alive for legions of Football Manager enthusiasts. I'm playing right now. Rochdale is the next big thing.

So where does that leave us? With a trip to Anfield Saturday to take on a Liverpool side boasting two of the most in form strikers anywhere in the world. Brendan Rodgers's 3-5-2 didn't quite pass muster against the swirling cloud of electrons that is Arsenal's midfield, but there's no shame in that. Fulham, regrettably, are a very different proposition.

Martin Jol simply cannot persist in fielding the same personnel and system he has deployed of late. Where individuals have let down the team, alternatives need to be explored. Where tactics have led to an unprotected back four, adjustments need to be made. Perhaps this is a match for Aaron Hughes? With Elsad Zverotic set to deputize for the suspended Sacha Riether, Hughes's cool head and experience could be useful. Liverpool's five man midfield is more than capable of over-running Sidwell and Parker. With Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez prone to drag central defenders out of position toward the flanks, the resulting space in the middle of the defensive third could become a gaping maw through which Liverpool finds the back of the net...and often.

Could this finally be the match for Boateng to prove his worth? Maybe in a straight 4-5-1? A goalless draw at Anfield would be a five course meal for starving Fulham fans. At the bare minimum it would reduce the impossible number of angles needed to cover in order to write a comprehensive match review, and I wouldn't have to prick my finger next week or find a freaking emu egg again.

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