Fulham - The Fixture List That Stole Christmas
After a relatively fruitful October, November and early December run of fixtures, Fulham are looking at a tough stretch to close out the year.
(A) Burnley, (A) FC Basel, (H) Manchester United, (H) Tottenham, (A) Chelsea
Burnley - You might look at this one and think, 'oh, not so bad.' Think again. Burnley have only dropped 5 points at Turf Moor all season. Add that to the fact that we STILL don't play well away from Craven Cottage and we STILL have a knack for losing to newly-promoted clubs, this has all the makings of a loss. We lost away to Wolves. We lost away to Brum. Betting logic dictates that we lose away to Burnley. Let's hope we can break both trends and come away with three points.
FC Basel - Our Europa League lives hang in the balance with our trip to Basel. Only a win will do against a solid Basel side that defeated Roma at St. Jakob Park earlier this year and looked very good (despite losing) on their recent visit to Rome. Had Basel defeated Roma last week, I'd feel more optimistic as they would have nothing for which to play, but as they are also playing for progression, they'll hold nothing back. It will take our best effort to win and I'm not very optimistic, given the fact that Roy Hodgson rarely puts his best eleven out for away matches in this competition. Prove me wrong, Roy! I'd like our European adventure to continue.
Manchester United - Our 2-0 win over United last March was perhaps the highlight of the season, and as much as I'd like to see a repeat, I'm not counting on it. A glut of United injuries may help matters, but even at less than full strength, United would have to be a heavy favuorite. Anything more than a point is unlikely, though a repeat would be quite a gift, indeed!
Tottenham - Yes, they were soundly beaten by three of the 'big four' sides and yes, they're still having some trouble closing-out matches, but they're making easy work of most of the league and sit in fourth position. Were it not for a fluke loss to Stoke and a great Tim Howard save, they'd be sitting comfortably in third position, now. They don't defend well, but they have as much firepower as anyone in the league. Spurs are for real this season. I don't think we'll be able to win a shootout with this lot, so we had better be ready to defend. I believe it's our best chance for a win during this stretch.
Chelsea - No heavy analysis needed for this one. Chelsea sit first in the league. Fulham rarely win away from home, and a Fulham away win versus Chelsea is even rarer. Can't see us getting much here. Again, anything more than a point is highly unlikely.
I'll concede that my expectations are very much in the 'Ba! Humbug!' camp when it comes to our matches to close the year, but with our best chance for a win being a home fixture versus a much improved Spurs squad, I don't think I'm being overly pessimistic. The momentum picked up during the past two months may run out over these next two and half weeks. I certainly hope I'm wrong (as I often am), and that the Cottagers and their fans enjoy a very Merry Christmas, but don't be surprised to find more coal than points in your Cottager Christmas stocking this year.