Saturday brings not one but two relegation six-pointers, one of which takes place at Craven Cottage, where Fulham play host to bottom-placed Sunderland (10 am ET; watch live online via NBC Sports Live Extra). And this time, they’ll do it with the returning Clint Dempsey.
Fulham have actually pulled themselves out of the drop zone, but as they’re hovering just two points above the dreaded bottom three, they’ll be anxious to record a home victory. Since Rene Meulensteen took sole control of the managerial position on December 1, Fulham’s fortunes have fluctuated, with their lowest low being the 6-0 loss to Hull on December 28. But they bounced back to beat fellow relegation fighters West Ham last time out, so it’s quite possible they’ll record two in a row today.
But it might be hard to take down Sunderland, with the Black Cats flying high after progressing in the FA Cup, then beating Manchester United in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-finals. It’s worth remembering that Sunderland only have one loss in their last five games, although it’s also necessary to note that they’ve only won once in that stretch. Will Gus Poyet approach this match with caution?
The big news for Fulham is, of course, the return of Dempsey, who goes straight into the starting lineup. He replaces Kieran Richardson, who drops to the bench, but other than that the Fulham lineup is unchanged from their win against West Ham last time out.
Poyet, meanwhile, has made shifts from the lineup that lost to Aston Villa on New Years’ Day, while he’s also made some changes to the side that beat United in the Cup. Emanuele Giaccherini and Sebastian Larsson both drop to the bench, joining Jozy Altidore, while Adam Johnson starts up top.
Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Senderos, Amorebieta, Riise; Duff, Parker, Sidwell, Dempsey; Taarabt; Berbatov
Subs: Kasami, Kačaniklić, Richardson, Hughes, Dejagah, Etheridge, Bent
Sunderland: Mannone, Bardsley, Alonso, Brown, O’Shea, Cattermole, Colback, Ki, Johnson, Borini, Fletcher
Subs: Larsson, Gardner, Celustka, Altidore, Giaccherini, Ji, Pickford