State of the Clubs
Newcastle struggled last season both to score goals (only 45, which was two less than Wigan) and to stop conceding (68, with Villa the only team who gave up more and stayed up). So fa, this season doesn't look so different, as they gave up 4 goals to Manchester City and have yet to score a league goal. In fact, it took until the 84th minute for them to finally score the first goal of the season in their Capital One Cup Match with Morecambe. To make matters worse; Mike Williamson, Jonas Gutierrez, Loic Remy, Ryan Taylor and Cheick Tiote will all be out for this game with injury. Plus Steven Taylor is still serving his three match ban for his red card against Manchester City. If that wasn't enough, no one knows if Yohan Cabaye will actually play. All of that makes it look like a great time to play them, but as we learned last week against Arsenal; a team up against the wall can be a dangerous foe.
Fulham have concerns of their own. Fernando Amorebieta, Maarten Stekelenburg and Kieran Richardson will all be out for this match. Not to mention that John Arne Riise, Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes, Sascha Riether, Scott Parker, Bryan Ruiz, and Darren Bent all played the full 120 minutes in the cup match on Tuesday. Martin Jol has his work cut out for him in choosing a side for this one. I believe he still has no idea what his best eleven are, and having his hand forced like this could make it harder for him to figure out. On the other hand, taking away options might make him consider combinations he hadn't considered before.
What I Want
Fulham have a lot of options. This is both good and bad. Like Jol, I'm not sure what the best eleven is yet. Injuries make things a little easier, as I don't have quite as many permutations available to me. If I were Jol, this is the lineup I'd choose:
With a bench of Neil Etheridge, Scott Parker, Steve Sidwell, John Arne Riise, Adel Taarabt, Darren Bent, and Giorgios Karagounis.
I'd like to give as many of the players that went 120 minutes on Tuesday a break. I also wouldn't mind giving Rodallega a shot up top. Bent would be the ideal choice, but after he went 120 minutes, I don't want to make him start again on short rest. Plus, I feel Hugo might just deserve it after his performance on Tuesday. If he proves to be ineffective, you have the options of Taarabt and Bent on the bench. Jol also has the option of bringing on Sidwell or Parker and moving Kasami up to play with Berbatov. I'm to the point where I don't want to see Riise or Duff play unless there is no other choice. I thought Duff (other than one good ball on a corner) has been pretty poor so far this year. And Riise was horrible in both matches.
I'd really like to see Fulham play a counter attacking game with this lineup. There's enough pace there that balls can be played through Berbatov and Kasami to the three pacy players attacking the goal.
What I Expect
Now is this what I think Jol will play? Of course not. I expect much gnashing of teeth on twitter when the lineups are announced and I suspect it will be something along the lines of this:
With a bench of Neil Etheridge, Alex Kacaniklic, Patjim Kasami, John Arne Riise, Giorgios Karagounis, Bryan Ruiz, and Steve Sidwell.
I'm guessing that even Jol won't pick Riise on short rest after how bad he's been the last two matches. But it wouldn't surprise me to see it. For some reason Jol just doesn't seem to trust Briggs. I don't like the idea of Parker playing again after going 120 on Tuesday, but Jol loves him, so I expect to see it. Taarabt seems to be Jol's first choice on the left even though I think Kacaniklic brings a better work rate and more than just one option (cut inside and shoot). I expect Duff to go because Jol likes him and it's against his old club.
I believe Fulham will play very similarly on defense to how they approached the Sunderland match. Fulham will be content to let them hold the ball and only press heavily in the final third. I expect Newcastle to have a lot of shots from distance just as Sunderland did. Newcastle have only managed one shot on target in two league matches, so I expect Fulham to be quite happy to allow them to shoot from long range. A lot will depend on if Fulham play with enough pace to bother Newcastle on the counter. I worry that Jol's lineup won't be able to transition fast enough to make this strategy viable.
The match may very will be decided on what happens early. I expect Jol to try and win this one. If they nab an early goal, they will probably be quite content to defend and counter. The longer it stays scoreless however, the more tempted Jol will be to just play for the point.
I think the match probably ends up a 1-1 draw. I just can't see Newcastle going another game without scoring. But I also don't think they'll be able to keep a clean sheet. I think Berbatov scores early but Fulham give up a late equalizer, most likely by a mistake by whoever is playing left back.
I'll be watching this game live, which so far has seemed to be a good omen for the club. COYW!