Craven Cottage, Saturday September 20th, 3.00pm
Last starting XI:
Fulham: Király; Bodurov, Hutchinson, Burn, Amorebieta; Hoogland, Fotheringham, Parker, Stafylidis; Rodallega, McCormack
Blackburn: Robinson; Baptiste, Hanley, Kilgallon, Olsson; Marshall, Evans, Cairney, Conway; Gestede, Rhodes
Match odds from William Hill: Fulham 13/8 Draw 11/5 Blackburn Rovers 17/10
It has been thirteen years since Fulham and Blackburn met in the Championship, which at the time was called Divison One. During that season Fulham won the divison with Blackburn finishing as runners up. The last time they played at Craven Cottage was 11th September 2011, where it ended 1-1, with goals from Ruben Rochina for Blackburn and Bobby Zamora for Fulham.
Having suffered an absolutely horrendous start to the season, Fulham owner Shahid Khan finally sacked Felix Magath on Thursday afternoon. One point from twenty-one is a shocking return, especially when Fulham invested heavily in Ross McCormack. But too much reliance on Fulham’s youth have left them in a perilous state, even though we are only seven games into the season.
Caretaker manager Kit Symons takes charge of Fulham for the first time on Saturday. It is hard to say what side Symons will put out, but it is interesting to note that in Fulham’s last game against leaders Nottingham Forest, only one player was aged 20 or under, Konstantinos Stafylidis, and it has to be said that with a more experienced side, Fulham put in a strong performance against Forest, leading 3-2 at one stage, only to end up losing 5-3. In that game, Ross McCormack finally got off the mark in the league, scoring twice, one being an impressive free-kick.
One player who may be thrust back into the first team is Bryan Ruiz. Ruiz, who was linked with many clubs during the Summer transfer window, has had conversations with Symons, and the caretaker manager said in a press conference that,
“I had conversations with players last night and Bryan Ruiz was one. He’s very upbeat and I’m looking forward to training with him.”
It would almost be fate if Bryan Ruiz was to be in the squad for Saturday’s match, as his first Premier League start for Fulham was against Blackburn Rovers in the 1-1 draw in 2011. If Ruiz does return, he will be class apart compared to the rest of the players, not just at Fulham, but in the Championship. He is the sort of player who at this level could easily tear defences apart and turn games in the blink of an eye.
It has been a unremarkable start for Blackburn so far. After starting the season well with four points from their first two games, they only managed six from the next five, leaving them 13th in the table. After keeping hold of Jordan Rhodes, many people have seen Rovers as being one of the teams that should challenge for the play-offs at least this season, however the start has shown that Blackburn have a long way to go to be realistic challengers.
Blackburn’s defence was a problem for them last season, conceding 62 times, and this season the problems have not just continued but have gotten worse. In 7 games, they have conceded 14 goals, with only Huddersfield and the side the face on Saturday, Fulham, having shipped more. New loan signing Alex Baptiste has not impressed, but it is not really has fault as he is playing at right back when he is a natural centre back. Captain Grant Hanley has hit a bad run of form, who is normally such a consistent performer, and when the best center back at the club is suffering, the whole defence suffers as well. For Blackburn, this needs to be addressed quickly if they want to be considered contenders for promotion.
On the flip side, as poor as Blackburn are at the back, they are frighteningly good going forward. Only the top three have scored more goals this season, and when you have a strike force of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes, goals are always a certainty. In the games that Blackburn have been involved in this season, there has not been a clean sheet for either of the sides involved. Blackburn do have the fire power to out score teams this season, and if they can get the right balance between attack and defence, Rovers can become a real threat to the sides around them.
Fulham: Ross McCormack
McCormack has finally found the target this season, and he will be licking his lips to be playing against a side with one of the league’s worst defensive record this season. McCormack has the ability to score goals out of nothing, as shown by his curling free-kick against Nottingham Forest, and with some confidence, and a Craven Cottage that will finally be fully behind the manager and team, McCormack is the one to watch for the Cottagers this weekend.
Blackburn: Tom Cairney
Jordan Rhodes may get the headlines for his goal scoring, but the player that makes Blackburn tick is Tom Cairney. Cairney has the ability at this level to find the killer pass that many players lack, and is always so composed on the ball. Comparisons to fan favourite Tugay may be a bit overstated, but as a creative midfielder, he is the best Blackburn have had since the Turkish midfielder retired five years ago.
Fulham may have had an awful start, but a change in manager always seems to create a honeymoon period for the club, so expect Fulham to have a right go. Blackburn will be looking to get back to winning ways after their midweek loss to Derby, but defensive problems could again be their undoing here. One thing is certain though, there will be goals. I predict 2-2, but I would not be surprised if the scoreline ends up being 4-4 or 4-3.