West Bromwich Albion vs Fulham, New Year's Day 12:45 BST, Live on Sky Sports 1
Match Odds: WBA [2.02], Fulham [4.1], the draw [3.7]
As someone who has regularly covered West Brom games for the past few seasons, I have no shame in saying that it's nice to see them doing so well. Head Coach Steve Clarke has built on solid foundations laid by Roberto Di Matteo and Roy Hodgson, adding his own sprinklings of tactical fairy dust. Albion have their strongest squad for many seasons, and they lie seventh in the table, just three points behind fourth-placed Tottenham.
The strength of Albion's squad has been tested by a long injury list, and a host of key players face fitness tests before Fulham arrive at The Hawthorns. Key midfielders Claudio Yacob and Youssuf Mulumbu could both miss out, while imposing centre-back Jonas Olsson is struggling with a groin injury sustained against QPR. It's tempting to think that Albion will struggle if all of these players are missing, but a patched-up side battled well in a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United, only conceding the second goal in stoppage-time. That defeat followed impressive 2-1 wins over Norwich and QPR.
Albion's home record this term has been outstanding, with seven wins, a draw and two defeats. The Baggies have scored a respectable 16 goals in front of their own fans, conceding just seven (no PL team has let in fewer goals at home). To give Baggies fans further hope, midfielders Chris Brunt and James Morrison are on excellent form.
Fulham started the campaign brightly, but a run of one win in 12 games has seen them dragged into the relegation melee. The Cottagers have lost four of their last six matches, and they've kept just two clean sheets in 16 games. Dimitar Berbatov is by far their best player - he has scored six goals and has created a further three. Fulham always look capable of scoring (no-one in the bottom half has netted more than their 30 goals), but their defence is fragile. Stand-in goalkeeper David Stockdale was at fault for both goals in the weekend's 2-1 home defeat to Swansea, and the Cottagers will be praying that first choice Mark Schwarzer can recover from injury.
It's not just the goalkeeping department which is a worry. Fulham's defence looked desperately poor in a recent 4-0 thrashing at Liverpool, and normally dependable players such as Aaron Hughes and Jon Arne Riise have been making mistakes. Given the firepower available to West Brom (Peter Odemwingie, Romelu Lukaku and Shane Long are all available), I suspect Fulham's rearguard may be in for a torrid start to 2013.
I think West Brom are decent value for the home win at [2.02], especially against a Fulham side low on confidence. That said, I fancy Fulham to score, so I would also look at backing Over 2.5 Goals at [1.93].
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