Mike Pejic: If Stoke keep Berbatov out, they can beat Fulham
SOME people might assume me and Dimitar Berbatov would soon come to blows if we ever worked together.
It’s true, he’s hardly a workhorse when it comes to training and playing.
But you have to accept what kind of player and character he is and, if you choose to bring him into the club like Fulham did, you have to work around that.
I’d even go so far as to say he is that important to Fulham that you tailor your training sessions around him.
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There certainly wouldn’t be much point playing the ball over the top for him to chase because he’d just stand there and watch, shrug his shoulders, then wait for a proper pass.
He’s a player who needs the ball to feet. The only problem for Fulham is that if they don’t have the right players around him, he can become an isolated figure playing on a different wavelength to his team-mates.
One thing’s for sure, he’s certainly not a Stoke City player because he doesn’t quite have the work ethic.
Berbatov is one of several changes to the Fulham line-up over the last nine months.
They certainly don’t seem to have pushed on from last season when they finished ninth on 52 points.
They only lost four at home all last season, but already this season they’ve lost five.
Losing Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele was a big blow last summer, but Martin Jol brought in plenty of replacements in the shape of Berbatov, Hugo Rodallega and Kieran Richardson.
He also made three signings in January, but that can have a disruptive effect on existing players and won’t do much for their confidence.
Jol has also surprised me after often chopping and changing his side, even after a rare away win at West Brom.
Constantly changing his team does nothing for fluency nor understanding and I hope Stoke can take advantage of that today.
I’d put Marc Wilson straight back into the team at left-back if Tony Pulis considers him just about match fit.
He was certainly one of Stoke’s most consistent performers before his leg break and his return will also bring some stability to the back four.
Stoke certainly need to get back to how they were working hard and defending as a team earlier in the campaign.
They have only conceded 17 away in the Premier League this season, compared to 33 last season, so there has been an evident improvement.
But seven of those 17 goals have come in the last three away games at Manchester City, Swansea and Arsenal.
I’d like to see them go back to the 4-3-3 (4-5-1 without the ball) that we saw more of earlier in the season.
I’d have Charlie Adam as one of the midfield three to help keep it solid in there to frustrate Fulham.
But I’d also want to see Adam being a little bit more positive when he gets the chance near the penalty area.
When it comes to defending and counter-attacking, what a master class we saw from Bayern Munich at Arsenal in the week.
Now I know Stoke are not Bayern, but the model is the same.
It was classic defending in terms of getting 11 men behind the ball as soon as you’ve lost it, then working in tandem as a team to press and drop off at just the right moments to try to isolate the opponent with the ball. Brilliant stuff.
• Listen to Mike Pejic in action at Fulham this afternoon during live coverage of today’s game on Signal 1.