Fulham face Leeds United under the lights at Craven Cottage tonight in the first of three games that offer an opportunity for Scott Parker’s men to pick up some vital points before facing Arsenal and Chelsea.
Parker has made two changes from the side that lost to Manchester City 3-0 last weekend, with Kenny Tete dropped to the bench having just earned a recall to the Dutch national side. American international Antoneee Robinson takes his place in the starting eleven, with Ola Aina set to switch to right back in order to accommodate him. Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek also finds himself starting on the bench underneath the ongoing Riverside development, with Josh Maja regaining his spot up front.
Here is the Fulham line-up:
That line-up suggests that Fulham will play a 4-3-3 as they look to battle Leeds for possession and control of the game. Fulham start with the almost ever-constant goalkeeper and centre-back combination of Alphonse Areola and Joachim Andersen, who have both also been called-up to his national side, alongside Tosin Adarabioyo. With Aina and Robinson at full back, Fulham will look to exploit Leeds’ high pressing system with explosive, overlapping full-backs.
Parker has picked a midfield trio of Anguissa, Lemina and Reed. This is a hard-working combination designed to take on Leeds’ lauded pressing exploits whilst also trying to cut off the passing triangles for which Marcelo Bielsa is famed. Parker has once again rotated his front three, with Lookman on the left wing, Cavaleiro on the right wing and Maja in the centre. Despite lacking Bobby Decordova-Reid, Fulham’s top scorer with seven goals, these attackers should offer pace and power and pose a threat to the visitors’ high defensive line.
Bielsa has named an unchanged side from the eleven that started in Leeds’ 0-0 draw with Chelsea on Saturday. The Argentinian has successfully implemented his high-octane, furious pressing and passing style into the top flight and it won’t come as too much of a surprise to Fulham, having been regular opponents of Bielsa in the Championship.
Here is the Leeds United line-up:
Leeds are without several key names – with Liam Cooper, Pablo Hernandez and summer signing Rodrigo all missing – so there’s very little rotation in the line-up. They should start with the same 4-1-4-1 formation as last weekend, as hot prospect Meslier starts between the posts, with Llorente and Struijk starting ahead of him in central defence. Alioski will start at left back with the dependable with Luke Ayling on the right and the pair will have instructions to try and push forward from the off – aiming to pin Fulham’s own offensive full back deep into their own half.
Kalvin Phillips starts in a deep-lying midfielder role, with Stuart Dallas playing as a playmaker ahead of ahead of him, whilst Tyler Roberts will likely become a second striker, running onto balls that Patrick Bamford, who has shaken off fitness concerns to start, may knock down to him. Bamford, the former Chelsea man who was very unlucky to not make Gareth Southgate’s England squad given fine form on his return to the top flight, will be flanked by Harrison on his left and Raphinha on his right.
This promises to be an exciting game and history suggests they might be plenty of goals, but what do you think of the line-ups? And, what do you think the score will be?
After Fulham’s impressive win at Liverpool, Scott Parker faces another stiff test tonight in the shape of runaway league leaders Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men appear destined to win the Premier League this season – even after losing their incredible 21-match unbeaten record at the hands of local rivals Manchester United. The Citizens are one of the strongest sides in Europe on present form – with plenty of talent and depth in almost every department. The task ahead of Parker, one of the country’s most promising young coaching prospects, looks daunting but the Fulham boss has already insisted that he will send his side out looking to claim all three points.
Guardiola’s philosophy is keenly understood by observers and coaches across the world now and, even if some of the mystique might have worn off given how much time he has now spent in England, it is incredibly tough to beat. The Spaniard favours a 4-3-3 formation, with overlapping full-backs, a hard working holding midfielder, two advanced playmakers in midfield and two inside forwards on the wings. His side are disciples of tiki-taka football, the style Guardiola introduced and refined at Barcelona, which involves short passing at a high tempo to break teams down. City regularly refrain from shooting from distance, looking instead to to bring the ball as close to the goal as possible to increase their chances of scoring. Given the quality at his disposal, though, it is no surprise that City possess plenty of proficient strikers of a ball from range – so there is danger in almost every scenario.
City’s attacking threat is frightening, with the peerless Kevin De Bruyne a metronome in midfied, the lively Raheem Sterling drifting into dangerous areas from out wide and Sergio Aguero, who needs no introduction to Fulham fans. Bernado Silva’s devastating dribbling has come to the fore since his namesake David, a mainstay of previous City sides, finally called time on his career in England. Guardiola has gradually blooded the brilliant Phil Foden, widely considered as England’s next star, in an advanced midfield role and the gifted youngster has delivered a number of eye-catching displays this season. It has been the understated Ikay Gundogan who has topped the Sky Blue scoring charts this season, chipping in with eleven league goals and compensating for Aguero’s injury-plagued season.
City also have a formidable defensive structure with Guardiola’s adoption of the Kevin Keegan mantra that ‘the best way to defend is to attack’ bolstered by a magnificent central defensive partnership in the shape of Portuguese prodigy Ruben Dias, who has slotted in seamlessly since his summer arrival from Benfica, and John Stones, now restored to the first team and targeting an England return in time for the European Championships. Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko, an attack-minded full back who has been retrained from his early role as an attacking midfielder, are serious threats when pushed forward from their defensive positions. That adventurous ethos is afforded the protection of Brazilian international Fernandinho in front of the back four, with Rodri in reserve. Such solidity has meant Manchester City have concededed only 21 goals so far this term – which means Fulham face a mammoth task to score, not just survive.
Given City’s strengths, I think Parker should reinstate his 5-2-3 system for tonight’s match. The additional defender can help to crowd the box and prevent the visitors from flooding into the area, where they are most dangerous. It wouldn’t take much of an adjustment when you consider that Tosin Adarabioyo, Joachim Andersen and Ola Aina have lined up as a central defensive trio successfully already this season. To disrupt City’s usual flow, Parker should use his two central midfielders to pin back Guardiola’s advanced playmakers – reprising the tactics that were so successful at Anfield last Sunday.
Here is my suggested line-up:
Areola is now Fulham’s undisputed starting goalkeeper – and arguably one of the top flight’s most consistent custodians. Andersen and Tosin have forged an incredibly impresive partnership at the heart of the Fulham defence – as Parker highlighted in his pre-match press conference, and Aina’s versatility has seen him drop into centre back effectively already this season. Kenny Tete has shaken off injury setbacks to have a real impact on his return to the side and a right wing-back role should suit the Dutch international, whose crosses are amongst the most accurate at the club. I would bring back Antonee Robinson at left wing-back. The American international has shown Premier League potential in the early stages of the Fulham career even if his final ball has proven a little bit hit and harsh. There are obviously frailities in his game but Robinson’s energy and pace provide a real outlet for Fulham to get forward, especially when City’s full backs are likely to be permanently pushed high.
In midfield, the recent use of Mario Lemina has allowed Harrison Reed to come out of his shell, giving the former Southamptin midfielder license to not only win and shuttle the ball, but also look to do something meaningful and creative with it. Lemina has been excellent since returning to the starting line-up with his brilliant strike at Anfield offering swift retribution for the harsh handball that ruled out a deserved equaliser against Spurs. On recent form, I feel as though this is Parker’s strongest central midfield partnership, with Frank Anguissa struggling for form since Fulham’s COVID outbreak and Loftus-Cheek more of a luxury attacking player at number ten, most useful in games that the Cottagers look to dictate.
Fulham are still struggling to score goals, although Josh Maja demonstrated on debut that he is more than capable of finding the back of the net given regular service. The front three of Maja, an underrated Bobby Decordova-Reid and Ademola Lookman seems like the strongest attacking option for Parker with all three proving at various times this season that they can conjure up magic moments to win games.
As the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, how do you think that the Whites should line-up? And, what do you think are the chances that Scott’s men will be able to win some points?
In perhaps the most pivotal match of the season, Scott Parker’s side grabbed a precious three points against Sheffield United last night – emerging from a nervy ninety minutes with the narrowest of advantages courtesy of Ademola Lookman’s second half strike. This was only Fulham’s fourth league win of the season but it offers the Whites some serious momentum at just the right time and lifts them to within three points of safety.
The Blades, despite a debilitating injury crisis were still resolute and tricky to break down, played a 5-3-2 formation as they looked to sit incredibly deep in their own half the back five lined up across their own penalty area. This was a ploy that would render Fulham’s counterattacking strength academic. Instead, it was designed to entice Parker’s men forwards to try and break them down with slower passing moves around Wilder’s charges, who would simply wait for someone to make a mistake before charging forward via their speedy wing backs and and two centre forwards who spent most of the game waiting by the half way line. This did cause a few problems for Fulham, when caught with the bare minimum defenders ready to stop a counter-attack, however, for the most part, Fulham’s back line was relatively undisturbed.
The talking point from the first half was a Fulham counter-attack which started when Ampadu attempted a cross into the Fulham box, which was cleared by Reed into the path of Loftus-Cheek, who took a few steps before passing the ball to Nigerian international Ademola Lookman. The left-sided winger then went on a run from halfway-down the Fulham half to the right-hand side of the half-way line before placing a perfectly balanced through ball into the path of Ivan Cavaleiro on the right hand side. The Portugese winger ran onto this ball, meeting it in the space between the box and the touchline on the right. He dribbled into the Sheffield United box and attempted to shoot from a tight angle from the right side of the goal, with his shot tipped over the bar by Aaron Ramsdale.
In the turgid, slow and relatively uninteresting game of football, which was definitely not one for the neutrals, Fulham’s first half nerves were cooled after Ademola Lookman’s goal in the 61st minute. In fact, this goal did not come from the slow attempt to break down Sheffield United’s deep defence, but instead the White’s were able to catch the Blades at a vulnerable moment as their attempted attack broke down. Therefore, the Cottagers were able to counterattack the Cutlers via a long ball from Andersen which went over the top of Sheffield United’s hardworking midfield and their defensive line to reach Ademola Lookman on the left-hand side corner of the opposition box. Fulham were able to by-pass the 5-3-2 system, which hadn’t allowed for much creativity, as Lookman took the ball down onto his chest, took a few steps further before taking the ball past Ampadu, into the centre of the box, and blasting the ball through Ramsdale’s legs into the goal.
To their immense credit, Sheffield United kept Fulham’s fans on the edge of their seat until the very last. They pushed forward pumping balls in the box but their clearest opening came from a wonderfully worked move. Basham brilliantly found McBurnie in the middle of the field, who neatly controlled the ball and poked it onto Billy Sharp on the edge of the Fulham box. Sharp then laid a neat through ball onto the path of Enda Stevens, who’s effort from the mid-left of the box was thankfully parried away by Alphonse Areola.
Aina nearly made it 2-0 for London’s Originals with another long shot, something that is becoming quite the trend for the versatile Nigerian defender. The move was started by Anguissa on the left wing, who placed the ball into the feet of Ademola Lookman on the edge of the opposition box. Lookman, being pressed by opposition defenders from both behind and to his left, managed to smoothly dribble around both of their challanges and lay the ball of to Loftus-Cheek. The Chelsea man, with his back to the goal, took a few steps before turning to his left and passing to Ola Aina who was in a pocket of space on the right side of the pitch. Aina then met the ball and saw his opportunity to shoot from range, with his powerful, dipping shot headed for the centre of the Hammersmith End goal, before Ramsdale got his right hand to the ball and slapped it over the bar.
This was Fulham’s first real chance which wasn’t from a counter-attack, showing just how hard it was to break down the side from Sheffield, who placed all eight of their defenders and midfielders around the box to block any creativity. Therefore, a long shot can be the easiest way to break this low block, even if they offer a worse quality goal scoring chance than a shot from inside the box. Perhaps Fulham should have taken more long shots to not only try and score but to also force Wilder’ men to adapt and start to press more to prevent this, which could have opened up more creative opportunities as their defence is dragged out of position a little more. However, Parker seemingly sent his side out to play with a higher tempo in the second half, which did create more chances for the Whites, including the goal.
Sheffield United made one last push to take a share of the points via a free kick in added time. As Fleck stood over the ball to the left hand side of the Fulham box, the commentator stated that this could be “the most painful two points dropped of the whole campaign, if Sheffield United were to score now”, and he certainly wasn’t wrong. The Scot put the free kick into the box, with the ball curving around to meet Loftus-Cheek’s head at the far post. This headed ball ten found the head of substitute Kenny Tete, with the resulting header bobbling towards Alphonse Areola in the Putney End net. As Areola hurtled towards the ball to gather it up, Bogle saw his chance to get an equaliser and also ran to meet the ball. Instead, Bogle’s touch on the ball took it from where the Frenchman was swinging his leg to clear the ball, with his kicking leg instead hitting Bogle in the legs. However, before Areola’s leg met Bogle’s, the goalkeeper’s left leg reached the ball and taken it clear of the wing-back. In what can only be described as a 50/50 challenge by both players, in which both also put their body on the line, both then went down in agony and both clutching their legs. Thankfully, for Fulham, the visitors’ penalty appeals were then dispelled by VAR, which from my perspective is only fair given the 50/50 nature of the challenge.
What did you think of the match and the last minute incident?
The first in a series of critical clashes against our relegation rivals since Fulham travel to Turf Moor to take on Burnley tomorrow night. Buoyed by an unexpected triumph on Merseyside on Sunday night, Scott Parker’s side can suddenly sniff some momentum in their battle against the drop. The Whites are now seven points off safety with fifteen games to play and, whilst survival still looks like a tall order, there’s no doubting that they have the stomach for the fight. After ending their Goodison Park curse whilst simultaneously snapping a thirteen-match winless streak, Fulham will be now be targeting a first win at Burnley since 1951.
It certainly won’t be easy against Burnley, whose continued upsetting of the English footballing applecart remains one of the game’s most unheralded stories. Sean Dyche’s style might be uncompromising but it is effective – and all of his players know their roles. Christened ‘the Ginger Mourinho’ Dyche has unapologetically adopted an old-fashioned 4-4-2 (cruelly described in some quarters as ‘Brexit Ball’) and his slavish adherence to the system means Burnley are notoriously hard to break down. The Clarets have a miserly defence – conceding 4.72 fewer than their expected goals against – which is the third best in the league, behind Manchester City and Parker’s own improving backline.
Burnley are content to work to their tried and tested modus operandi, sitting deep, soaking up the pressure and punishing opposition errors. There are ideally set up to wreak havoc on the counter-attack, with a midfield designed to pinch possession and feed a target man – mostly regularly the underrated New Zealand striker Chris Wood, who usually features as part of a traditional ‘big man, little man’ strike partnership. Dyche’s side is somewhat disrupted presently, with Burnley having seven starters on the treatment table at the moment.
This includes top scorer Wood and former Fulham academy graduate Johann Berg Gudmundsson, the Icelandic winger, who scored one of Burnley’s goals in their impressive 3-0 win at Crystal Palace last weekend. The injury list extends to both of Burnley’s natural left backs, in former Leeds defender Charlie Taylor and Dutch full-back Erik Pieters, and – perhaps most importantly – centre half Ben Mee. The commanding Mee, who will miss the Fulham game through the concussion protocols after sustaining a head injury at Selhurst Park, is a leader who forms a formidable partnership with former Brentford defender James Tarkowski at the heart of Dyche’s first choice back four. Burnley lost five of the six games he has missed this season, conceding twelve goals. In the period that Mee was out of the side, Burnley have lost 45.5% of their total eleven defeats this season and conceded 41.4% of the 29 goals they’ve let in.
Burnley sit deep, soaking up pressure and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake before counterattacking via a midfield designed to win the ball back then quickly transition the play up to a big target man, who either takes a shot himself or knocks it onto his smaller counterpart. The classic ‘big man, little man’ 4-4-2 playing style.
However, Burnley’s starting line-up is currently somewhat disturbed, with the Clarets having 7 players on the treatment table at the moment. This includes their top scorer, Chris Wood, as well as Johann Gudmundsson, the Icelandic winger who scored in Burnley’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday. The list of injured players also includes both of the Claret’s natural left-backs, Charlie Taylor and Erik Pieters, and, perhaps most critically, centre back Ben Mee.
Ben Mee, who sustained a head injury against Crystal Palace, is one of Burnley’s most important players. Not only does he often captain the side, but he also forms one half of a strong defensive partnership with James Tarkowski – a duo at the heart of a defence that constantly outperforms its XGA. In fact, to show Mee’s true value to Burnley, Burnley lost 5 of the 6 games that he has missed this season and conceded 12 goals in these 6 games. This means that in these 6 games in which he has been absent, Burnley have lost 45.5% of their total 11 losses this season and conceded 41.4% of the total 29 goals that they have conceded so far.
Burnley’s predicament this season is largely a result of their relatively poor displays at home. Turf Moor has a reputation as something of a fortress but the Clarets have lost five home matches already this year, conceding thirteen goals in eleven fixtures. They lost just seven at home throughout the entirety of last season – and there’s a strong case to be made that they are missing the atmosphere created by their boisterous home crowd. It might be the perfect time for Fulham to turn Turf Moor into a happy place at long last, but success will still be tough to come by. Parker will need to get his team selection spot on.
My initial thoughts were that this fixture appeared ideal for Aleksander Mitrovic, with pace not a prerequisite to beat Burnley’s deep defensive line and the Serbian’s physicality would have suited what could be something of a blood and thunder encounter. In light of Mitrovic’s untimely positive coronavirus diagnosis, Fulham should seek some continuity and stick with the 4-2-3-1 system that proved so successful against West Ham and, especially, Everton on Sunday. The visitors should set out to dominate possession again, using a number ten to unlock the home defence, which should be the perfect role for Ruben Loftus-Cheek – even if he’s still struggling to find his shooting boots!
My preferred Fulham line-up would look like this:
I feel Ola Aina should remain at left back after an excellent display on Merseyside. The Nigerian international’s versatility is a real asset and he linked up encouragingly with his compatriots, displaying the understanding you would expect having operated alongside Tosin Adarabioyo for much of the season, but seeking to get beyond Ademola Lookman and supplying Josh Maja regularly. Aina was not only defensively solid, but he also added attacking penetration which Robinson looks to be lacking at present, with impressive dribbling down the left flank and consistently good crosses – he can also score from long range as shown by his impressive goal against West Bromwich Albion in November. Kenny Tete enjoyed an excellent game against Everton – suggesting that he is rediscovering his best form with strong tackles and he should offer an attacking threat down the opposite flank.
The other pressing question is whether to reintroduce Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa into the midfield. Initially, I considered this a no brainer as his strength and dribbling ability could be real assets against a more physical side. But, after careful consideration and a discussion with a few other Fulham fans, I’ve changed my mind. Although Mario Lemina was substituted against Everton, he was fantastic at Goodison Park and deserves an opportunity to continue his blossoming partnership with Harrison Reed in the centre of the park. Anguissa is best deployed as a segundo volante and, with a number 10 in the line-up, his individual creativity is reduced. Anguissa’s return might also inhibit Reed’s own attacking output, which is the last thing we need after the former Southampton midfielder’s man-of-the-match performance at the weekend. It is worth remembering that Anguissa has clearly been affected by Fulham’s coronavirus outbreak – and there will be plenty of opportunities for him to make a big contribution before the end of the season.
What do you think of this line-up? Can Fulham finally get a win at Turf Moor? Give us your insights below.
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?