Swansea City head to Fulham hoping for repeat result
DIMITAR Berbatov probably wouldn't have bothered scrawling over his T-shirt had he joined Swansea City.
'Keep calm and pass to me' said a message revealed by the Bulgarian after he scored against Southampton on Boxing Day and removed his No. 9 jersey.
Apparently, Berbatov feels that Fulham have given the ball away to cheaply this season, and that they will have more success if they play the ball into his feet.
The former Manchester United striker was never going to join Swansea, of course — his wage demands made certain of that.
But had he pitched up at the Liberty after leaving Old Trafford in the summer, Berbatov would not be muttering about style of play.
His Fulham team-mates can vouch for that, for many of them were on the end of a home humbling when Swansea last visited Craven Cottage back in March.
That was one of the finest hours of Brendan Rodgers's Swansea era, his team following up an extraordinary home success over Manchester City with a resounding 3-0 triumph in West London.
Fulham had been strong on their own patch all season, yet they were completely outplayed by a Swansea side who produced arguably their most complete performance of the season.
Now Michael Laudrup's class of 2012-13 head back down the M4 hoping for another good day by the Thames.
It is surely asking too much to expect Swansea to repeat the heroics of their last trip to Fulham, particularly with question marks over the fitness of Michu, their chief goal-getter this season.
But the form guide, just like Berbatov's T-shirt, suggests that Martin Jol's team are not in the rudest health right now.
If Swansea can dig out another performance during this hectic sequence of fixtures, they could get a first win in five league games.
Berbatov's celebrations were cut short on Wednesday, when Rickie Lambert netted a late penalty to give Southampton a 1-1 draw at the Cottage. This was the latest in a line of disappointments for Jol's team, who have won only one of their last 11 matches.
As a result, they are 14th in the table, six points clear of Wigan in the final relegation place.
Fulham's position is hardly perilous right now, but Jol is well aware that better is required from his team if they are to avoid a relegation battle.
Swansea are only five points better off than their opponents tomorrow, yet the outlook is much brighter for Laudrup right now than it is for his opposite number.
The draw at Reading 48 hours ago was no thriller, and it was not the cue for delirium in the visiting camp given the Royals' awful form.
But it was a point gained on the road, and one which took Swansea to 25 for the season.
Given that Laudrup reckons his team will get better in the second half of the campaign, that represents a job very well done.
"I think we can be very pleased with what we have done until now," says the Dane, who has exceeded all expectations during his first four-and-a-half months in English football.
Having spent most of his career in southern Europe, Laudrup would normally be putting his feet up at this time of year thanks to the mid-season break.
Not in the Premier League.
Laudrup had barely got off the bus back from Reading before he was back in his seat for the journey to Fulham.
"In football you can never stop," he points out.
"And that is especially true in this moment because we have so many games from now until the beginning of February.
"We don't have to time to think about how well we have done until now — we just have to carry on.
"Then maybe, at the start of February, we can look at how many games we have left, where we are in the table and what points we have and try to figure out what we can do this season."
It could be that come early February Swansea are planning for a first ever major final, although there is a mighty hurdle between them and Wembley in the shape of Rafael Benitez's Chelsea.
The first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final is less than a fortnight away, but it is the Blues' near neighbours who Swansea are focusing on for the moment.
With Aston Villa to come at home on New Year's Day, Swansea have a couple of decent opportunities to put further points on the board before the cups take over for a spell.
The task at Fulham will be to reproduce the control of possession Swansea had at the Madejski Stadium and to defend with the nous that brought Michel Vorm a first clean sheet since his seamless return to the first team.
Then Swansea must rediscover the menace in the final third which has usually been in evidence this season but was missing at Reading.
Manage that and Swansea will have a fine chance of getting a result — and that would see them closing on 30 points at the turn of the year.
For Laudrup, in his first season on these shores, that would be another deeply impressive achievement.
"In my young life," he says through a smile, "I have lived in seven different countries.
"I have always tried to adapt, to learn the language and to adapt to the culture both on and off the pitch."
In Wales, and in English football, he is doing very nicely so far.