Match Preview: Newcastle United FC vs. Fulham FC

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18: Clint Dempsey of Fulham scores his side's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Play-Off round qualifying first leg match between Fulham and FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk at Craven Cottage on August 18, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Newcastle United will host Fulham Sunday in the third match of the season for both clubs before a two-week layoff.  Fulham have started the season in poor form, drawing with Aston Villa in a snoozer and losing to Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0.  Newcastle have surprised with their good fortune to start the campaign and are the betting favorites in this one.  Last time these two teams met, Fulham gained a 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage with a long ball over the top to Newcastle expatriate Damien Duff.

The match preview follows the jump.

Newcastle United FC

Currently: T-4th, 1-1-0, 4 pts

Last Year:12th, 11-13-14, 46 pts

Out: Hatem Ben Arfa (ankle), Mike Williamson (ankle), Steve Harper (knee)

Questionable: Shola Ameobi (hip)

Projected XI: Krul | Simpson, STaylor, Coloccini, RTaylor | Obertan, Jonas, Tiote, Cabaye, Marveaux | Best

Projected Subs: Soderberg, Perch, Ferguson, Obertan, Shola Ameobi, Lovenkrands, Ba

Fulham FC

Currently:T-13th, 0-1-1, 1 pt

Last Year: 8th, 11-16-11, 49 pts

Out: Simon Davies (knee)

Questionable: Bobby Zamora (ankle), John Arne Riise (groin)

Projected XI: Schwarzer | Hughes, Senderos, Hangeland, Briggs | Duff, Murphy, Etehu, Dempsey | Johnson, Dembele

Projected Subs: Sidwell, Etheridge, Kasami, Frei, Kelly, Gecov, Halliche

Match Official: Kevin Friend

The Opponent

The scheduling demands of a European competition are hard enough for even the biggest clubs to handle.  Fulham, who qualified for the Europa League by virtue of being the highest non-qualifier on last season's Fair Play Table, are not a very deep team, so the privilege of playing in Europe will be something of a strain on their chances to finish in mid-table, as they seemingly always do.  The Cottagers fielded almost a full first team squad earlier this week against Dnipro in Ukraine.  Alan Pardew selected a strong squad himself against Scunthorpe in the League Cup, but more of Newcastle's starters were rested and there was no trans-continental trip to deal with.

Tactically, Fulham tend to play with most of their men behind the ball, patiently looking for cracks in the defense to exploit when they do gain possession.  That characteristic doesn't seem to have changed under the tutelage of Martin Jol, but since they're one of five Premier League teams left who have yet to score a goal, don't rule out a more aggressive style.  Daniel Murphy will be the man on the ball most of the time, and he will no doubt be looking for Clint Dempsey, who was the team's top scorer last season out of the midfield.

Developments

The shadow of the transfer window looms over any and all fixtures this weekend.  Joey Barton has recently spurned Newcastle for Queens Park Rangers, and rumors continue to swirl around the likes of Danny Simpson and a few fringe players.  Meanwhile, Fulham will be happy to get through another window without losing Clint Dempsey, who has been linked to several clubs, including Newcastle.

How will Alan Pardew deal with the loss of Joey Barton?  Depending on the formation he chooses, there are several candidates to take his place permanently, but until the needs at left back and striker are filled (please?), he'll probably continue to experiment with different personnel packages.  With Fulham likely to play for a draw on the road, a 4-5-1 with an emphasis on possession similar to the one used at Sunderland might be in play.

Expectations

Consistency has been the watchword the last couple of seasons, as Newcastle have proven that they can gear up to fight with the big boys, but have had trouble putting lesser teams away.  You don't need to look any further than the first half at Scunthorpe for evidence.  The hungry, motivated team that came out in the second half ready to play needs to be the team we see week in and week out for 90 minutes.  I hope they learned that lesson on Thursday.

I picked Fulham to finish ahead of Newcastle in the table, so I don't necessarily see them as "beneath" the Toon, but given the circumstances, a loss would be abject failure.  A draw is probably the most likely scenario, but I see no reason not to be optimistic.

Keys to Victory

  1. The Magpies should come out with guns blazing in the first 15 minutes or so.  Fulham will have tired legs and may just surrender hope if Gabriel Obertan, Yohan Cabaye, and others will show that they're not afraid to run at their markers.  A blistering start may also entice Martin Jol into making ill-advised substitutions, something he was surely guilty of against Wolves.
  2. The midfielders must continue to support the outside backs.  Until Newcastle buys a left back, their opponents will continue to try to exploit Ryan Taylor.  Whoever plays left mid, be it Sylvain Marveaux or Jonas Gutierrez, should be mindful of this.  Providing similar support for Danny Simpson is also advisable, as always.
  3. Somebody must step up and be the tough guy in the middle of the pitch (and that somebody should not be Cheik Tiote).  If the Magpies are going to continue their hit and hope strategy, somebody must be willing to get dirty to gather headed balls, and that role has always suited Joey Barton well.  Now that he's gone, who will it be?  Cabaye?  Obertan?  Okay, maybe it does need to be Cheik Tiote.  Let's just hope he can stay out of the referee's book.

Fearless Predictions

  • Ryan Taylor, over the wall.  That's right, I'm calling for a third straight match.
  • Coloccini will be involved in an altercation with Duff, further endearing him to the Toon Army.
  • Erik Pieters will sign just before kick-off.
  • NUFC 2, FFC 0
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