After a relatively uneventful international break (sometimes, no news is good news), we’re back in action this weekend. Thank god. I know most of you, as was I, missed having the club play over the weekend. Well, it’s back! It almost feels like a new season between the slight break and the new transfers. Despite Fulham only having recorded 1 point in their first 3 matches, most people seem optimistic about the rest of the season, or at least about the near future. Why? Well, let’s find out!
State of Fulham:
The international break, although boring, did Fulham a lot of good. First off, it gave time for newcomer Bryan Ruiz to get his work permit, and for whatever reason that took a little longer than expected. He did miss a decent amount of training, but at least he wasn’t missing matches. Supposedly he’s ready to go for this match, and very well may get the start. The best news from the international break, however, is that Bobby Zamora is healthy and ready to go for the match as well. So the club that had 1 goal in its first 3 matches could have its best striker back from injury and its new high-profile signing supporting him as well. It’s going to be interesting to see how Jol works the lineup, either putting Ruiz at winger or striker, but with Duff and Dempsey locking down the wings I’m assuming it’s relatively safe to say you’ll see Ruiz at the top, supporting Zamroa who would obviously be in the #9.
In the back, it could be interesting as well. Newcomer Zdenek Grygera could see some action, although I’d assume he would start on the bench, with the two H’s in the middle and Briggs or JA Riise (depending on Riise’s health; he played – poorly – with the Norweigan team) on one side and Baird on the other. But who knows, he’s surprised us more than once with the lineups.
You may also see Orlando Sa on the bench, although I’d assume, if Ruiz and Zamora do indeed start up top, you will see Andy Johnson and Mousa Dembele on the bench, which wouldn’t really leave any room for Sa. I know Dembele isn’t a true striker, but I don’t think you’d see Jol, a relatively conservative lineup creator, put more than 1 striker and 1 very attacking midfielder on the bench.
This match starts a string of 3 home matches, a much needed return to Craven Cottage after a rough 3 games away, all which ended in losses (although the loss at Dnipro still sent Fulham to the Europa group stage). Given Fulham’s home form, the injection of new talent and health, and the international break, I think Fulham have the opportunity to completely turn their season around here. It will be a very important 3 matches to set the tone both in the Premier League and in the Europa League. The group’s #1 seed Twente will be their European opponent at the Cottage splitting the two Premier League matches, and the final of the homeset is the out of this world in-form Manchester City. It will be a tough 3 matches, but I think Fulham could realistically, best case scenario, be looking at 4 Premier League points and 3 Europa League points. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so. Fulham have only lost 1 of their last 10 Premier League matches at home.
But I digress. Fulham will be looking to shake off what is their worst start in a Premier League season since the 2005/2006 season, partly due to the aforementioned Zamora injury. Martin Jol admitted it hurt a lot, as putting Clint Dempsey up front wasn’t the answer.
“When Bobby wasn’t available we tried with Clint and we tried with Andrew Johnson, but of course Andy for example, is better with someone like Bobby Zamora. So we had a little bit of a problem there. Hopefully now that problem is solved.”
At least the manager understands the problem. AJ and Bobby were really clicking in the early stages of the Europa League before Bobby went down, so we’ll see what happens. That could be the one X factor in determining where Ruiz plays.
One small squad note: Bjorn Helge Riise is now fit, while Simon Davies is still out with his knee problems.
State of Blackburn:
If you think Fulham’s start to the season is bad, you only need to feast your eyes upon how Blackburn has begun the campaign. They’ve scored 1 more goal than Fulham, but have 1 less point. Seeing as Fulham have only 1 point so far on the season, after you do your kindergarden math, you find Blackburn with a big goose egg. In fact, that’s their worst start to a top flight league since 1947, and the last time Blackburn went point-less in 4 straight matches at any point in a season was back in December of 08. So history’s on their side.
Also on their side are a few deadline day additions, and they will be looking to feature a few new players to the lineup. One of them could be Jordan Slew, who Fulham were very keen on and made a few bids to his former club Sheffield United which were ultimately turned down. Also new to Rovers are Yakubu, Scott Dann, and Simon Vukcevic, and you could possibly see all 4 make their club debuts.
Out for Blackburn with a hamstring injury is Morten Gamst Pedersen, and David Dunn is a doubt with a hamstring problem as well.
Statistic to watch: Clint Dempsey has scored 4 times in the last 5 matches against Blackburn.
Milestone watch: Rovers are sitting on 299 away victories in their club’s top flight history. Damien Duff is still stuck on 49 Premier League goals.
Prediction: I can’t see, with everything going for Fulham and everything against Rovers, anything other than a victory. I think a draw would be a disappointment, as I often feel at home against a bottom half club. I’m going with 2-0 Fulham with Ruiz and Hangeland on the scoresheet. Boy wouldn’t seeing Ruiz get his first be fun? The answer is yes.