Premier League | The Hawthorns | Sat 22 Feb | 3pm
Felix from the Ful-ames. Look, we tried.
Premier League: meet Mr Magath, one of few managers to be nicknamed The Torturer AND keep busy on Facebook. He’s had successes (consecutive German doubles with Bayern Munich) and failures (sacked by Schalke amid fan and player unrest), but most of all he’s known for his gruelling training techniques, which have seen players collapse in exhaustion. Lewis Holtby won’t mind – when Louis van Gaal was linked with Spurs he said, “I wouldn’t have a problem if Van Gaal came in; after all, I’ve survived Felix Magath” – but it’s probably best Dimitar Berbatov got out before the cross-country runs began.
WEST BROM FORM
- WBA 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Palace 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4-3 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Everton (Prem)
- Fulham 2-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-2 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 0-1e Sheffield Utd (FAC)
- Fulham 0-3 So'ton (Prem)
- Swansea 2-0 Fulham (Prem)
Evil Stepfather Felix replaces Friendly Uncle Rene, just as Meulensteen had begun to make his mark on Fulham with encouraging performances against Manchester United and Liverpool. OK, they only took one point having led in both games, but what did owner Shahid Khan – who will find himself sharing an unsavoury reputation with Vincent Tan and Assem Allam if he’s not careful – expect?
The arrival of a new manager always gives hope to fringe players but there can’t be many left at Craven Cottage – Fulham have used 34 (!) players this season, four more than any other club. And Konstantinos Mitroglou hasn’t even featured yet. The club had better hope Magath is a fan: the Greek cost £11 million, a lot of money for a gooseberry.
It’s all been a bit farcical, not least with Fulham officially announcing the departure of Meulensteen and his backroom staff some five days after Magath was appointed. Maybe Alan Curbishley was hiding in a broom cupboard.
When Fulham met West Brom in September the match ended 1-1, with Albion finally scoring their first goal of the campaign in injury time of their fourth match. They had Gareth McAuley to thank for scoring his third goal in nine days, which is a sentence that doesn’t belong anywhere outside of an LSD hallucination.
Approximately none of the players who started for Fulham that day are likely to feature here, not least because three of them (Bryan Ruiz, Berbatov and Philippe Senderos) are in different countries.
West Brom’s ‘warm-weather training’ (holiday in the sun) has helped a few injured players recover, so there should be cautious optimism over the fitness of Jonas Olsson (hamstring), Stephane Sessegnon (groin) and Billy Jones (awful, awful hair). Nicolas Anelka and Claudio Yacob, who weren’t on the plane, are bigger doubts.
Mitroglou may be in line for his first appearance after recovering from a knee injury, and Fernando Amorebieta may also be available once again. Maarten Stekelenburg should play despite a cut above the eye, presumably having it slathered up with the stuff boxers use.
Players to watch: James Morrison, Thievy
Two key players, for two different reasons. Thievy has looked very bright, scoring barely 30 seconds into his debut against Crystal Palace and giving Chelsea a few scares on his first start. The 21-year-old created 3 chances in the box against the Blues and completed 4 of his 5 take-ons – very encouraging indeed. Fulham will need their defence to be less static than they have been at times.
Morrison is crucial for the Baggies in the middle of the park. Yacob has made the most tackles in the league this season (98), despite having not started half a dozen games, so if he misses out through injury it’ll be up to Morrison, as well as Yacob’s likely replacement Youssuf Mulumbu, to win the ball. The Darlington-born Scotsman (that’s, uh, not Mulumbu) is certainly capable of doing that: in the defeat to Palace he won all 5 of his tackles – and a further 6 out of 8 against Chelsea a few days later – as well as cracking off 2 shots on target and completing 92% of his passes. Useful.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Fulham 1-1 WBA (Prem, Sep 13)
- WBA 1-2 Fulham (Prem, Jan 13)
- Fulham 3-0 WBA (Prem, Sep 12)
- Fulham 1-1 WBA (Prem, Feb 12)
- WBA 0-0 Fulham (Prem, Sep 11)
Magath – who, unbelievably, is Germany’s first permanent manager in the Premier League – has wasted no time, saying Fulham’s match-up with West Brom is “probably the most important game in this club’s history”. That’s one hell of a statement, not least because the Cottagers were in a major European final only four years ago. He’s also criticised Meulensteen’s rearrangement of the defence, which you may remember led to Man United becoming very frustrated. Magath doesn’t half like making a rod for his own back, it seems.
Pepe Mel will be very aware that his team need to start winning matches, not least because his predecessor, Steve Clarke, has said the team has been drawing games under the Spaniard that they should have won.
Clarke isn’t on the firmest ground: those draws have been against Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton, and while it’s true Mel is still waiting to taste his first win, the Baggies have in fact won only one of their last 17 matches. For Fulham, it’s none in seven. This isn’t a six-pointer; it’s a 12-pointer – 18, even. Sod it, it’s a 24-pointer.
Facts and figures
- West Brom have not won any of their last 6 matches against Fulham (W0 D3 L3).
- West Brom have drawn 12 of their 26 games this season – 3 more than any other team.
- 13 of Fulham’s last 18 away matches have had more goals in the second half than the first, with 9 being goalless at HT.
- 6 of Fulham’s last 8 trips to bottom-six teams have been goalless at HT.
Fulham have won as many games on the road as West Brom have at home, and Magath should put the fear of God into them. A surprise 2-1 away win will lift the Cottagers, albeit not off the bottom just yet, and make Mel’s record read DLDLDL.