Tottenham Hotspur look to break their rough patch of play on Sunday with a short trip to west London. Awaiting them at Craven Cottage are Fulham and a 5th Round tie in the FA Cup. Both clubs are just two victories away from playing a semi-final at Wembley Stadium, but there is a bigger picture at stake. Tottenham are in the middle of a heated battle for the top four in the Premier League while Fulham are battling it out in the Championship to try and get back to England’s top flight. Joining me for this week’s Know Your Opponent is Andrew from Cottagers’ Confidential to talk about what lies ahead Sunday, Fulham’s chances for promotion, and Scott Parker’s hair.
CFC: Fulham are trying to work their way back to the Premier League and currently sit 8th in the Championship, six points out of a playoff spot but with 15 matches yet to play. Is there any belief that they can close the gap and sneak into the at least the sixth spot?
CC: I think the advanced stats say Fulham have about a 25% chance of finishing 6th or higher. This is mainly because they have played like one of the best teams most of the year. By xG they are the second best offense in the league, with an above average defense. If games were played by xG they would sit 5th. It's not just xG that likes them as they also sport a +15 GD, third best in the league. Fulham have been a little unlucky though, their mistakes have always been punished and they somehow are setting historic rates of penalty futility. If you believe their luck will regress for the rest of the year, they have a chance to make it.
The Cottagers lost Moussa Dembele to Celtic in the summer, yet seem to be finding the back of net more often than not. Who has been leading the charge up top or has it been more of a group effort?
Would you believe I had to go look up the answer? I honestly couldn't tell you who the top scorer was. Fulham have had 15 different goal scorers this year. Ten Fulham players have more than one goal. Seven players have four or more. Four players have five or more. Yet no Fulham player has more than nine. They've had fullbacks score seven goals and their defensive midfield have chipped in nine.
Chris Martin is the leading scorer, but goals can come from almost anywhere on this team. The system that they play is very fluid and creates a lot of chances. They lead the division in possession, pass completion percentage, shots taken, and shots taken in the penalty area. They are a really dangerous attacking team.
Simple question: How great is Scott Parker and his immaculate hair?
My wife is a Spurs fan, and a very big fan of Scott Parker. I have a picture of her sitting in Scott Parker's locker when we visited Craven Cottage. I don't know if I have a picture of her looking happier.
That being said, he's still good for ten minutes at the end of games. Usually just to tackle people and pick up a yellow card while they're trying to kill it off.
If Fulham manage to get back to the Premier League, is there a belief that Shahid Khan is fully committed to building the squad in an effort to stay up?
I don't think spending has ever been their problem. They spent a lot of money the window before they went down. And they have spent in every window since. The problem was always the players they were buying. There was much gnashing of the teeth among Fulham supporters in the summer about stories that a statistics department at Fulham was able to veto a transfer. There was a lot of angst over whether or not the manager should have the final say. It turned out that in reality, the stats, the scouts, and the manager all have to agree to sign a player. Their transfer strategy was quite amazing because at times they are starting ten players that weren't on the team last year. If they can keep identifying talent that well, I think they'll be able to stay up.
Spurs are linked with Fulham fullback Ryan Sessegnon. There's no guarantee he'll leave, but what can you tell us about the teenager that would make us believe he's a star in the making?
Fulham have had a lot of young players over the last few years. First there was Patrick Roberts and Emerson Hyndman. Both left at least a year too soon and now are playing in a worse division than the Championship (I hope I'm not angering any fans of the Scottish League). Moussa Dembele came next and stayed just long enough to show how good the youngsters can be when given a chance.
Ryan Sessegnon is probably the best of any of them. He's scored four goals and had two assists in all competitions for Fulham and he wasn't even sixteen when the season started. He's not looked out of place defending grown men as a left back, but has the pace and passing skills to sub in effectively as a left wing. I think he'd be starting on almost every other team. Unfortunately for his playing time (but maybe good for his development), Fulham's first choice left back has been the best full back in the Championship, so they have been able to bring him along slow. Getting him a lot of minutes in the League Cup and FA Cup, and using him as a late game sub both on the wing and in defense.
Thankfully for Fulham, all indications are that he will sign a pro deal with Fulham as soon as he turns 17.
What's the expected lineup for Sunday from the Cottagers?
They could easily start a very strong lineup. They did just that when they dominated Hull City. They also could very easily start a B or A- lineup, and rest some guys for the league. You'll be able to tell very quickly though. If Thomas Kalas is in the lineup, Fulham are playing to win.
How about a prediction?
I really think Fulham could win this game if they put out the best lineup they could. Part of me wants that. Two more wins and you get to play at Wembley. But a bigger part of me would want them to punt on this game even if it only increased their odds of making the playoffs by a few percentage points.
Just please don't it let be a draw.
If I had to pick a result, I'll say 3-2 Fulham.