High-flying, full of confidence and with goals throughout their team – all of these things describe Fulham in the Premier League in 2012/13.
They are also the exact opposite of how you would describe Stoke City, based on their start to the season.
Despite last weekend’s surprise defeat by Sunderland, Fulham still sit just four points off a European spot and boast the widest array of scorers in the Premier League this season with nine.
By contrast, Stoke have scored more than one goal at the Britannia just once this season as they languish in 14th place, with Tony Pulis wondering what happened to the side previously labelled by Arsene Wenger as his least favourite away trip.
So on the face of it, this seems like a good game to take a chance on a rare away result for the Cottagers and the bwin bookies add fuel to the fire by offering Fulham at 5/2, with Stoke 11/10 favourites and the draw at 9/4.
In truth, Fulham aren’t punching as far above their weight as many might suggest, with astute Martin Jol signings like Premier League winners Dimitar Berbatov and Kieran Richardson combining with youngsters like Alex Kacaniklic (although the latter two are currently injured) to give the Londoners the look of a side set to stay near the top.
Berbatov in particular has been key. The former Manchester United striker has five goals in eight games and whenever he’s scored, Fulham haven’t lost. For those wanting to back the Bulgarian to net again, he’s 9/4 to score at any time and 7/1 to open the scoring, as he did on his Fulham debut.
That’s not to say Jol doesn’t have other goal-getting options at his disposal. As mentioned earlier, the division’s second top scorers also have the most different marksmen, including four-goal Mladen Petric (11/4 to score at any time), Hugo Rodallega (also an 11/4 chance) and Bryan Ruiz, who will miss out with a hamstring injury on this occasion.
However, for all their struggles so far this season, one thing Stoke have been is resilient – only conceding more than twice at Manchester United – so expect them to keep the score down and back them to limit Fulham to a single strike at 7/5.
If Stoke are to have any hope of getting more than a draw out of this game, their chances seem to rest with former England strike duo Peter Crouch and Michael Owen.
Crouchy’s goals have dried up of late, but having started with five in six he still has the talent to strike at any time at odds of 8/5, while a returning Owen has always had the quality to make the difference after coming on as a late substitute and he can be backed at 15/2 to notch the final goal, just as he did when he last faced Fulham in a Manchester United jersey.
But even if the Stoke strikers roll back the years, I still think Fulham have enough to pick up a point at 9/4 and that is my top bet for Saturday’s clash, with winnings of £65 on offer for anyone successfully backing it with their free £20 bet after registering with bwin.