As the season heats up and the battle to beat the drop intensifies, it shouldn’t really surprise us that the most cool and collected player in the Premier League has led by example. With goals in each of the previous three Gameweeks, Dimitar Berbatov has engineered a climb up the climb that sees Fulham sit in tenth spot – just four points behind Swansea with a game in hand.
Reunited with former Spurs boss Martin Jol last summer, Berbatov’s impact was immediate. A brace on his first start against West Brom was followed by an assist away to Wigan – with maximum Fantasy Premier League (FPL) bonus in both fixtures, he rocketed up in ownership from 6.9 to 7.3 over the space of a fortnight. Handed the role of lone forward, with Bryan Ruiz pulling the strings behind him, the Bulgarian’s form continued – three goals and a pair of assists over his next four appearances followed, with a 16 point haul in a Gameweek 11 draw at the Emirates proving the highlight of his season so far.
A hamstring injury to Ruiz in the Gameweek 12 defeat at home to Sunderland proved Berbatov’s undoing, though. The Costa Rican’s absence forced Jol into deploying Berbatov deeper, lessening his attacking potential, with the likes of Hugo Rodallega or Mladen Petric afforded the chance to lead the line instead. As a result, he failed to register a single goal or assist over Ruiz’s six matches on the sidelines – it’s no coincidence his strike partner’s Gameweek 19 return saw Berbatov in the points once again, picking up a goal and maximum bonus in a home draw with Southampton.
Since Ruiz’s return to the Cottagers’ first XI, Berbatov has hit the occasional stumbling block, though. This has mainly been down to his manager’s tinkering – Jol’s decision to play Ruiz on the right flank in a handful of fixtures resulted in a withdrawn role once again for the Bulgarian but, as his side edged ever-nearer to the drop zone, Jol’s decision to reinstate Ruiz behind Berbatov up top has proved pivotal.
Further analysing his recent form, Berbatov has now notched in four of his last five matches; the one game he failed to find the net – away to Norwich in Gameweek 26 – was due to Jol’s decision to move Ruiz out wide and drop the Bulgarian deeper. With Ashkan Dejagah now preferred on the flank, Fulham finally have a settled side and are reaping the benefits; only United have bettered or equalled their points haul over the last three matches.
Up next for the Cottagers is a home clash against basement-dwellers QPR and with a double Gameweek 33 affording a trip to fourth-bottom Villa and home clash against Chelsea, the prospect for points looks enticing. After that, Berbatov faces three home games in four (ARS, REA, LIV) and with such a kindly FPL price of 6.9, the bandwagon is underway, with the Bulgarian already acquiring more than 20,000 new owners – more than double the tally of all but one forward since the end of the previous Gameweek.
Certainly, with a 30 point lead over any other Fulham outfield player, his importance to the Cottagers cause is obvious, while a lowly ownership of just over 6% highlights his differential appeal and offers an in-form mid-price alternative to the likes of Christian Benteke, Rickie Lambert, Arouna Kone and Romelu Lukaku over the last few matches of the season.