The only match between two teams in the bottom quarter of the Premier League table this weekend is set to be held between Fulham and Stoke at Craven Cottage, and will be one of four 3.00pm kick-off’s. Neither team has been particularly inspiring this term, and with the first 6 games of the season now completed, both would be picked by many as early candidates for relegation come May.
Fulham had a successful start to the Premier League defeating Sunderland 1-0 away from home, but since then it has been an uphill struggle. They have only picked up 1 single point since the three they earned on that day and have lost 4 out of 5 games since then. There have been some tough fixtures for them in that run, games against Chelsea and Arsenal standing out, but they’ve also played matches against West Brom, Cardiff and Newcastle, and they will feel disappointed to have only picked up 4 points over the first sixth of the season.
It’s been a more mixed start to the season for Stoke, and although they are 15th in the league, they are level on points (7) with four other teams, and only 3 points currently separate 16th and Manchester City in 7th. Unlike Fulham, they started the campaign with a loss, but then went on a 3 game unbeaten run which gave them all seven of their points. Their wins came against fellow struggler’s West Ham and CrystalPalace, but they did impressively frustrate ManchesterCity with a home 0 – 0 draw.
Fulham and Stoke have met 5 times at Craven Cottage in the Premier League, and Fulham have come out as victors on 4 of those occasions, including their last three meetings.
They may have shared 5 Premier League games at Craven Cottage, but they have played 10 in total, and in all 10 of those games Stoke have only managed to score 8 goals against Fulham.
Sascha Riether has been one of Fulham’s most vital players this season and, similar to players like Baines and Walker, has been one of their biggest attacking threats. Indeed, playing from right-back he has been the team’s most creative player having produced 7 goal scoring chances, 6 of those coming from open play, and has an assist to his name to show for it. A lot of this creativity has come down to his heavy involvement in Fulham’s attacking play, with the German having put 21 crosses into the box in 6 games. Moreover, he has made 226 accurate passes so far this season and only Scott Parker (247) has made more for Fulham. So I include him as a key player for Fulham by virtue of his attacking intent despite him playing in a defensive position.
For Stoke’s key player I have picked Stephen N’Zonzi who has been their most influential player so far. While Riether was outstanding going forwards, N’Zonzi has been more of an all rounder. Just like Riether though, he has been Stoke’s most creative player, and in total he has created 11 chances, all of them coming from open play. He has made the most passes for the team (383) and nobody that has made more than 50 passes for Stoke this season has a higher passing accuracy than him (90%). It is also worth adding that these haven’t just been backwards or sideways passes either, and he has in fact made 241 forward passes, 104 of those coming in the final third. When I say that he is an all rounder, I am referring to his defensive contribution as well; indeed only Marc Wilson (21) and Erik Pieters (20) have attempted more tackles than N’Zonzi (19). And so, he is certainly Stoke’s key player for the match at Craven Cottage, as their most creative and all-round player.
Fulham have 5 players out injured: Parker, Dejagah, Briggs and Stekelenburg are all certain to miss this one. Hughes, carrying a small groin injury, will be a late decision.
Walters could potentially miss his first game for the club since 2011, in which time he has started every game, coming on as a sub only once. A late fitness test will decide his fate, as it will for Etherington.
I expect it to be a very close-fought encounter, but I will predict an away win for Stoke against an out-of-form Fulham, who I can see being simply overpowered.
Stoke 1 – 0