Fulham's beating heart

Posted by Phil Mison

Michael Regan/Getty ImagesRene Meulensteen's Fulham side face a big test against struggling Swansea.

Doctors report little change in the patient's condition. London's oldest club remains on the critical list, and the next few days may be pivotal for chances of a full recovery.

For their second game of three this week, Rene Meulensteen takes the strongest side available to him for a massive encounter with fellow strugglers Swansea. It is one thing to shrug off expected defeats at places like Arsenal, but folding up in such alarming fashion at home to Sunderland earlier this month has left a sour taste that will not go away.

Sunday's Cup escapade up to Sheffield through the driving rain did nothing to raise spirits. Fulham could easily have lost to a side scrambling to save themselves dropping into League Two. Yes, Meulensteen made eleven changes and threw in the kids -- sensibly resting his senior stars ahead of the showdown with Swansea, but I had no issues with the team selected.

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But as a barometer of how far this club has declined since 2011, this "C" team barely managed to contain 10-man United at Bramhall Lane. There were senior players out there in blue with enough international caps between them to have effectively covered the playing surface from the incessant rain. Players, on huge wages, who in their time ascended the mountain to European finals, promotion medals, Cup glory and fan adulation, and on Sunday they played and looked like a pub team from the local Yorkshire league.

Nothing from the trip north now matters because Meulensteen got away with it. Hugo Rodallega's one glimpse of quality secured the draw that sees the Whites live to fight another day back at the Cottage. Fulham will now progress to another home tie in Round 5, by which time the club may start taking the FA Cup more seriously.

But the clear message from Sunday's mud bath was how ruthless and deep the cull come May must be. This difficult week now demands full focus on taking points from games with Swansea and Southampton. Because, as I said on this week's ESPNFC podcast, staying among the Premier League elite is all that matters.

Since Sunday, I've been increasingly asked, "Can Fulham stay up?" Want to quantify how important the coming few days are to Fulham's survival hopes? If no points are taken from the next two games -- and should we find it impossible to land any new recruits in the transfer market, I think we fans must prepare for the drop. The current side is nowhere near good enough, and that has been transparently obvious now for a year. Having been televised, plenty of armchair neutrals Sunday took to Twitter deriding the club as no longer fit for the Premiership. Hard to argue with that.

Beat Swansea, a side on a run even worse than Fulham's, and take a point from Southampton and suddenly the table takes on a whole new slant. Pray with all your might that the club also land a couple of the myriad names they've been linked with.

Draw comfort too from the dire straits many of the sides around Fulham find themselves in -- the subject of a recent blog: rumours of frustration at Stoke, tension between manager and board at both Palace and Swansea, massive fan disenchantment with managers Chris Hughton and Paul Lambert; major question marks still over Gus Poyet and Sam Allardyce.

Advice to Meulensteen: Get back that mojo we saw from your first games in charge. The side clearly raised their game against Spurs four days after the disastrous Martin Jol was sent packing, and were well worthy of a draw on the night. Then the team had an excellent all round display to see off Aston Villa, easily beaten at the Cottage.

I really do have concerns over the inexplicable addition of Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins (especially) to the management team; that can only blur the lines and deflect Meulensteen from his own purpose and vision for progressing the squad. Just ask yourself one question, Rene, every morning you stand before the mirror: Would your old mentor Sir Alex Ferguson have had either of these two anywhere near his club?

Here are the facts and figures ahead of the trip to the Liberty Stadium. Can we repeat the win there on the final day of last season? Laudrup has a long injury list and the smallest squad in the league. Fulham are at full strength and well rested.

Key man for Swansea: Wilfried Bony -- could give Fulham's porous back line real problems.

Key man for Fulham: Steve Sidwell -- must keep disciplined and cut out the needless fouls in dangerous areas. Never short on confidence, always looking to grab a goal.

Prediction: Too scary to call! Neither side seems capable of keeping a clean sheet.

Whichever side you support, digest the pre-game fact file, then pour yourself a stiff drink!

Swansea have no win from eight, their longest-ever run in the Premier League without a victory. The Swans have won just two of their last 16 Premier League home games. No clean sheet in their last eight league games, the worst such run in the top flight. And they have kept just one in their last 13.

The Swans have conceded the opening goal in their Premier League fixtures 14 times this season; Fulham can actually better that by one. Fulham are not great at coming from behind.

Fulham have gone 18 matches without drawing in the league, winning five and losing 13.

The Cottagers show just three wins from their last 14 top-flight matches. Villa, Norwich, West Ham. Fulham have managed just one clean sheet in the last 15 Premier League matches.

Want to sum up the season to date? The Whites have allowed 141 shots on target against this season, more than any other team in the top flight.

And the host on Monday's podcast led off by asking me, "So where do you see Fulham's problems at the moment? COYW!



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