In truth, there was a sense that Fulham’s chance of getting a win against Manchester City evaporated with the news that Dimitar Berbatov would be missing for at least the next two weeks through injury. The Bulgarian’s arrival has been so key to the upsurge in the Cottagers’ form and confidence since the end of the transfer window and his presence and quality was sorely missed on an afternoon where City were well deserving winners despite the fact the winning goal came so late and only then from a John Arne Riise mistake.
However, even without Berbatov, Fulham remain in a highly promising eighth position level on points with Arsenal, and their next two matches see the Cottagers face highly winnable clashes away to Southampton and at home to Aston Villa. Perhaps Hugo Rodallega had been a little optimistic in the week when he suggested that Fulham could even qualify for the Champions League this season but the intention was there for all to see – this is an ambitious side that sees itself in the upper echelons of the league table.
That in itself is promising for the Fulham supporters, who may have enjoyed great success in the days of Roy Hodgson, but perhaps felt just a little ambition was lacking at times.
In a way though, Berbatov’s injury has come at an easier time than it would have done say a week or so ago, when Bryan Ruiz and Mladen Petric were struggling with injury and Rodallega was still goalless for the season. However, with the former two back in the side and the Colombian with a goal under his belt and looking lively, Martin Jol will have confidence that between the three of them, his side will be able to muster the firepower to see off Southampton and Aston Villa.
The only shame is that considering how open the Saints have been this season, that Berbatov would have undoubtedly relished the space that would certainly have been afforded to him at St Mary’s.
In the defeat to Manchester City, Giorgos Karagounis was given a debut from the substitutes bench and one feels that the Greek veteran’s nous and eye for a pass could be key in the coming weeks. Chris Baird and Steve Sidwell have performed well in the middle of the park but just seem to lack that creative touch that while acceptable when Berbatov is fully fit and firing, just seems to blunt the Cottagers somewhat when the Bulgarian is absent. Karagounis could well prove to be a useful outlet in this regard.
Elsewhere, Jol will be expecting much more from Bryan Ruiz. The Costa Rican arrived at Craven Cottage for a club record fee with high expectations but so far has certainly not hit the ground running by any means. His potential is there for all to see though and perhaps Berbatov’s injury is just what Ruiz needs to pick up the creative mantle.
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