Weekend six-pointers to favour Whites

Posted by Phil Mison

Chris Brunskill/Getty ImagesScott Parker has epitomised Fulham's new fight under manager Rene Meulensteen.

Apart from the wild weather on both sides of the Atlantic, it has been a quiet week. In a slow news period following the hurly burly of the crowded games around Christmas, all we've had to reflect on is the parlous state of affairs at West Ham and what an irrelevant sideshow the FA Cup has now become.

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Last week Fulham showed they had marginally more to offer from their reserves than Norwich City did, and that our passage into round 4 will be confirmed Tuesday night with a customary win over the Canaries in the replay. But before that, the chips are down with fortified and rested squads and the order of the day in the battle for league points.

There may have been plenty of football on offer recently in both league and cups, but in truth not too much of it proved memorable. Standards are dropping in the Premiership, epitomized by Manchester United's fall from grace. Chelsea are grimly hanging in there, but doing so without the grace, charm or wit that seems also to have deserted manager Jose Mourinho. Liverpool remain a one-man team only as good as what mood Luis Suarez turns up in.

Man-for-man, Arsenal are a pale shadow of "the Invincibles" with their dazzling array of French internationals. Only Manchester City, on their day, are serving up the kind of stuff football writers might still be referring to in five years' time.

As for the rest, millions have been burnt on average footballers, month on month more managers get their marching orders, but little of radical note changes in football's hierarchical structure.

Manchester City will waltz their way to the title. No English side is currently good enough to win the Champions League. Therefore, if you are seeking some value from the second half of the season, I recommend you sit back and enjoy the sight of every team from Sunderland up to Stoke City taking lumps out of each other in their struggles to stay in the top division.

This is a proper contest! One where the sides are equally balanced, more or less playing around with similar budgets, and all are pinning their hopes on a couple of major marquee signings doing the business to make up for the ballast around them. Plenty of characters to keep your feature writers going here -- as West Ham boss Sam Allardyce so eloquently proves from the past week.

Saturday in Cardiff sees a game where every newsman for fifty miles can scent a story. Another bad defeat where the players again show they no longer have faith in the manager, and West Ham's owners may have to retract that statement of support for Allardyce. West Ham now find themselves in precisely the same pickle as Fulham were reduced to by Martin Jol at the end of November. Do nothing, and they can prepare for the drop. Sack Allardyce and kiss off a huge sum in compensation. Then there's the small matter of who might want to take over, or who wants to sign up to a failing club?

Fulham are key players in the dramas to come of course. The Mackems are showing signs of a revival under Gus Poyet. Well, let's say they are looking more like a team at least. It is imperative that the Whites widen the gap -- another loss for the Wearsiders will have even their own supporters sensing the dreaded drop. No easy game this at the Cottage, but I take Fulham to win. Fulham must not drop points here with tough games looming.

Maarten Stekelenburg and Brede Hangeland are fit to start. Clint Dempsey must surely feature. I think Rene Meulensteen will take a very bold approach and play Dempsey behind both Darren Bent and Dimitar Berbatov. Scott Parker can control midfield and Fulham have a number of options should they need to change the shape. All first team regulars must be well rested and hungry for the fight.

Fulham's opponents have never fully recovered from the circus act that was Paolo di Canio -- a man with an attention-seeking personality disorder matched only by Keith Allen. The Whites should be at their throats from the off and have the game sewn up by half-time.

Finally, the official site runs a weekly trivia quiz. One of my keenest followers in the U.S. has taken to playing the quiz with me. Well, it would pretty poor if this writer was getting beaten, let's be honest. I normally manage to score high, but this week I have a quick quiz for you all.

Q1: Which Fulham manager praised the following player thus?

"I said that he is arguably my best player and he should know that. Hopefully, he knows a couple of people here trust him and I am one of them."

Q2: Which player is being referred to here?

"People have to get used to him and if they don't get used to him then we have a problem because I need B**** R***. He can give us a few goals."

Q3: Were these quotes made a) in September, b) October, or c) as recently as eight weeks ago?

Q4: Which international from the current squad have Fulham given permission to first in suggesting he seek another club?

Tallyho Fulhamites and enjoy the game!




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