Saturday boasts a relegation six-pointer, as last-placed Fulham travel to Cardiff City Stadium to take on the Bluebirds, who are just one point above in the standings. (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET online via Live Extra).
Both sides have struggled in the Premier League this season, and both sides have undergone changes in hopes of ensuring survival. But will new faces – both on the field and in the dugout – be enough to keep either Cardiff or Fulham afloat?
Since coming in at the beginning of January, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has guided Cardiff to just one Premier League win, during which new Bluebirds Kenwyne Jones and Wilfried Zaha scored to cancel out Norwich’s early lead. Combined with a goalless draw with Aston Villa, that’s just four points from nine games for the new manager.
Something’s gotta give, you feel, as it doesn’t seem as though owner Vincent Tan is a patient man. But while not even three points will pull Cardiff into safety – unless they manage to close the -22 goal gap between themselves and West Bromwich Albion – Solskjaer will likely sleep much better should he take what amounts to six points from Fulham.
Fulham, meanwhile, are on their third manager of the season. Felix Magath stepped in to replace René Meulensteen a few weeks ago – strangely enough, after the Liverpool barely managed to nick all three points from their match. Fellow strugglers West Brom came back to get a draw late in Magath’s first match in charge, then Fulham fell 3-1 to Chelsea last time out.
It doesn’t much help that Fulham, in addition to their many pickups over the January transfer window, appear to have acquired a record-breaking dud. Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou, who should have been able to help Fulham collect some goals, is injured once more, leaving fans wondering if they’ll ever see him in action. That leaves the Cottagers relying on Darren Bent up top. Hey, at least the striker managed an assist to Johnny Heitinga’s consolation goal last weekend.
What they’re saying
Magath on Premier League survival: “I’m convinced that we will avoid relegation because we’ve developed in the last 14 days,” Magath said. “The team is growing together and that is what makes me sure that we can avoid relegation.” The Fulham manager continued, “I get the feeling here that everybody knows that and everybody sleeps well with the knowledge there are games ahead of us we can win.”
Aron Gunnarsson on Cardiff’s desperate need for points: “It’s what you call a six-pointer. It’s going to be a hard game. We know they’re fighting for the three points and they need the points as well,” said the Bluebirds midfielder. “Hopefully we’ll keep on fighting and get the points we need because we desperately need them at the moment.”
A cautious game. What’s clear is that both sides need three, rather than one, points, but the fear of collecting none at all may lead to a dull affair. With Fulham’s forward problems and Cardiff having scored just 19 goals in 28 games (and no goals in 399 minutes), a free-flowing, frenetic affair seems highly unlikely. Should the deadlock be broken, expect the hosts to nick it, 1-0. Because a streak’s gotta end sometime, right?