Fulham vs AFC Bournemouth
Venue: Craven Cottage
Referee: Andre Marriner
Fulham will, and should be, extremely worried coming into Saturday’s home encounter, as their struggling defence prepares to line up against a high-flying and high-scoring Bournemouth side at Craven Cottage.
The panic has arrived justifiably and yet so suddenly for Fulham in this Premier League season; the newly-promoted side’s last five league games have seen them concede an unbelievable sixteen goals in total, confirming them as having, by quite a margin, the worst defence in the league as it stands. It has actually been only three games since the panic has set in, with thrashings to Everton, Arsenal and most worryingly of all Cardiff, embedding a sense of doom that could spiral out of control if results do not improve quickly.
In seasons gone by, this game might have represented an ideal opportunity for Fulham to stabilise themselves and get three points on the board, perhaps even a clean sheet as well. However, this is no ordinary season for Bournemouth so far, with Eddie Howe’s fast and direct attacking side sitting sixth in the table, above much-fancied sides Everton and Wolves and, remarkably, Manchester United. Fulham’s last home game finished 5-1 to the visitors and Bournemouth’s last away game saw them come away with an excellent 4-0 win – logic may dictate a very long afternoon for the home side this weekend.
However, despite their excellent standings in the table there is a slight concern at Bournemouth after their meek, and extremely uncharacteristic, 0-0 draw at home to Southampton in their last fixture. Howe’s side were not their usual selves in that tie, with Southampton actually having the better of the chances, and perhaps now Fulham can take encouragement from where that game left off; Southampton seemed to find a lot of space in the wide areas of the pitch and this sends a clear signal about how to fight Bournemouth. Howe’s side are having an excellent season so far but they’ll be the first to say they’re far from a perfect team.
Ultimately, however, Fulham are not struggling to score goals in principle, they are simply struggling to outscore every opponent they face, such is the disjointed and unorganised state of their defence. They may score one goal against Bournemouth or maybe two, but this is a side that just allowed Cardiff, seen as sure-fire relegation contenders by many, to double their entire season goals tally against them, taking their goals total of four to eight.
A repeat performance against Bournemouth, maybe even anything but a win, could see Slaviša Jokanović lose his job come Sunday. If that were to be the case it would not be a surprise to Fulham’s fans nor the wider footballing world, and would represent the panicked times that Fulham have suddenly found themselves in.
Left-back Joe Bryan remains out for Fulham, having been absent since the end of September though he is expected to come back early November. This game may see the return of Tom Cairney, a huge loss for Fulham since his injury late September, with the creative midfielder giving the team more structure and creativity; he was a key player for the entirety of their promotion run and they need him back as soon as possible.
As has been the case for a while now, much of the attention focused around Fulham’s starting line-up will be as to how they line up in defence – Jokanović has experimented with various personnel in a back-four system and even in a back-three experiment which proved disastrous when facing Arsenal. If not played this weekend serious questions will remain about their decision to sign Alfie Mawson who, after an awful display against Watford, has seen his place in the team lost entirely.
Bournemouth, in contrast, have no serious injury concerns going into Saturday’s game, with a full-strength side available, as they look to bounce back from the draw against Southampton; a disappointing result by their now high-standards.
Despite them missing half-chances against the Saints, Fulham will particularly fear the striking partnership of Josh King and Callum Wilson, with Wilson in particularity having been in electric form from the first minute this season, putting his injury disappointments from previous campaigns behind them. The balance of the team is there now, with the additions David Brooks and Jefferson Lerma proving to be excellent value and much-needed outlays for this current squad.
Predicted Starting XI’s:
Fulham: (4-3-3) – Bettinelli; Chambers, Ream, Odoi, Le Marchand; Anguissa, McDonald, Seri; Sessegnon, Mitrovic, Schürrle.
Bournemouth: (4-4-2) – Begovic; Francis, S. Cook, Ake, Smith; Brooks, Lerma, L. Cook, Fraser; Wilson, King.
Prediction – Fulham 1 Bournemouth 3
Everybody knows Fulham’s weaknesses and there is arguably no team in the Premier League shorter on confidence right now. Their talent always suggests they have the capacity to win but their defence has become so rattled and incoherent in recent times that in any game, especially against an attacking side such as Bournemouth, you expect Jokanović’s side to be outscored by every team they play against. Subsequently, if another bad defeat is inflicted here, many will be wondering if this will be Jokanović’s side for very much longer.