I spent the morning asking my Magic 8 Ball if Fulham would come back from Birmingham Saturday with all three points in the bag. I got four "Outlook not so goods," one "Don't count on it," three "Very doubtfuls," and one infuriating "Better not tell you now." I don't want to be a downer, but who am I to argue with a Magic 8 Ball? It's science.
It's that time of year again in the Barclays Premier League when the fixture list produces some wonky results that go against form, history, and all logic. Clubs fortunate to go deep into the myriad cup competitions are dealing with heavy legs and fatigue. Titular players are rested against inferior competition in order to save their mettle for the big, "6 point" matches. Clubs at the foot of the table are fighting for their Premier League lives and transform from lambs into lions.
In the middle of this maelstrom sit the mid table sides, assured of Premier League status for the coming season and comfortably distant from the chaos at the bottom. Safe, but not much to play for and possibly with one foot already on the beach.
It's in this latter group that Fulham find themselves, as Martin Jol suggested earlier this week before executing a sharp u-turn lest he tempt fate too aggressively. It's hard to see the Cottagers getting sucked down into the mire, but it's also hard to see them pushing for a European place with so few matches left in the season and, with the loss of Ashkan Dejagah, the injury bug has reared its ugly head to break up the fluidity with which the Whites have recently been playing. Plus, there's that pesky away curse that seems to plague every Fulham vintage.
Enter Aston Villa. Paul Lambert will surly fancy his side's chances to take all three points when Fulham visit on Saturday and he will have prepped his players accordingly. The Villans have been playing some rather good football of late and they're close enough to safety that positive momentum has defeated despair. It's not exactly Fulham's Great Escape of 2008, but it's certainly a nearly completed Pretty Good Escape.
Add to this motivation the complimentary motivations of players like Christian Benteke, Gabby Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann, and even Darren Bent (remember him?!) to jostle themselves to the front of the shop window and suddenly a Villa win doesn't seem even remotely out of the question. If Villa do go down, their wages could suddenly make them surplus to requirements and, in the case of Benteke at least, the financial windfall created from their sale could make Villa's landing in the League Championship just a touch softer. Obviously, the first goal is to stay up, but barring that, a nice new shiny contract with another Premier League club isn't a bad consolation prize.
I fully expect Aston Villa to come out firing at home and I see this match ending at something like 3-2 for Paul Lambert's boys. Call me a cynic, but Magic 8 Balls don't lie. It would be false advertising. Fulham will get their chances as Aston Villa boast some of the most generous defenders in the Premier League and Dimitar Berbatov could put on an insouciant display of technical nous as he composes an opus of attacking class at the expense of the Villa back four, but I don't think it will be enough. With looming fixtures against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal, I can see a relegation scrap against the Villans getting lost in the shuffle. All of this makes for a potentially exciting by ultimately regrettable day out for the traveling Fulham faithful.
My advice? Get Christian Benteke in your fantasy side. Heck, get Berbatov in there too, just stay away from players in either team's back four. Of course, I'd love it if the old 8 Ball was wrong. COYW!