The clash between Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur at Craven Cottage this weekend will see the coming together of several former employees of both sides. Fulham, managed by former Spurs boss Martin Jol and including in their ranks former Spurs players Dimitar Berbatov, Stephen Kelly and Simon Davies, will be looking to overcome a Spurs side swelled this summer by two players who made the switch in the other direction, Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey.
Fulham have started well this season, their current mid-table position somewhat deceptive of a side that ran Manchester United and Manchester City so close and so nearly took victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. A nil-nil draw at rivals Chelsea on Wednesday displayed a gutsy defensive toughness even in the absence of captain Brede Hangeland. Martin Jol is building, as he did at Tottenham and subsequently Hamburg and Ajax, a dangerous team capable of competing with the very best.
Dimitar Berbatov looks back to his dangerous best as a regular starter and as a key player after finding the rotation system at Manchester United not to his liking. His record at Old Trafford, not far shy of a goal in every two games, was not to be sniffed at, especially as he spent long periods on the bench. Five goals so far for Fulham should put Tottenham’s notoriously porous defence on alert.
However, it is the return of Dembele, and perhaps more so Dempsey to Fulham on Saturday that the focus of football’s spotlight will fall upon, particularly in light of Dempsey’s allegations this week that he was undervalued by the Fulham hierarchy, hinting at possible bad blood with Jol. Both players have been through mixed starts to their careers at White Hart Lane, although both for quite different reasons.
Dembele, Fulham’s powerhouse so often in the past couple of seasons, was unfortunate to suffer a hip injury that kept him out of what was a poor run for Spurs. Prior to this and afterwards, Spurs have been undefeated when he has been in the side. Dembele brings much needed steel to a skilful midfield, as well as the experience to hold the ball and win free-kicks when possession is required. The left-sided double act of Bale and Jan Vertonghen was instrumental in guiding Spurs to a first victory at Old Trafford since 1989 earlier in the season. But the sight of Dembele eating up time by holding the ball and frustrating Wayne Rooney, before being hacked down by the England striker, showed Spurs fans the much needed guile previously absent from a side hoping to fight for honours.
Clint Dempsey meanwhile, has at times been a quiet shadow of the free-scoring midfielder-cum striker that saw both Liverpool and Manchester United chasing his signature last summer. Dempsey was largely anonymous in the defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, a fact not lost upon the fans in the away section that day. Aside from knocking in the third and winning goal at Old Trafford in Tottenham’s previous visit to Manchester, it was clear that more was expected from a player of such obvious talent.
However, the American seems to have responded well to the murmurs of criticism amongst supporters and the media. His fantastic performance against West Ham last Sunday, including an imperious chip to set up Gareth Bale for the game’s second goal, was followed up with another solid performance in Wednesday night’s victory over Liverpool. Dempsey showed his experience in winning a free kick from the slightest of touches from Jordan Henderson, Bale doubling Tottenham’s lead with a swerving effort from an area from which he can be so deadly. Tottenham fans will be hoping for more of the same at Fulham.
Perhaps Dempsey has been finding his feet in a new side, adjusting to the different ways of playing of his new team mates. Regardless, his resurgence into the type of player that so attracted Tottenham to move for him in the summer could see him emerge as the key man on Saturday. Ably assisted by the powerful intelligence of Dembele, he could be the reason that Spurs deny Martin Jol a victory over the club that once dismissed him so cruelly. If Dempsey can continue to create chances for the likes of Bale and keep Fulham’s defenders busy with his explosive runs into and around the box, it could go a long way to handing Andre Villas Boas and Tottenham a third consecutive win and another step towards their goal of Champions League qualification.