Does everyone feel that? The electricity in the air. The feeling that something big is right around the corner. Games like this don't come around often, and when they arrive all you can do is sit back, belt yourself in and-wait, what game were we talking about again?
Oh. Right. This coming Saturday Aston Villa Football Club will travel to the Craven Cottage in the Fulham borough of London, England to face the Fulham Football Club in a game of soccer (or football as it is known outside of the United States, Canada and Oceania) that is taking place in the Barclay's Premier League. They will play approximately 90 minutes of soccer and either one team will win or it is also possible that there will be a draw.
In fact it seems exceedingly likely that there will be a draw. Fulham enter with a mark of 2-6-2, a full 60% of their results ending with the points being split. Villa enter at 3-3-4, with two of their three draws coming in their past three fixtures. Neither team have lit up the scoreboard and neither team have been disastrous in defense (well, recently) and were I a betting man I'd wager a fair amount on this one ending even with fewer than three goals being scored between them. As much as we love this sport, some games are more boring than others and this one has all the makings of being something of a snoozer.
That's not really intended to be an indictment of Fulham. There are some talented players on this squad and they're capable of making things interesting, but with Bobby Zamora being injured they've been forced to adjust. Clint Dempsey is the kind of player that is capable of giving Villa's back line problems, as Villa's defenders do not deal well with attackers that are capable of coming at them from all directions and creating confusion. Villa's defense has a tremendous amount of talent, but as a unit few will ever think to call them organized. Moussa Dembele is Dempsey's partner up front, and seeing as how he turned down Birmingham City in order to go to Fulham I can't help but like him a little. Dembele isn't much of an imposing figure and he doesn't possess blazing speed, but he's quick, clever and creative and if given space could cause some pretty major headaches.
Fulham look to have a bit of an edge in the midfield, with Captain Danny Murphy a key factor. Murphy is getting a bit on in years but he's still capable of creating havoc in the center. When you combine Murphy and Dembele that's a pretty creative attacking center, and if Villa can't find a way to hold their own in midfield it could be another one of those days. Villa have the edge on the wing, with Damien Duff and (to a lesser extent) Simon Davies being capable of causing some trouble out wide but not in any way in the class of Young, Downing or Albrighton. Fulham's biggest weakness is probably the center of their defense, with a serviceable if unspectacular partnership of Aaron Hughes and Brede Paulsen holding down the center back spots. Fulham's wide defenders are a different story however, with John Paintsil and Carlos Salcido making a formidable duo out wide. Paintsil is a quality all-around full back, solid in defense and solid going forward. The Ghanaian international isn't going to necessarily blow anyone away in any one aspect of the game, but he's not going to do any damage either. He's a solid back that Villa's wide players would do well not to overlook.
Carlos Salcido is a different story. The bargain signing from PSV is quickly making a name for himself as a fearsome tackler and a serious threat in the attack (imagine that) with solid delivery and excellent vision. Salcido worries me quite a bit, as Villa's defense from the wide midfielders is a bit suspect and the addition of another attacking threat to contend with causes me to recall the days when the defense looked completely disorganized and hopeless against multi-faceted attacks. It is of course worth noting that Villa were able to largely neutralize Ashley Cole, but Salcido is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Villa have a lot to contend with on the wings then, but luckily the center looks ripe for the taking. Except of course for that whole inability to create or do anything through the middle thing.
And that whole having no idea who is going to play striker thing. Speaking of which, does anyone have a dartboard? Because I honestly have no idea what to expect up top for this game and while I hope that I am wrong I have a feeling Gerard Houllier isn't quite sure yet either. And to be fair to him, while it might seem a no-brainer to the likes of us it's probably quite a bit more troubling a decision for him. Nathan Delfouneso has done precious little at this level, while John Carew has scored 37 goals for Villa. The club still think of themselves as European competitors (and legitimately so) and if there's a hesitancy to throw an untested forward into the mix it's understandable. It's easy for me to say that Delfouneso should start and any other option is unacceptable, but picking the squad isn't part of my job. I hate seeing the "safe option" employed as a strategy, but it's been awhile since Carew has played more than a few minutes and I am certain that the temptation will be difficult to resist.
(Ed: Well never mind that then.)
At the moment Villa are traveling away to face a side that is at the moment only slightly behind in terms of overall talent and presents several poor matchups. I'd like to be more optimistic, because while Fulham are by no means a poor club they are still a club that it feels like Villa should beat. And yet, I don't really feel like that's especially likely to happen. If Villa can find some sort of spark from the center, be it in the form of Stephen Ireland creating or Nigel Reo-Coker not only creating his own chance but finishing them as well, then three points are well within the realm of possibility. If not, it looks to me like yet another stalemate, with Villa riding their superior back line and the threat of a counter to a point.