Inside the Opposition: Fulham

What a couple of weeks it’s been. Beating Bayern with our reserves, drawing Barcelona in the last-16, battering Arsenal and moving withing three points of the buggers, and then beating Leicester to go through to the semis of the League Cup. It’s a great time to be a City fan.

This weekend we play Fulham, a side who have really struggled this season. They’re 19th and looking pretty disjointed. It’s a must-win. The other day, I spoke to Kris Balkin, Fulham fan and writer for the Metro, and asked him about the enigma that is Berbatov, Martin Jol’s time in charge and who he thinks will win the title.

What went wrong during Martin Jol’s time at the club?

I think everyone at the club got a little bit complacent under Jol and he seemed to do very little to change things. The manager had his favourites too, and I don’t think that helped at all because the likes of Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov were performing awfully and getting rewarded consistently with a starting berth.

Most of all, though, Jol is quite tactically naive and he’s very slow to change things when they’re not going his way. For some time it has been quite clear that we lack balance – too much flair, not enough guile – but he merely persisted with his overly attacking style and it wasn’t paying off either in goals or victories. I feel that lack of adaptability has held us back for about a year now and the only way to stop the rot was to let him go. I’m appreciative of what he’s done but leaving was the best thing for Fulham.

Are you pleased with the Meulensteen appointment?

I think many were expecting someone a little more experienced, especially given the peril we find ourselves in but I, personally, am a big fan of Meulensteen. You don’t spend as much time as he did at Manchester United without picking up a few things and though there is palpable risk in placing our faith in someone who has never managed in England, the early signs are good.

He’s wonderful on the training ground, which is key given our distinct lack of fitness, and he’s managed to pour some enthusiasm into the camp, which is no mean feat. He’ll find it tough to keep that positivity going but he’s got what it takes.

Who’s been your best player?

There have been very few who have impressed, but Scott Parker has remained solid throughout all of our lows this season. Despite his age, he is a rock in midfield who tackles tough and can pick out a perfect pass every now and then. He’s no Xavi but he is the kind of midfielder we need when you have Ruiz and Berbatov roaming around up top, doing very little to support the defence.

Simply, he has yet to put a foot wrong and that has helped endear him to the fans immediately.

What’s your likely XI on Saturday?

Stekelenburg; Riise, Hughes, Senderos, Riether; Kacaniklic, Sidwell, Karagounis, Parker, Dejagah; Berbatov.

We’re not at our strongest but that midfield has been working surprisingly well since Meulensteen came in.

How good is Berbatov? From an outsiders perspective, he just seems like an absolute dream of a player, with a touch to die for, but I can imagine him frustrating, too.

You’re spot on. For months now many of us have called for him to be dropped and I still think those claims were justified, but since the new manager came in he has been rejuvenated and we’ve all been reminded of what he can do when he’s at his best. On his day, he can win a game on his own but the problem is, when he’s not on it, he’s a drag to the team so it very much works both ways.

His attitude can bring us down and his lack of input – beyond hanging around the opposition’s half and pouting – can lose us as many games as he’s probably helped us win. It’s a case of keeping him happy, really, and as long as Meulensteen does that we should be fine.

To be honest, I’d rather just have Sergio Aguero but I guess Berby will just have to do.

Which City player would you most like to sign?

Ha, I think I’ve just answered that! Last season I didn’t rate him that highly – at least compared to other, high-end strikers – but Aguero has really shown himself to be a superbly gifted striker who not only chips in with regular goals, but is creative as well. He’s got everything I’d imagine you’d want in a forward and I feel he’s really paying his dividends for you guys this season.

I’m particularly glad he’s injured for this game because he’d run circles around Phillippe Senderos.

Mancini or Pellegrini?

Ah, you’ve got me there, because I’m actually a big fan of both. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I saw Mancini as a little more pragmatic and I like that in some managers. He was there to win games and though his record wasn’t unblemished, he ran a tight ship and you defended well but didn’t lack an attacking spark.

Pellegrini seems far more keen to attack and you’ve been scoring goals for fun this season, and he’s doing a far better job in the Champions League than Mancini ever did. I guess his experience there has helped a lot and for that I’d say you’re better off now than under your previous regime.

Who will win the title?

Even though the start to their campaign has hardly been perfect, I fancy Chelsea to nick it but don’t have many reasons to substantiate my claim. They are not the Chelsea they used to be and I think you guys, plus Arsenal, will run them extremely close but maybe Jose Mourinho’s nous at this level will see them through.

Match prediction?

I’m hoping for a fortunate 1-1 and that’s where I’m going to place my chips. We’re certainly on the cusp of an upwards curve and Craven Cottage is, hopefully, going to become an increasingly more difficult place to travel to. We need a result that says ‘we’re doing something right here’ and I think a draw would say that, especially given the way you’ve just been marauding your way through teams recently.

Follow Kris on Twitter

Interview by Rob Pollard

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