Match Preview: Fulham vs. Newcastle United

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Federico Macheda of Queens Park Rangers battles with Fabricio Coloccini of Newcastle United during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers at Sports Direct Arena on January 15, 2012 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Newcastle United travels to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham Saturday. These two teams last met on August 28, when Leon Best scored a brace to secure the win, while Clint Dempsey pulled one back at the 88th minute to spoil the clean sheet. This is a match preview.

The Opponent

Martin Jol's Fulham squad are a lot like Mark Hughes' Queen Park Rangers, who we just saw last week, in one respect: They seem to have trouble with the also-rans, but they always give the big boys a run for their money. I don't consider Newcastle a big club (but that's a different discussion for a different day), but they do sit in 6th, so Fulham should give the Toon a run for their money, as they always seem to do. Their position in the table can be a little deceiving, as it is hurt by a dreadful record away from Craven Cottage. They will enjoy some home cooking this go around, though, where they are a respectable 4-3-3.

The Cottagers love to score first, then drop 10 men back and dare you to find a crack. It's a stereotype of the team that their supporters will deny, but I don't know that I've ever tuned into one of their games and seen a different strategy employed.

By the way, make sure you check out Cottagers Confidential, the SBN blog for Fulham. They do some fantastic work.

Developments

Fulham were riding high after defeating Arsenal 2-1 and then Charlton Athletic 4-0 in the third round of the FA Cup (It's all because they didn't have Rob Elliot), but they were quickly brought down to earth last Saturday when the relegation-bound Blackburn Rovers beat them 3-1...with 10 men. It's been that kind of season for the Lilywhites, so I'm not too sure we can even say that they're in bad form right now. They were just playing on the road against a poor team, so of course they were going to lose. Meanwhile, Jol has signed injured goalkeeper Max Schwarzer to an extension after failing to get the signature of forward Maxi Lopez of Catania. Yeah, it's been that kind of transfer window.

Newcastle's major bit of news is the signing of Papiss Cisse, but he won't be available. Otherwise, it's been a quiet week on Tyneside...almost too quiet.

Africa Cup of Nations

Newcastle continue to be without Cheik Tiote and Demba Ba as they represent their home nations in the Africa Cup of Nations. We can now add new signing Papiss Cisse to the list, as he and Ba will pair together up front for Senegal, who play Zambia at 2100 GMT tomorrow. Tiote's Cote d'Ivoire will take on Sudan at 1600 GMT on Sunday. Fulham do not have any players participating in the AFCON, which highlights exactly how awesome this tournament is.

Selection

Fulham may be without the services of Moussa Dembele, who injured his hip in last week's loss and was replaced by Karim Frei. He will be a game time decision. If he cannot play, Dempsey and Bobby Zamora will likely play up front with Danny Murphy and Steve Sidwell supporting.

Yohan Cabaye will test his ankle before the clash to determine if he is ready to go. Haris Vuckic is the obvious replacement for him if he is unable to go. Whoever plays in that spot will partner with Danny Guthrie in midfield. I'm going to stop holding my breath for Hatem Ben Arfa to get a start until it happens. Ryan Taylor got the nod over HBA and Gabriel Obertan on the right wing last week and was effective. The expectation is that Alan Pardew will continue to go to that well until it is dry, since starting the most creative player on the team is clearly out of the question.

Newcastle United FC

Currently: 6th place, 10-6-5, 36 pts

Out: Sammy Ameobi (knee), Sylvain Marveaux (groin), Steven Taylor (Achilles'), Cheik Tiote (AFCON), Demba Ba (AFCON), Papiss Cisse (AFCON)

Probable: Peter Lovenkrands (calf), Yohan Cabaye (ankle)

Projected XI: Krul | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon | RTaylor, Guthrie, Cabaye, Jonas | Shola, Best

Projected Subs: Elliot, Obertan, Perch, Abeid, Gosling, Vuckic, Ben Arfa

Fulham FC

Currently: 14th place, 5-8-8, 23 pts

Out: Max Schwarzer (back), Zdenek Grygera (knee)

Probable: Moussa Dembele (hip), Orlando Sa (hamstring)

Projected XI: Stockdale | Kelly, Senderos, Hangeland, JARiise | Duff, Murphy, Sidwell, Ruiz | Zamora, Dempsey

Projected subs: Etheridge, Johnson, Frei, Davies, Kasami, Hughes, Baird

Expectations

It shocked me to find that Fulham were the odds-on favorites with the bookies for this one. I suppose it's because of the absence of Ba and Tiote. I don't mean to put Fulham down here, but that seems like faulty reasoning to me. Newcastle coped without Cheik for 7 games, and Ba isn't the only goalscorer on this team. I do agree that it makes each fixture way more difficult than it needs to be. However, I'm not adjusting my expectations downward. If Newcastle don't win this game, the absence of 2 of their stars is no excuse. Fulham are firmly a mid-table team. I don't hold the Magpies in much higher esteem, but they should be beating the mid-table teams. Anything else will be a disappointment in my mind.

Keys to Victory

  1. Danny Guthrie must be massive. Every one of Fulham's midfielders is a threat to score. Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini can handle the target men, but somebody must clean up the space in front of the line.
  2. Leon Best and/or Shola Ameobi must take advantage of the chances given them. Am I being petulant if I suggest that both of these players have the tendency to disappear? Last week, Shola appeared to be disinterested, while Leon Best put in a good work rate and buried the best chance he got. One or both of these guys must step up their game like they are capable of doing.
  3. Alan Pardew, please don't implement the high line. The bumpy pitch of Craven Cottage can be murder for a team that takes gambles. Maybe I'm still having nightmares of Damien Duff (spit) beating Fabricio Coloccini on a long ball in this fixture last year, but I really don't think it would behoove Newcastle to take a similar tactic.

Fearless Predictions

  • Clint Dempsey will attempt a whopping 6 shots. 1 of them will find the net.
  • Jonas Gutierrez will once again don the spider mask.
  • The telecast will at least once show a Newcastle supporter having their picture made with the Michael Jackson statue...ironically, of course.
  • FFC 1, NUFC 2
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