Having won their last six home league games, Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham side should head into Saturday’s fixture with Aston Villa full of confidence and believing that they strike a serious blow in the promotion race by securing all three points. Jokanovic has got the Fulham playing with flair and fluidity which they showed in that sensational run to the top six during the second half of last season. The visit of Steve Bruce’s side to the Cottage will be the start of six season-defining fixtures which will prove whether the Whites can genuinely contend for automatic promotion from the Championship.
There are plenty of grounds optimistic ahead of this weekend’s crunch fixture. In the last ten meetings with Villa at Craven Cottage, Fulham have lost just once. The Whites have won all of the last three encounters in London, scoring six goals and only letting in Jack Grealish’s stunning strike last season. That day Villa were undone by Jonathan Kodija’s early sending off and ultimately defeated by goals from Ryan Sessegnon, Sone Aluko and Neeskens Kebano. It goes without saying that Bruce’s side will provide a much sterner test this season.
The Villains have notched up seven straight victories and, after seeing off their local rivals Birmingham on Sunday, are also sitting pretty in the second automatic promotion spot. Although there is a lot to admire about their current form, they haven’t faced a side such of Fulham on their travels this year. If Villa follow the template of most visitors to the Cottage this season and defend for large portions of the game hoping to score on the counter attack, they could be asking for trouble. Fulham have shown signs of being able to unlock stubborn defences in recent weeks – with Nottingham Forest’s gameplan the latest to come unstuck a couple of weeks ago – and, as Lucas Piazon and Tom Cairney return to the side, there is more creativity for Jokanovic to call on. Should Bruce be more ambitious and take the attack to Fulham, then that could suit the home side’s adventurous approach even more.
The first goal on Saturday could prove pivotal. I firmly believe no matter who Fulham play against at home – if we score early then we should be take advantage and win the game. If we can get that early goal, I can see it being a good afternoon for us. The Whites should also be fired up by their failure to capitalise on Matty Targett’s first senior goal at Bolton last weekend. You’ve heard the Fulham squad all admit that the draw at the Macron Stadium amounted to two dropped points and Jokanovic won’t have been happy that his side reduced the tempo just when Wanderers seemed to be there for the taking. I doubt they’ll be a repeat of that this weekend.
Saturday’s game is massive for both sides. Villa will be travelling to London hoping to consolidate their hold on the second automatic promotion spot, whilst a Fulham victory would cut the gap between the sides to just four points. It may be controversial, but I would personally carry keep faith with Rui Fonte up top as his intelligence will pull Villa’s centre backs out of position and can create space through the middle where Fulham are at our strongest. No doubt there will be plenty of nerves come kick off this is just the sort of game where the Whites can prove that they are a match for anyone under Jokanovic. I fancy a 3-0 victory and for Ryan Sessegnon to bounce back from a couple of quiet games to notch a couple more important goals.