Liverpool (h) Preview!
Liverpool arrive in West London for a fixture that Fulham need to get something out of if Premier League survival is to become a distinct reality rather than a pipedream. After the away win against Reading, last Saturday, we have reason to be optimistic; however, in all honesty, this fixture is the most difficult, on paper, of those we have left. It promises to be a real nail-biting, bum on the edge of your seat ninety minutes, but in a weird way, I`m really looking forward to it.
"Please, please, let us get something from the game on Saturday!"
Me, kneeling at the side of my bed last night contemplating life next season if it all goes pear-shaped!
Fulham Team News:
With the gap reduced last weekend, Roy Hodgson knows that it is crucial to get his team selection right this Saturday. With no margin for error, due to the games fast running out, Roy will probably ponder long into the night about his team selection. He`s knows there is something akin to a cat-and-mouse game going on in the Liverpool camp, he knows that Rafa has bigger things on his mind, bigger fish to fry but the experience that Hodgson has gained, in various positions, should serve him well.
Eager to start against his old team will be Danny Murphy. Our midfielder will be keen to impose himself and what better way to do so than by scoring the winner. Elsewhere, Hodgson is likely to stick with Kasey Keller in goal as he`s done nothing wrong since coming in for Anti Niemi and the back four of Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland and Stalteri more or less picks itself. Jimmy Bullard is likely to stat in midfield and Brian McBride will definitely start up front.
Therefore, as we see it, that leaves three places up for grabs and who will fill then depends on the formation selected. Will Roy start with Andreasen (he didn`t last week), has Nevland done enough to warrant a start after his goal last week or will he be contemplating the fact that David Healy`s luck must change sometime - how about this Saturday! Will Roy try to stretch Liverpool by utilising Bouazza and Davies in wide roles, all questions that add to the intrigue surrounding this fixture?
Normally, I`d speculate as to the make up of the team but on this occasion I`d ask you, our readership, to list your starting elevens in the comments section at the foot of this preview.
Player to watch: Jimmy Bullard
This game is made for our Jimmy, a chance to shine against one of the top four teams and also a chance for us to sing, at the top of our voices a chant that us shortlisted for 'Chant of the Year` in WKD Nuts Football Awards 2008. Altogether now, (to the tune of Que Sera Sera),
"Jim Bullard, Bullard, He`s better than Steve Gerrard, He`s thinner than Frank Lampard, Jim Bullard, Bullard"
Liverpool Team News:
It`s the $64,000 question trying to predict what eleven Rafa Benitez will select for this fixture. Before Everton lost to Chelsea (last night) there may well have been a requirement for Rafa to play his strongest possible eleven to ensure that their local rivals do not snatch fourth place off of them. However, the gap is now too large for Everton to seriously believe they can catch Liverpool. Therefore, to a certain extent, the pressure is off as far as the Premier League is concerned. Liverpool cannot overhaul Chelsea or United so the Champions League will once again become their focus. With Chelsea visiting Anfield next week, in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, there is every chance that Rafa, much to the annoyance of those who are battling with us for survival, will rest his key stars.
Therefore, if our assumptions are right, there is a possibility that the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher may play little or no role in this encounter. Hopefully, that will be the case and a repeat of the win we achieved last year may be on the cards.
If the aforementioned three do not play, then some of the fringe squad players are likely to feature but as Roy Hodgson has previously warned us, these fringe players are still good enough to give us some serious problems. All in all, this situation just adds to the intrigue associated with a fixture that is taking on gigantic importance in our fight for survival.
Although we should mention that Javier Masharanos is still suspended after the folly of Old Trafford. Almost definitely likely to start is Steve Finnan, who, in days gone by, used to wear the white shirt of Fulham!
Player to watch: Xavi Alonso
If selected this Spanish midfield player needs to be watched. His silky, often unnoticed, range of passing (long and short) keeps the midfield ticking over. He`s recently been linked with a return to Spanish football, if it happens it`ll be a loss to both Liverpool and the Premier League.
Match Facts & Stats
The saying that relates to being only as good as your last match would auger well if it were related to our last fixture against Liverpool at Craven Cottage. On that occasion, a 1-0 win, courtesy of a Clint Dempsey goal, probably kept Lawrie Sanchez in employment for a further six months (much to our disadvantage) as well as saving our Premier League skins.
So how does the record look against the Anfield outfit in matches between the two sides where we`re classified as the home side (albeit Craven Cottage or Loftus Road).
Premier League only - Fulham 3 wins, Liverpool 3 wins, Draws 0
All League games - Fulham 7 wins, Liverpool 7 wins, Draws 6
In theory, too close to call we`d say!
Martin Atkinson, who officiated in the Everton v Chelsea game on Thursday night, has been selected as the person to keep the two sides on an even keel!
Last week both my head and my heart were in agreement, I just knew we`d get that crucial away win that would kick start our survival campaign. This time I`ve come over all indecisive. My head says it`s going to be a tough encounter whilst my pounding heart says we`ll do it. Therefore, it`s with much regret that I`m going to suggest we`ll snatch a draw, possibly 1-1. However, with games against Manchester City, Birmingham City and Portsmouth to come, we`ll still be right in with a shout of staying up.
Our next fixture, as our season trundles towards a monumental climax, sees us make the journey to Manchester to take on a City side, next weekend, that have gone off the boil in recent weeks, more cause for optimism?