Stoke City: Pulis salutes Berbatov ahead of Britannia visit
THE much-maligned Dimitar Berbatov is more silky than sulky these days.
And Stoke fans might see why some are already dubbing him the signing of the summer so far.
That's the verdict of Stoke boss Tony Pulis as he plots a way of shackling Fulham's enigmatic newcomer at the Britannia tomorrow (3pm).
Berbatov, below, joined on a free at the end of August after four years at Manchester United – amid raised eyebrows among those many critics writing off the Bulgarian striker as mean, moody and rarely magnificent.
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But five goals in seven starts and one substitute appearance – including a brace in the recent 3-3 draw at Arsenal – have quickly gagged his critics for now.
And the touch of gold dust he can sprinkle in the final third has soon endeared him to the paying public at Craven Cottage.
"I think Berbatov has been the outstanding buy for me and is playing at the top of his game," said Pulis, who believes the lure of London ruled out any move to Stoke in the summer.
"In the games I've watched, he's been absolutely outstanding. He looks like he's really enjoying himself and has found a home where he's the main player.
"Looking at him, he's showing the class he possesses. It will be worth the admission just to see him play.
"You have to say he's one of the best players in the Premier League on form. He can win games on his own and has been a great signing for manager Martin Jol.
"It's his touch and his movement, and he sees a pass. He's first-class."
The 31-year-old striker is certainly feeling more loved than for a long time after plummeting so far down Sir Alex Ferguson's affections that he started a mere five Premier League games for United last season.
What a different story after rejoining his one-time Tottenham boss Martin Jol.
Berbatov's early influence in Fulham's attack has helped contribute towards 25 goals in their first dozen fixtures this season, a figure topped only by Manchester United (29) and matched only by champions Manchester City.
"Yes, they look as though they are going to score goals," added Pulis.
"Even when they were down to 10 men against Sunderland last week, they created two or three chances.
"But he (Berbatov) is the player for me that glues everything together and makes them tick."
Fulham's record isn't quite so admirable at the other end of the pitch after conceding 11 in their last four outings.
Three of those came at Arsenal, however, and another three against Sunderland when they were down to 10 men following Brede Hangeland's 30th-minute dismissal for a rash challenge.
The gap left by Hangeland's talismanic presence would appear to offer Stoke hope in attack tomorrow.
But it's a gap Pulis characteristically fills pretty quickly by insisting: "They've got (Phillipe) Senderos and (Chris) Baird to come in.
"Every Premier League club has got strength in depth and Fulham are no different."