On February 22nd, Fulham travel to the Hawthorns to take on West Brom. In a clash of two teams that are struggling mightily, getting three points is crucial for both sides. After finishing eighth last season, West Brom have had a very disappointing season and are fighting for survival. Fulham are a mess at the moment.
This will be the first game in charge for their third manager this season, Felix Magath. With Fulham sitting bottom of the league, Magath will need to fight to keep them up. In a crazy relegation race that could involve 11 teams fighting it out to stay up all the way to the end of the season, these six pointers are massive games.
The outcome of this game could be hugely influenced by who is able to come back from injury for each side. West Brom will be without Claudio Yacob who suffered a hamstring injury keeping him out for a month. West Brom will have Nicolas Anelka, Stephen Sessegnon, Jonas Olsson, and Billy Jones all needing a matchday fitness test.
Fulham will be without Martin Stekelenburg and Neil Etheridge. Matthew Briggs may make his return from injury along with Fernando Amorebieta. Striker Kostas Mitroglu may make his debut, if he is able to get fit in time.
West Brom have not beaten Fulham since October of 2010. This fixture have not had more than three goals in it since February 2006. This is bad new for Fulham as they have allowed two or more goals in their last six games. Fulham have conceded more goals in 26 games last season’s Sunderland, a team that finished 17th, allowed in all 38 games last season.
To try and turn around their poor season, Fulham brought in a lot of players in January, including Lewis Holtby. Holtby adds some extra quality to the Fulham midfield and could be key to Fulham surviving. Since arriving on deadline day, Holtby has played every minute of every league game. Holtby has created a chance every 54 minutes since his arrival and created Fulham’s first goal in their 2-2 draw vs Manchester United. That assist vs United showed some of the extra quality he can bring to the team as he picked out a Steve Sidwell run with an exquisite chipped pass. Holtby is also a tireless runner and in a relegation scrap you need players who you know will give 100% for the team day in day out. Holtby’s energy and quality could help Fulham dig themselves out of the bottom three and a win at the Hawthorns would be a good start.
West Brom will need to stay solid at the back and Youssuf Mulumbu will have the job of protecting the back four to help keep them strong in defence. Mulumbu has done the job of protecting the back four well this season and has more possession wins than any other player in the league. While the successful double pivot of Mulumbu and Yacob will be broken up due to injury, Mulumbu can do a very good job of winning the ball back before it is any danger to the back four. If Mulumbu can prevent the dangers from starting, instead of allowing the back four to have to deal with set dangers, then West Brom stand a good chance of claiming all three points.
This will be a hotly contested game that will be crucial for both teams season. Fulham will hope their slew of new signings and their new manager will help propel them to victory in this game and get them out of the relegation zone. West Brom will hope their new manager, Pepe Mel, will keep West Brom out of the relegation zone and start playing more like Mel’s 2012-2013 Real Betis side and climb up the table in future years. It’s gonna be a tight game but I see West Brom edging it as they are the home team and Fulham have the worst defence in the league.
Prediction: 2-1 West Bromwich Albion