Fulham vs Sunderland
A victory over fellow strugglers West Ham will have given Fulham a much needed boost as they look to move away from the relegation zone, and the Cottagers will be looking to make it two wins on the bounce when they host fellow strugglers Sunderland this weekend.
Fulham’s winner was scored by striker Dimitar Berbatov as he made a return to the side following a groin problem which had kept him out since December 14th. The enigmatic Bulgarian, should he choose to stay this January, will be central to Fulham’s hopes of staying in the league, not only because of his goals but also his overall creative package. Berbatov’s passing is one of his key assets, and this outstanding ability of his was on show again against the Hammers as he managed to complete a total of 29 passes in West Ham’s half – the second most of any striker in the league.
Fulham boasted an incredible 68% of possession against West Ham and this was, in no small part, down to the performance of midfield general Scott Parker. Parker has become an essential component of the Fulham lineup since his arrival at Craven Cottage, featuring in 17 of their 20 fixtures so far this campaign, and he was at his creative best against the Hammers. The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows that he completed 56 passes in the opposition half, which was more than any other player in the league.
Berbatov and Sidwell may have grabbed the headlines with their goals against West Ham, but the performance of Philippe Senderos should not be undervalued. The former Gunner has undergone something of a revolution since Meulensteen took the reins, and he produced another imperious performance against the Hammers. The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index demonstrates that he made 13 clearances – the most in the league.
Steve Sidwell has been a rare shining light in an otherwise gloomy campaign for Fulham, and his equalizer against West Ham underlined his worth to the team. Not only has he played more minutes than any other Fulham player this term (1650), but he has also made 40 interceptions – the sixth most of any midfielder.
Sunderland battled their way to a 2-1 victory over Manchester United in the first leg of their semi-final. It was a morale-boosting win after a disappointing loss to Aston Villa at home in the last round of Premier League fixtures.
Gus Poyet will be extremely frustrated by the result, particularly because his team boasted 65% of possession. Pass-master Ki Sung-Yueng was critical in ensuring Sunderland retained the ball, as he managed to complete an impressive 46 passes in the opposition half – the fifth most in the league. Poyet has expressed his hope that Sung-Yueng will remain at the Stadium of Light, and on the back of performances such as these, it isn’t hard to see why.
Another player who Gus Poyet has seen as an essential component of his team is full back Phillip Bardsley. Off-field players problems led to the Scot being discarded by former manager Paulo Di Canio, but he has come back into the fold since Poyet took the reins, contributing defensively, but also popping up with a few goals. Bardsley’s propensity to bomb forward was evident again against Aston Villa as he completed an impressive 37 passes in the opposition half. The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows that no other defender completed more than the former Manchester United man.
Jozy Altidore has made 18 appearances for Sunderland in the league this year, but has only managed to hit the back of the net once. When consulting the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, this appears to be a fairly surprising statistic, as he has hit the target with an impressive 64% of his efforts. No other player in the Sunderland squad matches the American’s accuracy. Altidore is 11/2 with 888sport.com to score the first goal on Saturday.
Sunderland will be desperately looking to tie Jack Colback down to a new contract with his current deal due to expire at the end of the campaign. His versatility has been an asset for Gus Poyet, with his ability to operate both in central midfield and left back a major boost. He’s showcased his offensive and defensive skills this term, as he has won an impressive 70% of his challenges and also completed a pass in the opposition half at an impressive rate of a pass every 4.7 minutes.