Fulham host Newcastle United on Monday night in a battle between two sides that have flattered to deceive so far this season.
Martin Jol’s men started the season well but have slipped away recently and are without a win in eight, picking up just four points. Newcastle’s 3-0 win over Wigan last Monday halted a run of four consecutive defeats and they sit in 14th place, 10 places lower than they were this time last season. Gael Bigirimana’s stunning strike was his first for the club and made him the first player from Burundi to score in the Premier League, the 89th nation to have a player score a goal in the top flight. Fulham are just one place above Newcastle courtesy of a better goal difference, although going into this weekend they had scored more goals than anyone else outside the Premier League’s top four.
Fulham have had the better of the side’s last seven EPL meetings, winning four and drawing one. The corresponding fixture last year saw Fulham hammer the high-flying Magpies 5-2 at Craven Cottage to get revenge for the 2-1 defeat at St James’s Park a few months before. Before last season, when 10 goals were scored in the two games between the clubs, there had only been seven goals in five games.
In the game at Craven Cottage last season Clint Dempsey scored a hat-trick, but has since left for Tottenham Hotspur. Fulham have won their last three home league games against Newcastle, but have lost three times in West London already this season.
Martin Jol will be delighted to bring centre-back Brede Hangeland back into his starting eleven as he returns from injury, while winger Alexander Kacaniklic is fit again. Attacking midfielder Bryan Ruiz is still sidelined with a hamstring complaint, so the Cottagers will have to look to summer signings Dimitar Berbatov and Mladen Petric for forward inspiration.
Hatem Ben Arfa should be available again after a spell on the treatment table, but Cheick Tiote, Davide Santon and Demba Ba all have niggling problems, although should be fit enough to join the squad on the journey to London.
Ones to watch
£4 million summer signing Berbatov has hit an excellent run of form since he joined Fulham from Manchester United and has five goals and three assists so far this season. He has also created more chances in open play than any other Fulham player with 20. In the absence of top assist-maker Bryan Ruiz, the home team will look to veteran winger Damien Duff to provide the creative spark. The Irishman has created as many overall chances as Berbatov this season with 23, and has grabbed three assists and three goals.
In the second half of last season it was Papiss Demba Cisse who was the shining light for Alan Pardew’s team as they narrowly missed out on a top four place, but it is his Senegalese countryman Demba Ba who has been on fire this term. Ba has the most goals, total shots, shots on and off target and most shots blocked in the Newcastle squad this season and is definitely their main man.
Newcastle have had a sluggish start to the season, while Fulham have been very inconsistent. At home the London club will go into the match as favourites, although the visitors have the fire-power to hurt Fulham, especially with Ben Arfa back from injury.
Prediction: Fulham 2-1 Newcastle