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?