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Matchday 8: Fulham vs. Spurs

15 October 2010

Moussa, come back! We need you!

The latest seemingly interminable international break has ended with a fresh wave of English teeth-gnashing having spilled over the country, making it seem like nothing’s really changed. That’s not the case at Craven Cottage, though, as the looming return of a couple of welcome faces could provide Fulham a significant boost as their schedule starts to stiffen.

No report has come out and completely cleared Moussa Dembele for tomorrow’s home match, but the Belgian has trained for the last three days with no pain, save for when, in his words, he “shoots really hard.” It doesn’t quite sound like he’s 100-percent fit for a start, but 20 or 30 minutes off the bench in a pinch seems reasonable. Dembele is about a week ahead of Andy Johnson, who should be ready for a first-team callup next week, when the Cottagers head to the Hawthorns to take on West Brom.

In my mind, Spurs is the perfect opponent for a return to league action. Fulham dominated Tottenham twice at home last season, only to settle for 0-0 draws in both league play and an FA Cup quarterfinal thanks to some sterling goalkeeping from Spurs keeper Gomes. While Tottenham is rife with returning talent and also added 8-million-pound steal Rafael Van der Vaart, Spurs are a side that Fulham knows it can play with. The Cottagers haven’t lost to Spurs at home in league play since 2002, Tottenham is a much lesser side away from White Hart Lane, and Spurs also will likely have one eye on Wednesday’s glamour matchup with Inter Milan in the Champions League. Also, speedy Spurs winger Aaron Lennon won’t be available.

That said, Fulham still faces some injury questions of its own, especially if Dembele is deemed ready for only a substitute’s role. According to the BBC preview, midfielders Damien Duff and Dickson Etuhu both will miss the match with modest injuries.

Etuhu’s absence could mean Chris Baird moves back to defensive midfield for a match and opens a spot for John Pantsil at right back. Alternately, Hughes can roll the dice with an offensive-minded pairing of Jonathan Greening next to Danny Murphy in the middle. Then it gets interesting. Hughes could try Eddie Johnson again (please, no) or go with the healed Diomansy Kamara, and add Zoltan Gera up top, with Clint Dempsey moving back to his preferred outside midfield role. Or Dempsey could remain up top and someone like Bjorn Helge Riise could get a spot start at right midfielder.

Either way, it’s on. After a stop-and-start beginning to the campaign’s schedule, it’s time to settle in. It’s also time for Fulham to start outperforming expectations, to put an end to the meh. Will it happen Saturday? Hard to say, with a lineup that still is a bit too makeshift for my liking. Hughes has drawn 14 of his last 18 Premiership matches, and this might not be the right weekend for that streak to end.

Prediction: Fulham 1, Spurs 1 (which would be a bit disappointing)

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