Fulham Preview - Home, Novemebr 19
SUNDERLAND RETURN to Premier League action this weekend with a visit from strugglers Fulham.
It's been an odd sort of season for the Cottagers who have doubtless suffered thanks to their Europa League involvement.
Under new boss Martin Jol, the 2011-12 campain began in earnest back on June 30 with a 3-0 win at home to NSI Runavik. The season had ended just a handful of weeks before.
Of course, Fulham's squad is super-fit in order to cope with their early start to the season and continued involvement in Europe, where they currently sit second in Group K. However, with a fairly thin squad it has been a tricky balancing act for Jol.
Despite rotating to the best of his ability the Dutchman has seen the West London outfit win just twice in the league this season and thus they currently reside in 16th place.
Jol does however have the fervent backing of his chairman, Mohammed Al-Fayed. That backing though could well just be in order to stick the knife in for former gaffer Mark Hughes who resigned at the end of last season. Al-Fayed has been quick to heap praise on himself for 'rescuing' the former Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers man whilst also lamenting his decision to leave by declaring Jol as 'more handsome'.
Backing the former Ajax and Tottenham boss in the transfer market has been equally importat for the colourful former Harrods owner with no fewer than nine summer arrivals - although at least three of those were made with one eye on the future.
Former FC Twente forward Bryan Ruiz was purchased with the present in mind and the flamboyant Costa Rican playmaker hasn't disappointed. Ruiz may have made just one Premier League start so far but Fulham fans saw exactly what he is capable with when he deftly lofted over Tim Howard in the 3-1 loss to Everton last month. An overall scoring record of 62 in 122 league games for Gent and Twente suggests there is more to come however.
Ferocious full-back John-Arne Riise is a name well-known to the top-flight having enjoyed seven years with Liverpool before a three-year stint in Italy with Roma. Riise helped bring the Champions League to Anfield during his time on Merseyside and built something of a reputation for a howitzer of a free-kick. He's yet to register as a White but it won't be long. Riise is also now at the same club as his younger brother, Bjorn-Helge - currently on-loan at Portsmouth.
Tempestuous ex-Palermo midfield schemer Patjim Kasami is one who with time on his side looks like a prospect whilst also featuring in recent weeks for Jol's side. The 19 year-old Swiss-born midfielder has Macedonian roots but elected to play for Switzerland and has represented them at U17, U18 and U21 levels.
As well as the new faces, the ever-reliable names remain - Brede Hangeland, Danny Murphy, Clint Dempsey and Mark Schwarzer all still on the books. And, with that tried and tested blend of youth and experience you fancy Fulham will put aside their European distractions sooner rather than later and head up the league table.
Jol has something of a crisis at right-back with Zdenek Grygera and Stephen Kelly both injured. Simon Davies is a long-term injury.
Sunderland will be without the suspended Sebastian Larsson whilst John O'Shea and Connor Wickham are both injured.
Titus Bramble is not yet match-fit following internal suspension. David Meyler got 90 minutes for the reserves on Wednesday and could push for a place on the bench.
Sunderland: Westwood; Bardsley, Brown, Turner, Richardson; Elmohamady, Colback, Cattermole (c), Vaughan, Sessegnon; Bendtner.
Fulham: Schwarzer; Baird, Hangeland, Briggs, Riise; Dempsey, Murphy (c), Sidwell, Duff; Dembele & Zamora.