Scott Parker has shuffled his pack for tonight’s crucial clash with West Ham at Craven Cottage, but perhaps not in the way the Fulham fans had been hoping for. After a gloomy week in the relegation battle and Newcastle’s incredible victory with nine men against Southampton earlier this afternoon, it feels like a must-win London derby – even if Parker himself is still not comfortable with such a label. The Hammers head to south west London in fine form, having won five of their last six games, and Fulham’s 12-match winless run threatens to render their earlier improvement rather academic.
Fulham’s feeble capitulation against Leicester City in midweek has prompted changes in the starting line-up. Aleksandar Mitrovic has been confined to the bench again, with Ivan Cavaleiro returning. The Serbian talisman was rather anonymous against the Foxes even if Fulham didn’t play to his strengths. Parker might be wanting his side to play with less possession and hit West Ham on the break, utilising Cavaleiro as the man to get into behind the visitors’ back line – as they have successfully in the past this season. Perhaps restoring Mitrovic to the starting eleven was merely Parker’s plan B in a run of more winnable fixtures.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa is also dropped after a disappointing run of form in recent matches. The Cameroonian international had been a mainstay in Parker’s side since the early weeks of the campaign, with his powerful performances and breaking from midfield catching the eye of plenty of pundits and potential suitors. Anguissa hasn’t quite been the same dynamic presence since Fulham’s COVID outbreak, which could be the result of his own recovery from long COVID, which has affected the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Allan Saint-Maximin this season, or the heavy fixture schedule catching up with him. In any case, Fulham’s central midfield duo with be an ex-Southampton pairing of Harrison Reed and Mario Lemina.
Parker’s final change sees Bobby Decordova-Reid back in from the start with Ola Aina dropping to the pitch. It isn’t immediately determinable whether this means a switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation in place of Parker’s preferred five at the back, largely on account of Decordova-Reid’s versatility. The former Bristol City man has filled on at wing-back on either flank already this season but he may also be deployed in a far more attacking role, having become Fulham’s most reliable source of goals this term.
I would suggest that a 5-3-2 set up is more likely with Areola in goal, Decordova-Reid at right wing back, a trio at central defence of Kenny Tete, Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo. The American international Antonee Robinson should start in his natural left wing back berth with Lemina and Reed in central midfield. Ahead of them is Ademola Lookman on the left wing, Ruben Loftus-Cheek will start from the right flank and Cavaleiro through the middle as Fulham balance trying to solve their toothlessness in front of goal with nullifying the Hammers.
How do our opponents line-up?
David Moyes has made just one change from the impressive win over Aston Villa in midweek, with former Fulham favourite Ryan Fredericks replaced by Jared Bowen, who has a habit of scoring at Craven Cottage. The Hammers should line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with an unchanged back line, with Fabianski in goal, Coufal at right back, a central defence duo of Dawson and Ogbonna and Cresswell at left back.
Their double pivot of Rice and Soucek also remains unchanged, as their good performances their season have been the key to West Ham’s good form with the Czech currently leading the Hammers’ scoring charts with eight league goals, a considerable feat from a deep central-midfield role. Loanee Jesse Lingard once again starts, after bagging a brace at Villa Park, looking to carry on his impressive start in claret and blue. Ex-Brentford flyer Said Benramah and Bowen start on the wings, providing a menacing attacking threat, with Miguel Antonio up front. The England international’s pace and goalscoring ability poses serious danger this evening – even if he was once a more natural winger himself.
This is a massive test for Fulham, and one where many are saying the Whites must take points if they want to survive come the end of the season. What do you think of the line-up tonight?