Football – whatever analysts may tell you – is more than just numbers. But sometimes the statistics tell a stark story. Today’s trip to Manchester City is a case in point. The Citizens have won twelve consecutive matches against Fulham and are unbeaten in eighteen, since a brilliant strike from Dickson Etuhu, who started his career in the City youth set-up, and a Clint Dempsey double inspired Roy Hodgson’s side to come from behind and win 3-1 in April 2009. Fulham have lost their last nine Premier League games against Manchester City – failing to score for five fixtures in a row. No wonder the odds on an away win this afternoon are as high as 18/1 with some bookmakers.

Marco Silva’s side actually delivered one of their best performances of last season at the Etihad Stadium back in February. The Whites were still to hit top gear in their push for promotion from the Championship but appeared undaunted by the prospect of taking on Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering outfit. They took the lead inside four minutes through a fabulous goal on the break fashioned by a perceptive pass from Nathaniel Chalobah that released Harry Wilson down the right flank, with the Welshman’s clever cross steered in from close range by the cool Fabio Carvalho. The hosts levelled within ninety seconds – and, although City ruthlessly exploited Fulham’s fallibility from set plays to move into the lead, it was only in the second half where they cut loose after Guardiola, who had paced the technical area irate earlier on, turned to his bench.

Silva felt encouraged by the boldness and quality of that display. Guardiola, who has won all seven of his games against Fulham, touched upon how Fulham hurt his team that day when previewing this encounter yesterday – asserting that the Cotttagers’ outstanding start upon their return to the Premier League has not surprised him. Nobody gives the Londoners much of a chance of doing anything in north east Manchester this afternoon, but you sense that Silva’s stylish squad rather like going under the radar. City, still trailing Arsenal in what could turn out to be a compelling title race, have won fourteen consecutive home games – and another three points today would take them to within one of the club record set between November 1920 and August 1921. More ominously, Guardiola’s charges are the first top-flight team to have scored at three or more goals in ten home matches in succession since Aston Villa’s sensational fifteen game streak that run from December 1930 to September 1931.

They may start without Erling Haaland, bidding to become along the second City man to score in six straight Premier League home games after Alvaro Negredo in 2013, but the Norwegian striker did come through training yesterday unscathed. Guardiola is expected to make a late call on the 22 year-old, who has scored 22 goals in sixteen appearances since swapping Borussia Dortmund for Eastlands in a deal worth £51.2m in July, after he recovered from a foot problem that saw him miss the recent matches against Leicester City and Sevilla in the Champions’ League. Guardiola will be able to call on Manuel Akanji after the centre back shook off a dead leg, but England internationals Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips remain sidelined. The Spaniard could well shake up his defence from the canter past Sevilla in midweek – with a return for Ederson in goal likely, whilst John Stones may well come back and Guardiola could pair Nathan Ake with Reuben Dias as well.

The cast that City could put together is frightening, with with the likes of Rodri, Kevin de Bruyne and Bernado Silva all fresh for Fulham having had the night off against Sevilla after the Blues had already clinched continental qualification. But the Cottagers can travel in good spirits – unbeaten in their last four despite failing to find a winner even though they dominated the second half against Everton – and their head coach has demanded they ’embrace the challenge’ of playing a side that he considers the best in Europe, not just England. Silva has not altered his adventurous approach for anyone this season and he won’t be doing that for the champions, despite having lost all nine of his previous battles with Guardiola by an aggregate score of 31-5.

All history is bunk – more so these days that when Henry Ford allegedly uttered those immortal words – and Fulham’s best means of approaching what looks like an impossible ask is to do so fearlessly. Silva’s accent on attack does mean the Whites will take risks against City – who have won all six of their home league matches this term scoring 27 times, but it should make for some spectacle. You’d think the combative qualities of Joao Palhinha, who has completed more tackles than anyone else in the top five European divisions to date this season, will be crucial. The Whites head north without the services of Neeskens Kebano, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in training this week – a bitter blow that will keep the likeable Congolese winger out of action for the remainder of a campaign he had started so superbly, but Silva has a number of alternatives in the wide areas: this might be the opportunity for Dan James, who has yet to deliver his finest form during his loan from Leeds, to remind Mancunians just what he can do all over again. One of the likelier contenders to fulfil the pressing duties out wide, Bobby Decordova-Reid, is unavailable having picked up a fifth booking as he deputised at right back for Kenny Tete last Saturday night.

Fulham have already amassed five top flight wins – the same total they managed in the whole of their last Premier League, a doleful campaign devoid of too many highlights under Scott Parker – and could conceivably stitch together consecutive top-flight away successes for the first time since 2013. If that appears too fanciful, they can take heart from the fact that, after de Bruyne, Andreas Pereira is second in the chance-creation Premier League chart, with 34. Given that twenty of those came last month, it is difficult to argue that the Brazilian playmaker – another one with history on the red half of Manchester – isn’t playing one of the best football of his career at present. With Willian rolling back the years out wide and Harry Wilson’s return from a serious knee problem picking up the pace after another appearance after the bench last weekend, Silva isn’t short on options to unlock opposition defences.

The problem is that Fulham will have to demonstrate a ruthlessness that was lacking against the Toffees, when they took 24 shots and failed to find the net – their highest total without success since 2003/04. That ten of those opportunities fell to Mitrovic will have frustrated the Serbian even more than Bernd Leno, who confronted the talismanic number nine moments after the final whistle, in a conversation captured by the television cameras that showed just how much will to win there is amongst the squad Silva has built. This might be Fulham’s most daunting assignment yet, but you fancy this enterprising outfit will relish the opportunity of testing themselves against a top quality team.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, A. Robinson, Diop, Ream; Palhinha, Reed; Wilson, Willian, Pereria; Mitrovic. Subs: Rodak, Kurzawa, Adarabioyo, Duffy, Onomah, Cairney, Harris, James, Vinicius.