Next one up – Watford (H)

The great thing about football is that there is always the next game. At City last week we spent the majority of the game chasing shadows, and while that will be the same story for may sides who visit the Etihad this season, it’s still a memory that I want to eradicate quite quickly! So we move on to Watford tomorrow, a match which both sides will feel that they can win and bounce back from their respected defeats last weekend.

Watford started the season unbelievably well, with the win over Spurs particularly impressive. They have scored ten goals already this season, bettered only by Liverpool and Manchester City. They will also count themselves very unlucky to have lost on Saturday evening against Manchester United, but their second half display just came too late having already been 2-0 down. They are a strong team, and one that shouldn’t be underestimated.

If there is one man who isn’t going to underestimate Watford, it’s got to be Slavisa Jokanovic. Having guided the Hornets to automatic promotion back in 2015, Jokanovic and Watford failed to agree on contract terms and the two parted ways in rather frustrating fashion for both parties. So maybe there will be an added sting (pardon the pun) to this game as Jokanovic faces his old side for the first time since leaving.

It’s fair to say that Jokanovic surprised us all with his team selection last weekend, and while none of Stefan Johansen, Ryan Sessegnon at left back and Denis Odoi played badly, I’m hoping to see some changes tomorrow morning. I have no idea what Joe Bryan has done to deserve to be put out of the team after his brilliant displays against Palace, Spurs and Burnley. Hopefully we see him back there tomorrow. In terms of centre backs, I’d like to see Maxime Le Marchand partner Mawson this week. MLM was my surprise package in the first few games, but it all fell apart a bit when he was moved to left back against Brighton. He is much better in the centre and until Ream is fit again, I think a Mawson-MLM partnership is the way to go.

With Cairney out again tomorrow, I’d have Anguissa alongside McDonald and Seri. I have no doubt that the midfield battle will be key tomorrow, so it’s important that Jokanovic makes the right call with his choices. Anguissa looked very impressive again against City last week when he came on and while Seri was at fault for the first goal, I have no doubt that he will bounce back from that against Watford.

I’m expecting a lot of chances for both sides tomorrow so it could come down to whose attackers are more on the ball. He was an isolated figure last weekend but I feel like this is the sort of game that Mitrovic absolutely thrives on, especially in front of a home crowd. His four goals this season have him joint second in the goal scoring charts, while his shot count is only bettered by Sergio Aguero. We have a player here who is hungry for goals and thankfully Fulham have given him the perfect platform to perform on. At the other side of the pitch our defender will have the difficult job of keeping Andre Gray and Troy Deeney quiet. Deeney reminds me a little bit of Mitrovic in terms of his tenacious attitude on the pitch, and he is a player who seems to always be in the middle of the action. While he only has two goals this season he is still a player to be wary of. Another player to watch out for is Jose Holebas. The defender has an impressive four assists and a goal already to his name this season so is without a doubt one of Watford’s danger men.

This won’t be an easy game but I think Fulham are due a performance tomorrow. Watford are dangerous, there is no doubt about it, but I think that we have the stronger midfield, and if we win that battle, then we will create more chances which Mitrovic is primed and ready to put away. I have a good feeling about this one.

#COYW

Next one up – Manchester City

Tomorrow’s game against Manchester City at the Etihad is one of the first fixtures that I looked out for when the fixtures were released last June. Slavisa Jokanovic said in his pre-match presser that it’s games like this that we fought for last season when we won promotion to the Premier League. It’s the chance to test yourself against the very best, and a chance to show just how good we can be.

Now let’s be realistic, there’s a good chance that we will get turned over tomorrow. City won the league at a canter last season and are strong favourites this season as well. Pep Guardiola has won titles in three countries as a manager and his brand of high pressing and attacking football can be beautiful to watch. They can rip teams apart, with Huddersfield Town being the first victims of a big scoreline this season and they are unlikely to be the last. The thing is, when teams try and sit back and defend against City they general fail miserably, so trying to play our style of football could be our best option.

Fulham will have been very disappointed to not go into the first international break with six points on the board, but a poor final 20 minutes or so against Brighton, saw us squander a 2-0 lead. Coming away with just a point was hard to take, especially considering who our next opponents are. In our opening four games this season we have conceded nine goals, and we certainly haven’t looked comfortable there. We have played with two different keepers and have made at least one defensive change for every game. Even the most attacking teams need to have a solid defensive foundation on which to build from, but we just haven’t quite got that yet. However, Jokanovic took the opportunity of the international break to take the players not involved with their national teams away to Spain and the defence was very much the focus. Despite it being fantastic news that Marcus Bettinelli got his first senior England call up, I’m sure Jokanovic was slightly frustrated that Betts wouldn’t be joining them in Spain, as it looks as though he is first choice at the minute so the defence would have benefitted from him being there. However, even with Betts away, an exercise in stabilising the defence won’t be wasted so hopefully we will see a better showing tomorrow.

While the defence will have to be on top form tomorrow, the key battle for me is in the midfield. It looks as thought Cairney will be missing again because of injury, so I expect the midfield three of Kevin McDonald, Frank-Zambo Anguissa and Jean Michael Seri.

Seri, I think, has the ability to really change the game for us tomorrow because he is as important in defence as he is in attack. While he tops the Fulham, charts for passing and touches of the ball, he also boasts impressive defensive stats with seven interceptions and seven tackles. He is very good at reading the game and has so far done a good job in disrupting the play of other teams, winning the ball in key areas and then starting an attack. And if we manage to get the ball to our forward players, with Mitrovic full of confidence and Schurrle on form, we certainly have players to hurt any team.

I honestly believe that we can score tomorrow, but can’t see us managing to hold City at bay. You never know, we have seen a few miracles at the Etihad over the years for Fulham, so who is to say that it can’t happen tomorrow?

#COYW

Marus Bettinelli – 100 not out

What a week it’s been for Marcus Bettinelli. The Fulham man saved a crucial penalty against Brighton in his 100 game for Fulham and then got his first call up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the games against Spain and Switzerland. It’s once again proof that persistence and patience pays off as Bettinelli has so often found himself having to fight to regain the first team shirt because of managerial changes and new signings.

The Fulham Academy graduate signed his professional contract back in 2011 and spent much of his first few years as a professional on loan at Dartford and Accrington Stanley. It’s fair to say that he has tasted both the highs and the lows at Fulham, with his debut coming in our first season after relegation. Fulham had lost their first the opening four league games, but Betts was thrown between the sticks for the Capital One Cup win over Brentford- our first victory of the campaign. Bettinelli kept his place for the next game, a draw against Reading, but was dropped for Hungarian Gabor Kiraly the week after. Felix bingo, eh? It wasn’t until Felix Magath was replaced by Kit Symons that Fulham had anything like a structured back line and Bettinelli got his first proper run in the squad. He made a total of 45 appearances that season, conceding 73 goals in a disappointing year for Fulham. We just about avoided being relegated to League One, and his first year playing senior football for Fulham was certainly a learning curve.

In the summer of 2015, Fulham brought in Andy Lonergan from Bolton meaning that once again the role of Fulham’s number one was up for grabs. Lonergan started the season as first choice, but Bettinelli was soon back in the frame. However, early that season Bettinelli faced the first main challenge of his career- coming back after an awful injury. A collision between Bettinelli and Fulham striker Matt Smith resulted in both players having to be replaced, with Betts having sustained a serious knee injury and faced 7 months on the sidelines. It was a testing time for the 23 year-old, but the determination and desire shown to get back is one of the many qualities that I love so much about him.

After fighting his way back as Fulham’s main man, Bettinelli then went through a season of only playing 11 times for Fulham in the 2016-17 campaign. However, he was the man called upon for the Fulham run in that saw us clinch a play-off spot. The 2017-18 season was similar, with David Button being preferred. But no one can doubt that when Bettinelli was eventually recalled to the side in December of last year, Fulham’s results took a turn for the better. He conceded just 21 goals in 30 appearances as Fulham got promoted through the play-offs, and the Fulham man was caught running around Wembley with a flare. Beautiful scenes.

For me Bettinelli has been a shining light for Fulham over the past few years. He has time and time again had to wait for a chance, but every time he has proved that he is worth that chance. His positive attitude throughout those difficult seasons down in the depths of the Championship was what we needed to see as fans, and for that we have to appreciate the character that we have in Marcus Bettinelli.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. There are aspects of his games that he needs to work on, but I feel that some of the criticism of him recently has been unfair. The main criticism of him has been on his distribution, but in the two games that he has played this season he has a higher percentage of successful long passes than 18/22 keepers who have featured in the league so far. With Fulham bringing in two goalkeepers during the summer window, there has been a raging debate about who should be our number one this season in the Premier League. Earlier in the summer I wrote a piece suggesting that as Betts had won the jersey, he should really be given the opportunity to defend it. However, this did become more difficult when we signed a goalkeeper with a calibre of Sergio Rico. I don’t think there is much between Bettinelli and Fabri in terms of ability, but the fact that Bettinelli doesn’t have the communication issues that Fabri has, then for me it’s a no brainer that Betts should be starting ahead of him.

In terms of the England call up, I am thrilled that Betts got the nod. It was Southgate who gave him his U21 England chance, so we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that it is Southgate who has opted for the Fulham player again for the senior side. Along with his positive attitude, one of Bettinelli’s best qualities is his drive to learn and to improve. I have no doubt that he will come back from England training even better having had the opportunity to learn from England’s best. What an honour for the 26 year-old, and I hope that this call-up is the first of many.

Marcus Bettinelli, what a guy!

#COYW

Hammyend’s August Player of the Month

This season at Hammyend.com we have a new feature for you. We have decided to launch our ‘Hammyend Player of the Month’ throughout the season. The Hammyend team will pick four players every month who have stood out and we will give you a run down of their impac that month, then it is down to YOU to vote.

The first month of the season is always going to be a strange one, with a new players around the squad. It can take a while for everyone to settle and for the manager to figure out what his best team is. Plus Fulham this year have to deal with a massive jump up in quality, so there is no surprise that Slavisa Jokanovic has made changes to his starting team every week. We have played three Premier League games, losing two and winning one, while we have progressed to the next stage of the Carabao Cup with a comfortable win over Exeter City. Performances have been good across the pitch and the Hammyend team have come up with our four nominations.

1. Joe Bryan

One of a host of players through the door on deadline day, Bryan made the headlines because of the nature of his move. Whether or not Steve Bruce chased Bryan down the motorway when he found out about his Villa snub remains a mystery, although I have my doubts. What we can be sure of, however, is that Bruce does have a reason to be frustrated at missing out on Joe Bryan’s services, because he looks every bit a Premier League player in the three matches he has played so far. He looks assured on the ball and loves getting forward. He is an upgrade on Matty Targett in my opinion, and if his inch perfect ball across the face of goal for our goal at Spurs is anything to go by, I think we are guaranteed assists from him this year.

2. Jean Michael Seri

Seri genuinely looks like the best player to have pulled on a Fulham shirt in years. I’m not surprised that he was interesting European giants Barcelona just last summer. With three games played Seri is the 6th best passer in the league and is has had the 6th most touches. He is also 11th in the league for interceptions and has scored one of the goals for the season so far. We have signed someone special here.

3. Maxime Le Marchand

Le Marchand was somewhat of an unknown package when he signed on the same day as Seri earlier on in the window, and I don’t think anyone really expected him to hold onto the centre back shirt for long but he looks to be a real catch from the recruitment team. Remarkably, Le Marchand one of three Fulham players who features in the top 20 passers in the league, and he is 4th in therms of clearances made, with 26 so far. He looks to fit very well into Jokanovic’s footballing philosophy, so I reckon other players in the centre back position due to come back from injury have their work cut out for them winning the shirt back off him.

4. Aleksandar Mitrovic

The Serbian is the only nominee who played for Fulham last year, showing just how good the recruitment has been at Fulham this summer, but there is no way you could leave him off this list. Mitrovic signed permanently in the summer after scoring Fulham to the Premier League during the last half of the 2017/18 season. So many Newcastle fans and even pundits have doubted whether he could make it in the PL but so far he has gone a long way to proving them all wrong. Three games, three goals and a player of the match award so far. He is the striker who Fulham have been missing for so long. He is loved at Fulham, and I fully believe that that makes a big difference in his productivity for us.

Now that you have the nominations, it’s time to vote. Click on the link below to select your August Player of the Month and we will announce the winner next week.

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/JC9RQR8

#COYW

Next up: Burnley (H)

It feels strange to have watched Fulham lose both matches played this season yet still feel very optimistic about this season. In both games we have played this so far I have been very impressed by aspects of Fulham’s game, particularly when you consider the sheer number of new players brought in over the summer months. I watched Crystal Palace on Monday night against Liverpool, and I have no doubt that they should be finishing in the top 10 this season, so the fact that we played so well against them, generally speaking, reassures me that we can still hurt teams this season. However, the honeymoon period is over for me. No matter how well we play, we will need to start picking up points sooner rather than later.

We should be targetting 3 points this weekend against a Burnley side who haven’t started the season well and are dealing with European commitments for the first time in decades. They were last seasons surprise packages, so they aren’t a side to be taken lightly, but in the Premier League, you have to take advantage of the opportunities you have. Taking on the Clarets at Craven Cottage just days after they were well beaten in Greece in the Europa League after playing with 10 men for the majority of the game, is one of those opportunities. Tired, jet lagged and demoralised after their poor start to the season, it’s important that we take advantage.

The Danger Zone

While I think that we are capable of taking maximum points this weekend given Burnley’s current predicament, that isn’t to say that this will be be straightforward. I’ve had a look at the statistics and noticed a few things that we will need to be aware of going into this game. The main one is that after just two games, Burnley are the second in the league for crosses into the box with 52 so far. Our defence has already conceded 5 goals, and it looks like Jokanovic doesn’t know what his best back five is quite yet. We are vulnerable here, so the mass of crosses is something that we will have to be prepared for.

The Target Zone

Where can we hurt Burnley? Last season they were so compact and teams found it very hard to break through them, but so far this season it has been different. I know we are only two games in, but they are in the bottom three for both tackles and interceptions, so Fulham’s quick passing could potentially cause them serious problems.

The Team

I’m expecting one change at least with Schurrle coming back in for Kamara, but Anguissa and Fosu-Mensah could keep their places from Saturday. I’m still happy for Fabri to stay between the sticks, but I don’t think the defence will change until Ream and Mawson are fit again.

My Starting XI- Fabri, Fosu-Mensah, Le Marchand, Chambers, Bryan, Anguissa, Cairney, Seri, Sessegnon, Mitrovic, Schurrle