Fulham vs Watford
Venue: Craven Cottage
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Watford travel to Craven Cottage on Saturday, as they look to get back to winning ways after suffering their first defeat of the season to Manchester United last week.
All eyes have been on the goal-scoring prowess of Fulham’s Alexsandar Mitrovic, as the Serbian has struck four times this season, accounting for 57% of the team’s goals. The Cottagers problems, however, have been in defence, as they’ve surrendered a league-high 12 goals.
Watford have experienced a “golden” start to the season, scoring 10 goals, while conceding just five, getting off to a strong start (4-0-1).
Whilst it’s early in the season, Fulham currently sit 15th on four points in the league table, two points from the bottom three, while Watford currently occupy 4th place. It’s an important game for both squads, as they are both coming off losses in the previous week. Fulham were dominated in a 3-0 loss to Manchester City, and whilst Watford nearly stole a point, a late comeback was thwarted by David De Gea as Manchester United hung on for the 2-1 victory.
Watford face uncharted territory this week, as it’s yet to have been seen how they will rebound from their first loss of the season. After last week, Javi Gracia said, “We tried to win but if we have to lose, we have to lose like today, fighting until the end, showing all the time our spirit and character and for our fans have to be proud of us we have to make an effort. I think we have done that.” It’s that “spirit and character” that Watford have this season that should make this a very competitive game on the road.
Ahead of the weekend, the only injury concern for Slavia Jokanovic is midfielder, Tom Cairney, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury since the Gameweek 3 fixture against Burnley. It could be a race against time, as Cairney continues work to get back to fitness to be considered for the Watford game. “When we are talking about our way to play football and building up for the team, I lost two really important players in this part of the game, Tim Ream and Tom Cairney are most important players for this part of the game,” said Jokanovic.
There doesn’t appear to be any selection dilemmas ahead of the fixture, as Fulham, as Marcus Bettinelli claims the Cottagers were, “knacked” after Man City struck the first goal last week in the first two minutes. “Our plan was to keep them quiet for the first 20 minutes but we made a mistake and got punished,” said Bettinelli. These mistakes have cost Fulham points, surrendering 12 goals so far in the season, but only two have come inside the opening 10 minutes.
There have been some positives to take away from 1-1-3 start. The play of Mitrovic up front has been excellent, recording four goals on the season, including a brace at home to Burnley in game week 2. His play has been impressive enough that speculation about a January transfer to Chelsea could be in the works. His play up front will be key, as he was unable provide any attacking returns against a tough City defence.
The midfield partnership of Jean Michael Seri and Andre Schurrle continue to be a formidable one, while Cairney remains sidelined due to an ankle injury. The duo have combined for three goals and an assist in their last three Premier League games. Former footballer, Sean Davis wrote, “It’s your home games against sides like Burnley and those who are in and amongst us. These are the games where you need to get points on the board.”
Watford started the season without Gerard Deulofeu, who continues to lack fitness due to a muscle injury, but could be back in time to face Fulham. Brought in on a permanent deal this summer, he’s yet to feature this season, as Will Hughes has started out of position on the right flank. Tom Cleverley remains out after surgery to an Achilles injury. He’s targeting an Autumn to return to action.
Through five games, Javi Gracia has run out the same unchanged starting XI that has returned 12-points to start the season. There is solid depth to Watford, as many players haven’t received much playing time due to the chemistry and success they are having on the pitch. Gracia’s used a short bench the past few games, as Issac Success has been brought in as “big body” to help punish tired defences late in the game. Kiko Femenia has only played 28 minutes over five games, as Daryl Janmaat continues to impress at right back.
While Watford lacked creativity, possession and chances in the first half of the game against United, they turned around to put forth a strong effort in the final 45 minutes. “We spoke at half-time to try to improve things in the second half and I think we made a step forward and we were able to get out and try to create more chances with more possession” said Gracia. It’s been a real “team effort” this season, as Watford have outperformed pundits who tagged them as a relegation candidates.
Up front, the partnership of Troy Deeney and Andre Gray continues to flourish, as Gray picked up his second goal last weekend. While Roberto Pereyra has cooled off to a strong start, he continues to play a key role down the left flank, partnering with Jose Holebas. There has been co-ordination in the middle of the pitch, as Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure have continued to control the midfield.
Predicted Starting XI’s:
Fulham: Bettinelli; Sessegnon, Mawson, Odoi, Christie; Johansen, McDonald, Seri; Schurrle, Mitrovic, Vietto
Watford: Foster, Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes; Deeney, Gray
Score Prediction: Watford 3 Fulham 1
This is the first time since December 2014 that Fulham and Waftord have met at Craven Cottage, a game in which Watford scored five goals and kept a clean sheet. Fulham’s defence have been fragile all season, as they have allowed at least two goals in every game this season. Even off the back of a loss, Watford still have momentum in their favour and should dismiss the Cottagers with relative ease.