Fulham were resigned to their 16th loss of the season as they were brushed aside by London rivals Crystal Palace. The Cottagers made the short trip south across the River Thames but fell to a 2-0 defeat as Palace move up to 14th place in the league.
Fulham’s Cyrus Christie quite literally handed Palace the opportunity to open the scoring, when he handled the ball in the area whilst challenging Christian Benteke for a header. The ball was struck powerfully by Palace’s captain and consummate penalty taker Luka Milivojević, so strong in fact that even though Sergio Rico got a hand to it, he was unable to prevent Palace taking the lead. The Serbian has now scored 19 goals since his arrival in South London in January 2017, more than any other Palace player in that time, and 15 of those goals have come from the penalty spot.
Benteke, making his first start back since recovering from injury, nearly doubled the Eagles lead as he tried to replicate his bicycle kick goal against Manchester United whilst at Liverpool. The Crystal Palace Player of the Month, Andros Townsend, broke down the wing and stood the ball up at the back post, but Benteke was only able to find the crossbar with his acrobatic effort.
Fulham had their own shout for a penalty after top scorer Alexander Mitrović when down in the box under the pressure of James Tomkins, but the appeals were waved away by referee Michael Oliver.
The points were sealed for the home side however when debutant Michy Batshuayi saw his 87th-minute shot saved by Rico, only for Jeffrey Schlupp to be on hand to slot the ball past the Spaniard and send the home fans into raptures.
Fulham’s Away Day Miseries
There were murmurings that Fulham’s impressive comeback 4-2 victory was the kickstart their season needed, and they could now push on with added confidence, with games against sides just above them in Crystal Palace and Southampton in their next four fixtures.
But that didn’t last long as they came crashing back down to earth with a bang, falling to another defeat on the road, making it 11 defeats out of 13 away games this season. In fact, the West London club are still looking for their first Premier League victory away from Craven Cottage this season, having only collected two points with draws against Brighton and Newcastle.
In those away games, they have only managed to score eight goals, compared to 17 goals in their 12 home games. They also ship more goals when they don’t have the support of the home crowd, conceding 32 of their 55 goals so far this season.
The problem is compounded further when you see that manager Claudio Ranieri has gone even longer without an away win in the league, currently sitting at 21 games spanning back to his time in charge of Leicester City. With their next away games being against West Ham and Southampton, these could be good chances to get that first win, especially at St Mary’s as Southampton have the second worst home record in the league this season; only worsened by Huddersfield Town.
Roy Shows Adaptability
You only have to ask around the stands at Selhurst Park, and you’ll find out that most fans worry how the team will perform without the presence of talisman Wilfried Zaha. There’s even the history of how his absence has had huge ramifications on Palace, having nearly gone two years without being able to win a game when the Ivorian was not involved.
With Zaha suspended, it would have been easy for Roy to replace him with Jeffrey Schlupp on the left wing, or even more Jordan Ayew out there and start Christian Benteke in the central striker role. However, he shifted the formation round, going back to the traditional 4-4-2, with Schlupp on the left of midfield and Benteke partnering Ayew up top.
With the two strikers up front, it meant that there were more opportunities for wingmen Schlupp and Townsend to make overlaps knowing that Benteke could hold up the ball long enough for one of the more pacey players to get into attacking positions.
When Zaha returns, Roy will likely return to his favoured 4-3-3 formation, most likely with new signing Batshuayi as the main striker, and inform Townsend on the right wing.
The big news from Transfer Deadline Day was the buzz around Michy Batshuayi’s loan move to Palace, only confirmed in the early hours of the morning. Many eyes were on him today to see how he would fit into the side Hodgson had put together; especially with the return of Benteke probably providing his main competition for the starting berth.
The responsibility of leading the line has fallen on the shoulders of Jordan Ayew in recent weeks, with the odd cameo from Connor Wickham, but the Belgian definitely has more in his locker. Although the 25-year-old struggled during his loan to Spanish side Valencia for the first half of the season, only grabbing the solitary goal in his 15 La Liga appearances, his stats in previous stints at Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and current parent club Chelsea are much more appealing.
For the current Bundesliga leaders, Dortmund, he scored nine goals in only 14 appearances before a torn ankle ligament injury cut his impressive loan stint in Germany short. At Chelsea, he was pretty much a bit part player, but still managed to accumulated 19 goals in 53 appearances. However, it was his time in France where the Belgian excelled the most, grabbing 33 goals and contributing 10 assists in only 78 appearances on the French Riviera.
It was clear to see once he had come on in the 82nd minute that he will be a breath of fresh air in a position that has proved to be Palace’s Achilles heel this season. It was from his saved shot that Schlupp was able to get the decisive goal, and with the Eagles preferring to play a more counter-attacking style of football, having a pacey striker like Batshuayi spearheading an attack with Zaha and Townsend around him, it should prove to be a danger for any defence they come up against.
Too soon to think about relegation?
It may only be the first weekend of February, but could it be time for those in West London to be contemplating life back in the Championship? After the defeat to Palace, they now find themselves cemented in 19th place, six points above bottom place Huddersfield, but seven points adrift of Burnley in 17th.
Many tipped them for survival, maybe even to the extent Wolves have this season, but they have gone more the way of Blackpool with their attractive attacking football, but lacklustre in their solitary season in the Premiership. The main issue, along with their away form, seems to be trying to keep the ball out of their net. They are worst in the league in terms of goals conceded with 55, seven more than their nearest rivals, all of whom are immediately around them in the league.
They were one of the biggest spenders of the summer transfer window, as they looked to invest heavily in the squad in attempts to try and cement themselves as a Premier League side again. However, as it’s been seen in previous seasons, when a club roll out a huge overhaul of their squad after promotion to England’s top-flight, it can be a huge hindrance as the team takes longer to gel together and performances suffer.
If Fulham are to hang on to their Premier League status, then the results will have to come thick and fast. However, when looking at the fixture list, they will have to perform a number of minor miracles to not be left adrift by April. Before they travel to Watford at the start of April, they have seven games that contain matches against Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City, as well as tricky away trips to West Ham, Southampton, and Leicester.
It may not be something any fan wants to think about, especially so early in the season, but if results don’t change soon, then there’s only one direction Fulham will be going come May.