Fulham may be in the relegation zone, but you can make a cogent argument Scott Parker has done one of the better managerial jobs in the Premier League this season. After an awful start that saw them lose five of their first six matches and not pick up their first win until a 2-0 win over West Brom on November 2, Parker has mostly righted the ship at Craven Cottage.
In fact, Fulham are actually on something resembling a run: unbeaten in their last five matches and only one loss in their last eight. This includes a 2-0 away win over Everton and low-scoring draws against West Ham and Crystal Palace. Nobody’s going to ever accuse Fulham of being actually GOOD this season, but evidence suggests former Spurs midfielder Parker has bootstrapped them into something resembling competence.
They’ve done this mostly through their defense. Since the start of the new year, the Cottagers have conceded only nine goals, vastly outperforming their xGA, and have yet to allow more than two goals to any team in 2021. Much of that has come from the play of Alphonse Areola, who joined Fulham on loan from PSG and has emerged as one of the best keepers in the Premier League. For sure, Fulham have allowed a ton of shots this season, but Areola has been up to the challenge, making 82 saves already and with a 77% save percentage, putting him more or less equal with Hugo Lloris this season.
Tactically, Parker prefers a 4-2-3-1 system with a moderately high line, though more recently he has experimented with a 4-4-2 and various flavors of three at the back depending on the opponent. Under Parker, Fulham are a well-drilled side defensively even though they tend to be overmatched talent wise they defend and press aggressively in midfield. Blowing up midfield can discombobulate opponents, but can sometimes get them into trouble with fouls in dangerous areas; only Newcastle and Sheffield United have picked up more yellow cards thus far.
But that aggression can also lead to turnovers and Fulham will try and capitalize on forced mistakes. They’re not a counter-attacking side — to my eyes they are a decent (but not great) possession team and tend to funnel their attacks through Ademola Lookman and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. It hasn’t led to many goals — only 21 scored in league play, and no single player has more than five. These do seem to look like the signs of a club that could very well be relegated.
All that’s to say that Fulham are a team that Tottenham Hotspur should be able to handle, but the Cottagers’ organization and defense could make things difficult. A low-scoring match would not at all be unusual, and Tottenham will need to be clinical with their chances. A win for Fulham would be a huge boost in their campaign to stay in the Premier League another season.
How will Tottenham line up against Fulham?
After weeks of miserable football, it appears as though Jose Mourinho has released the handbrake at Tottenham. Two matches aren’t quite a pattern, but in matches against Wolfsberg and Burnley, Tottenham went up against overmatched opposition and absolutely battered them with offense. Those two 4-0 wins have also corresponded to the resurgence of Gareth Bale, who is showing signs that he’s (finally) rounding into form.
It also corresponds with Spurs finally getting healthy, the importance of which should not be understated. Tottenham have greatly missed Sergio Reguilon and Serge Aurier, both of whom have been used to progress the ball this season and who make Tottenham’s counterattack (and in general, just attack) much more dangerous. After the Burnley match this past weekend, you might say that Mourinho probably knows his best lineup, though we can quibble about who plays at the 10. But that maybe doesn’t help us here.
With the schedule compressed as it is, with Fulham being a club in the relegation zone and with an arguably more difficult opponent this Sunday against Crystal Palace, one would expect some moderate rotation from Mourinho against the Cottagers.
Toby Alderweireld does not appear to be a 180-minute a week player and with Joe Rodon seemingly exiled the past few matches, I would think that Eric Dier will be given another chance in the back line. Fulham also seems like a good opportunity to give Reguilon a break; Ben Davies seems like a decent option at left back.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has started every Premier League match this season and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon, even if he needs a break. I’m also predicting Tanguy Ndombele to keep his place, though we could see Moussa Sissoko in his place if Mourinho opts to rotate.
Up top, Mourinho knows that Bale’s minutes needs to be managed carefully, but this would provide a great opportunity for Dele to start an actual Premier League match. Son and Kane are locks, and the only other question is whether Lucas or Steven Bergwijn get the nod on the other flank. I’m going with Steve, though I’m not especially confident in that choice.
That’s my predicted lineup for Tottenham at Fulham. What’s yours?