This match is huge for the home side as they aim to move away from the relegation zone. Fulham have to take points from their home matches, and they can’t afford to lose many more. It will be a tough match for them as Southampton are starting to find their feet again after a disappointing run of form, but their performances have remained impressive. The away side have had a leaky defence recently which hasn’t been helped by the injury to Dejan Lovren, who has been one of the side’s key players this season. Fulham have to benefit from Southampton’s shaky back four, as they themselves have the worst defence in the league. It’s approaching a key part of the season and Fulham need to put a run of results together or they could be cut adrift at the bottom of the league; their opponents are one of the few sides safe in mid table, so they can play their remaining matches without pressure.
Fulham have been in poor form of late having picked up only three points from their last five matches. If this form continues, they could be cut adrift as sides like Crystal Palace and Sunderland keep on picking up vital points. Fulham have a squad that shouldn’t get relegated, but Rene Meulensteen has yet to find his best side. They have players like Clint Dempsey, Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent who are all capable of scoring vital goals in this league, while a lot of the teams down at the bottom lack goalscorers. If Fulham start to create the opportunities for their attackers, they will score goals, which will result in points for the side. Meulensteen’s side have enough about them to survive, but they have to up their performance level considerably to do so, starting on Saturday.
Southampton are safe in 9th place and they are well clear of the bottom eleven, but their form has been poor in recent months. They have only won twice in twelve matches, but a creditable 2-2 draw against high-flying Arsenal will boost the side. Their relatively safe position in the Premier League will allow the side to play without pressure, which could prove dangerous to opposing sides who need to take crucial points, like Fulham. A lot of Southampton players have a genuine chance of playing in the World Cup in the summer, so the level of performance in unlikely to drop in the coming months.
Earlier this season at St Marys, Southampton triumphed 2-0 with goals from Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez. Last season’s corresponding fixture saw the sides play out a 1-1 draw. Dimitar Berbatov opened the scoring for Fulham, while Rickie Lambert equalised late on from the penalty spot. There haven’t been a flood of goals in recent matches between the two, but given the side’s recent defensive records, that could change on Saturday.
Fulham have the worst goal difference in the top four English divisions, with -28, showing why many consider them as certainties for the drop.
Arsenal only managed seven shots against Southampton, which is their lowest amount all season, showing Southampton’s ability to keep their oppositions’ chances to a minimum.
Southampton like to retain possession and pass their way through opposition sides. Scott Parker will be vital for Fulham in central midfield as his side will need to prevent Southampton from playing their natural game. The England international has the tenacity in his game to get in and around the visitors’ midfield making it uncomfortable for them. Fulham have the talent up front to hurt Southampton, but they will need their midfield and defence to win the ball for them to flourish, which is where Parker comes in. He may have an unfashionable role in the side, as shown by his tackle success rate of 75%, but he is critical to Fulham’s survival chances. A lot of their remaining games will be won and lost in midfield – in Parker they have a player with great experience who will lead from the front. He may still have slim hopes of going to the World Cup in the summer, but it’s unlikely, as he would need to be exceptional for the rest of the season.
Southampton have brought through several academy graduates into the first team in recent years and Adam Lallana is certainly one of the best. He has the ability to create and score goals. He has five assists and six goals to his name this season illustrating his quality and ability to be able to perform consistently at the highest level. He has created 36 chances, which is one every 51 minutes. Lallana has showed himself to be one of the most promising attacking midfielders in the league with a place in the England squad for Brazil looking extremely likely. He will cause Fulham lots of problems, as they struggle defensively, and they may panic when Lallana has the ball in the final third as they will know the damage he can cause.
Fernando Amorebieta could return for Fulham this weekend, while John Arne Riise is likely to miss the match. Adel Taarabt has fallen out of favour under Meulensteen and is unlikely to be at the club on Saturday, as they may terminate his loan allowing the midfielder to move elsewhere before the deadline.
Gaston Ramirez and Dejan Lovren are likely to miss at least the next six weeks so will not be playing any part on Saturday. Rickie Lambert could make his comeback after a hamstring injury. Sam Gallagher could retain his place in the side after starting his first Premier League match against Arsenal.
Fulham will realise that it’s crucial they start picking up points, as they already find themselves in the drop zone and other sides continue to pick up points. They need to target home games like these, for three points, as they are very unlikely to gain many points on the road. Southampton have continued to play well throughout their slump and they will cause any side in the division problems, but I still think Fulham will edge it.