The opportunities to record season-salvaging runs are starting to run out. No rational Fulham fan would tip the Whites to beat Everton on Sunday, firstly, because Carlo Ancelotti’s side are a formidable Premier League outfit when on form and secondly because success would be history making. The Whites haven’t won at Goodison Park in half a century and, with just two wins in the league all campaign, it would a significant turn up for the books. So, how can Scott Parker’s charges end their thirteen match winless run and spring a surprise on Sunday?
First of all, lets take a look at Ancelotti’s side. The knowledgeable and experienced Italian, who has made such an impact since taking over at Everton, likes to set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which transitions into a 4-3-3 when on the attack. Everton’s side is built upon a solid backline, with former Manchester United trainee Michael Keane usually partnered with Colombian international Yerry Mena, forming a physical and defensively sound centre back duo who are capable of passing the ball out from the back. On either side of them are Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne, full-backs who are once again defensively solid but who also offer an attacking presence when going forward, providing a real threat from set plays and in crossing situations.
Ancelotti usually deploys two deep-lying midfielders in front of his back four, who are asked to win back possession and create opportunities from deep. Aboulaye Doucoure has become something of a permanent fixture since his move from Watford in the summer alongside either Tom Davies or Andre Gomes, who seem to rotate regularly. The classy and creative number ten is usually James Rodriguez, who still seems like a clever capture from Real Madrid and has posed problems for plenty of Premier League defences, but Ancelotti can also call upon Gylfi Sigurdssson if necessary.
Where Everton are now much more potent than in the past is in the final third. Richarlison offers a real threat venturing in from the left or operating alongside Dominic Calvert-Lewin, whose finishing has come on leaps and bounds under Ancelotti. Calvert-Lewin, who combines athleticism with excellent technique, is also a big threat in the air and Fulham don’t need to be reminded of Everton’s goal threat. In the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage, the Toffees scored classical counter-attacking goals but also found the net by simply passing their way through the Fulham midfield. Even if Scott Parker’s defence has improved since the start of the season, they will need to be at their very resilient best to come close to getting a result this weekend.
There is a twist in the tale as well. Calvert-Lewin was substituted during Everton’s epic FA Cup win over Spurs earlier this week with a suspected hamstring injury. The in-form forward is therefore unlikely to line up against the Whites this weekend. Step forward Josh King, the suspect of a very public tug of war between the two clubs on transfer deadline day before he opted to move to Merseyside. The stage is set for him to open his Everton account with the winner, isn’t it?
Countering Everton’s adventurous line-up and nullifying their wealth of talent is a serious challenge. Here’s how I think the Whites should line-up:
I would suggest that Parker reverts back to his 5-2-3 formation for this fixture, with the 4-2-3-1 system seemingly more suited to other upcoming fixtures such as Burnley, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace – which remain must-win matches if the Whites are to have any hope of avoiding the drop. Nobody could serious place Sunday’s game in that category, but Fulham will need to take something back to London with them and I believe that the five at the back is the best option as it eliminates a number of defensive vulnerabilities.
Fulham’s wing backs, well experienced in this formation by now, should be able to pin back Everton’s wingers – reducing the threat of the low crosses from which the Toffees scored twice at the Cottage. It would also help to prevent Everton’s wingers from being able to deliver any high balls into the box, meaning that any aerial vulnerability is limited. The three centre backs would also be able to outnumber any conventional Everton forwards, especially in Ancelotti’s preferred lone striker system. Deploying three centre backs should also help to cut out through balls from midfield, something Everton have thrived upon before.
Parker’s midfield pairing, which will likely be Anguissa alongside either Lemina or Reed, should also sit deep when defending, just in front of the central defenders. Ideally, this would prevent the Everton number ten, likely to be Rodriguez, from exploiting any space between the lines, inhibiting their creativity and cutting off the majority of the service to the centre forward. This should mean that Everton may have to resort to long shots, a riskier proposition that produces far less expected goals than shooting from within the 18-yard box.
Fulham should look to soak up the pressure and wait for Everton to make mistakes to win back the ball before counter-attacking with speed – a strategy that we have seen employed fairly successfully, especially when the Whites surprised Liverpool at the Cottage before Christmas. Whilst I have no magic fix for Fulham’s goal scoring problems, the recent return of Kenny Tete to the side should free up Decordova-Reid to once again become an attacking asset to the side, rather than one placed into a defensive role.
Another question is that is it time for Josh Maja to start? Nobody outside of Parker’s coaching staff can know just how well the new signing has progressed in training and if he is ready to start yet, it is surely worth the punt. Maja provides the pace that Cavaleiro does up top, whilst he should hopefully also be able to convert the chances that he is given, as a natural striker. Besides, even if it does go wrong, there is always the option of bringing a replacement off of the bench and giving Maja some more time to settle in.
Fulham must start winning games. I appreciate that Everton may seem a big task due to their quality. However, the performance against the Hammers, who are in better form and in a higher league position than the Toffees, shows that Fulham are capable but simply missing the final product. Time is running out for Fulham to really mount their survival challenge, with just 15 Premier League games remaining. Could a first win in 53 years at Goodison, and 13 Premier League games, kickstart the push for survival – similar to how Maja’s goal against Fulham in 2018/19 put the fire in the team’s belly to go 23 undefeated to earn a play off place? Could it be fate that a Josh Maja goal kickstarts a Fulham survival push?
How do you think that Fulham should line up at Goodison on Sunday?