Fulham to face full United force again?

Posted by Phil Mison

Paul Gilham/Getty ImagesDimitar Berbatov, left, leaves Craven Cottage with a hamstring injury Wednesday. He has been ruled out of Saturday's match.

Barely have we had time to draw breath this week and the circus rolls on. For Saturday, they don't come any bigger than the most successful brand in global football - mighty Manchester United are back in town Saturday. With clear water between them and the chasing pack, and a potentially stronger lineup than the side that so effortlessly put us to the sword last week in the Cup, is the result a foregone conclusion?

Perhaps not. While Fulham proved too good for a West Ham side on the slide this week, they are still some way off being the vibrant and settled side that ended last season in such style. But with the team edging back into mid-table, and with 14 games still to go, defeat here at the hands of Sir Alex’s all-stars will not derail our season. However, we must take heart from the way Southampton really rattled their cage Wednesday, being both unlucky not to take a point and lauded by SAF in the process as the best side to visit Old Trafford all season.

Much predictably lazy journalism prefaced our Cup tie at Old Trafford last week, focusing on how Dimitar Berbatov was the ‘fulcrum’ of Fulham's team. He hasn’t been for some time - and will not be in the side Saturday after tweaking his hamstring Wednesday.

In reality, Fulham not had a fulcrum all season. In fact, as form melted away like the recent snowfalls, Dimi had actually become the problem child – a petulant poisoned chalice. That’s emotive stuff, and you may disagree, when one recalls the praise liberally heaped on the Bulgarian by Martin Jol week on week and the slavering copy that accompanied his arrival Thameside. Why, it was the transfer coup of the year!

So I was thankful for an excellent article I came across from a Manchester United supporter assessing Berbatov’s contribution to Fulham – it’s from a website I know nothing about called Outside of the Boot. I have taken the liberty of quoting liberally from it. Straight up the writer makes the point that Dimi cut a forlorn and peripheral figure last week in our 4-1 defeat. Here are some observations about a player who clearly managed to frustrate and bedazzle the United fans in equal measure from a writer who knows.

I don’t think Craven Cottage will ever be able to see the best of Dimitar Berbatov. I would like to sympathize with him but I’m afraid to say he has only himself to blame. You join a mid-table club and that is exactly what you get.

Dimitar Berbatov is a player who needs to be surrounded by other quality players. He will always play the game at his pace, he walks to a different beat.

You cannot expect him to chase down balls down the channels and haggle defenders and try to pinch the ball back. He is, quite simply, not that type of player. He wants the ball to be played at his feet on most occasions and expects it to be played at precisely the right angle and speed. A little off target and you can expect a withering stare in reply. Frankly, Fulham at the moment don’t have the players capable of that.

That sums up the package pretty neatly, I’d say. What’s more, at the end of the transfer window Fulham still don’t have any big characters with enough star quality to make the best use of our mercurial Bulgarian. Following the non-effort put in last week one straight-talking poster to this site from the U.S. was not holding back. It was high time Berbatov got hauled into the office and told to ‘man up.’

Well ‘man up’ in a fashion he did Wednesday night (before leaving in the 76th minute), and much needed it was too. I’ve no idea what brought about the change of attitude – wanting to mark his birthday with a goal perhaps? I am delighted Fulham have a man with his talents on board. But please let us remember the cult of the individual leads mostly to ruin. Fulham ran this road with Johnny Haynes through to the end of the 1960s and the club declined dramatically and dropped two divisions as Johnny’s powers waned. Great talent was let go for a song because they did not chime with the maestro, as was the case with Rodney Marsh. This is a team game – managers of excellence such as Sir Alex never lose sight of that.

It’s a maxim Jol should remember until such time as we are well clear of the relegation places. If we were still to stutter in the quest for 40 points, every man in White is going to have to don his helmet and go over the top should we need to scrap against the likes of Villa, Stoke, Norwich, Reading and QPR. Anyone not keen to muddy his boots or get shot at can stay in the dressing room – whoever they are.

With his injured hamstring, Fulham will be without their top scorer out on the pitch Saturday looking to prove a point to Sir Alex. No matter. His absence will galvanize the side selected to work that much harder and the morale will be stronger. Giorgos Karagounis, for instance, could well end up running the show and driving us on to a famous win. Who knows?

Spirit and guts can work wonders for any side. Fulham can't match United man-for-man when it comes to skill levels, but with the right attitude and work ethic, as Southampton showed, sometimes you do get your reward.

Enjoy the game! These are the days that matter, reminding a global audience that Fulham still competes at the top table in the Premiership. After besting the Hammers (finally!) and drafting in some fresh legs for the final third of the season, hopefully we are all sleeping a little easier.

COYW! Twitter@fulhamphil

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