Assou-Ekotto, Pavlyuchenko and Gomes return as Etuhu remains sidelinedAnother Cup Final On The Horizon?
Fulham may not have had the best of seasons so far, but signs of improvement are there. On the face of it they currently lie 15th in the Premier League, but it wouldn’t be a underestimation to say that their current league position does not reflect the quality of their squad.
Before the unfortunate 1-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool in midweek, they had only lost twice in their previous eight games in all competitions and are more than capable of springing a surprise or two at on their home turf on Sunday.
In antithesis to Spurs, the home side will relish an extended run in the FA Cup and, with stuttering league form hampering them last season as well, they will put their full focus on the competition as it will be a fresh change from league life, just like they did with the Europa League last season - and we all know what happened, or nearly happened, with that.
Again though, on paper the omens are not good for Fulham fans. In recent times, Spurs have enjoyed the bragging rights over their London rivals as they have remained unbeaten in their last seven outings, including the league double over them and dumping them out of this very competition at the quarter-final stage last season.
How Important Is The FA Cup To Spurs?
That is not a question that has even needed to be answered before; usually it’s a categorical ‘very’.
Spurs are a cup team after all. They have won this competition eight times, the third most successful side behind Arsenal (10 wins) and Manchester United (11 wins). They have already proved these cup credentials this season with an impressive debut showing in the Champions League by winning, arguably, the toughest group.
Perhaps this season the FA Cup will be viewed differently though. Spurs have faltered lately in the league with a record of two draws and a loss from their last three games. However, their last league victory came against Sunday’s opponents with a 1-0 win at the beginning of the month.
With this faltering league form putting another season of Champions League football in doubt, and a vital Champions League tie with AC Milan scheduled for mid-February, Redknapp and company could be excused for putting their priorities elsewhere for the time being. But say it quietly, the year ends in a one after all.
Mark Hughes does not have as delpleted a squad as his Spurs counterpart on Sunday, but he is missing key men. Bobby Zamora has turned the corner in his recovery from a broken leg, but he is not expected to see a glimpse of the pitch until mid-Febuary at the earliest.
The same goes for Philippe Senderos (calf), while goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer is still on international duty with Australia at the Asia Cup. Dickson Etuhu (hamstring) is still expected to miss the game after not making the trip to Liverpool with an injury he picked up against Stoke, so new signing Steve Sidwell should continue to deputise.
Possible starting XI: Stockdale; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Baird; Dempsey, Murphy, Sidwell, Duff; A Johnson, Dembele.
Currently on the injury table are Gareth Bale (back) and a string of long-term absentees including Ledley King (knee), Jonathan Woodgate (groin), Jamie O’Hara (back) and Tom Huddlestone (ankle), with manager Harry Redknapp confirming that the latter is “still a long way away”.
Sandro (back) and Wilson Palacios (knee) are also doubts, so the only fit defensive-minded midfielder, Jermaine Jenas, will continue to deputise.
On the plus side, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Heurelho Gomes are all expected to return after missing the 1-1 draw with Newcastle United, and new signing Steven Pienaar can be included after not making Everton’s squad in the previous round.
Possible starting XI: Gomes; Corluka, Gallas, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Jenas, Modric, Kranjcar; Van der Vaart; Pavlyuchenko.