Huddersfield vs Fulham
Venue: John Smith’s Stadium
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Anthony Taylor
In what could be the first genuine ‘six-pointer’ of the season, Huddersfield and Fulham battle in a bid to bring confidence back to their clubs and put their dismal early season form behind them.
It would be easy to dismiss Huddersfield as having been terrible this season, based off a league table in which they currently sit bottom with a points tally of three and a goal-difference of minus seventeen. Although they haven’t been able to recapture the early form of last season, which was ultimately key in their survival, their performances haven’t always been as bad as their results would suggest, something head coach David Wagner is always keen to point out. They were probably unlucky in home defeats against Liverpool and Spurs and their best results, two draws away from home at Everton and Burnley, suggest that the team isn’t as hopeless as is always made out.
However, their last result away against Watford, resulted in a humbling 3-0 defeat for Wagner’s side. The German was extremely keen to note that like the majority of their season, they were unlucky in attack, but it was a major disintegration in defence that led to this defeat and that does not bode well for the rest of their season. Although appearing a wondrous solo goal at first, Roberto Pereyra’s strike against Huddersfield actually revealed itself to be an example of horrible defending by the visitors; with the defence allowing the Argentine to walk in a straight line through a wave of players and slot home.
The problem that this poses for Huddersfield is clear; if they have been playing well all season, as Wagner claims, and have only amassed three points throughout that run, what happens when they start playing badly?
Their visitors to the John Smith’s Stadium on Monday night know all about playing badly. After a promising, if mostly unspectacular start to the season, Fulham have now lost four games in a row; with their defence harshly under the spotlight by both fans and pundits. In those four defeats, Fulham have conceded a staggering fifteen goals, with the latest result seeing them lose 3-0 at home to a high-flying Bournemouth side, who ruthlessly punished individual mistakes all afternoon. Kevin McDonald’s red card for Fulham summarised their afternoon nicely – he was forced into two cynical tackles to stop Bournemouth counter-attacks after individual mistakes from his teammates, resulting in two obvious yellow cards for the Scotsman. His absence for Mondays crucial fixture presents Slaviša Jokanović with a rather unwanted midfield headache.
Playing Huddersfield seems like a great opportunity for Jokanović to get a win and stem off unwanted speculation about his future as the club’s manager, but to do that he must first decide on a consistent defence for his side. In one of the most remarkable stats of the season so far, Fulham have chosen twelve different defences in twelve different games in all competitions, a startling reminder of how unsure the manager has been over which of his defenders are best suited to the Premier League. Surprising switches, such as last week’s goalkeeping selection from the popular Bettinelli to the new singing of Rico, aren’t helping Jokanović’s cause; while supposed boosts to the side, like Timothy Fosu-Mensah returning from injury last week, are proving to be anything but.
Even Fulham’s attack which was regarded as their strength until recently, has seen major altercations. Not many would have predicted Aboubakar Kamara’s inclusion into the starting eleven against Bournemouth and he rewarded his manager with a display which should have merited a red card – first getting a yellow for diving and then a lucky escape after petulantly kicking the ball away. Fulham’s rotation should be their strength but right now every returning face is adding to the club’s struggles.
Huddersfield have no fresh injury concerns going into this encounter, with key men Danny Williams, Tommy Smith and Terence Kongolo hoping to make a return to the first team after all recovering from injuries. It seems like Huddersfield boss will continue with a back-four system and that presumably means that Isaac Mbenza will keep his spot and mark only his second ever Premier League start this Monday. Fans will also be hoping that Rajiv van La Parra will have recovered from an illness in time to face Fulham.
Joe Bryan will probably continue to be unavailable for Fulham but apart from that it is good news on the injury list for Fulham; Tom Cairney is getting closer to being fit enough to reclaim his spot in the starting line-up, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah remains a welcome return for Fulham at right-back – despite his bad performance against Bournemouth. Kevin McDonald, fresh from a red card in the previous Premier League game, will be available after he served his suspension during the midweek cup tie against Manchester City. Meanwhile, it would be a huge surprise to see Aboubakar Kamara, who was included against Bournemouth, keep his space.
Predicted Starting XI’s:
Huddersfield (4-4-1-1): Lössl; Löwe, Schindler, Jorgenson, Durm; Mooy, Hogg, Williams, Mbenza; Pritchard; Depoitre
Fulham (4-3-3): Rico; Fosu-Mensah, Ream, Odoi, Le Marchand; McDonald, Seri, Cairney; Sessegnon, Mitrovic, Schürrle
Score Prediction – Huddersfield 2 Fulham 0
Despite not registering a single win in the first ten games of the season, Huddersfield have shown on occasion that they aren’t in the league simply to lie down and give up, and the visit of an imploding Fulham side is the best chance they’ll have to get their first three points. For all of the money spent in the summer window and the obvious talent they have in the team, Fulham have a habit of letting their fans down, and it is hard to see their defence suddenly becoming resilient to pressure. Huddersfield will throw everything at their opponents, in desperation rather than in strategy and it should pay off against a Fulham side whose defence is, almost unquestionably, the worst in the division.