Question 1: With Fulham completely healthy save for Ryan Fredericks, and no one picking up any injuries on international duty, what does the game day lineup look like?
This is really tough to answer. When we tried to figure out a depth chart, it was very difficult to decide which players were the prefered starters. I think you can safely say Chris Martin starts up top. I believe the center of the midfield has to be Kevin McDonald and Scott Parker. There are no signs that David Button won’t be the starter (especially since the team had him do a video) in goal. In defense, I think it’s pretty safe to say you will see Michael Madl, Tomas Kalas, and Denis Odoi.
The first big question is, who is the fourth defender? Does Odoi go left and Kalas right letting Ragnar Sigurdsson step into the middle? Do we keep the Kalas - Madl partnership and let Scott Malone or Ryan Sessegnon stay on the left with Odoi on the right? This might be the first time this year that Slavisa Jokanovic gets to make a tactical shift in defense.
The second big question is, who plays in the attacking band of midfield? I think Tom Cairney is a given, he’s done nothing wrong and is well rested. Sone Aluko has been great so far, and probably won’t sit. That really just leaves one spot. Does Floyd Ayite come back from injury? Is it time to break out Jozabed? Does Lucas Piazon get a go? Or does Neeskans Keebano get the call? I could make a case for any of them, but I think only Slavisa really knows who’s going to play.
Question 2: What kind of team is Birmingham City and what should Fulham expect from them?
This game is going to be interesting because the two teams have completely divergent styles. Fulham lead the division in passes per game. Birmingham are dead last. Birmingham are your typical bunker and counter squad. On the road, they average only 40% possession. A full 25% of Birmingham’s passes are long balls. They are near the bottom of the league in chances created. They are 17th in the number of shots taken, and nearly 40% of their shots come from set pieces. You can succeed playing this way, but Birmingham fans might have reason to worry as they’ve also given up the most shots in the Championship. They’re middle of the road or worse in blocks, clearances, tackles, and duels won; so there isn’t something magical about their defense that says they can continue to keep a positive goal differential.
I expect both teams to try to play their style. Fulham will control possession with short passing, probing to make the final key pass (they’re second in key passes and first in short key passes). They will play disciplined defense (they’ve committed the fewest fouls per game of any team). Birmingham will sit back, try to absorb the pressure and hit Fulham with a counter or well placed long ball. The key might just be who scores first. If Birmingham can nick an early goal, they can really bunker in and try to absorb the pressure. But if Fulham go ahead, it might be very difficult for Birmingham to counteract the short passing possession game that Fulham can use.
Question 3: Is there anything out of the ordinary that might affect this match?
Birmingham tends to use a very consistent lineup. However Clayton Donaldson, their center forward and leading scorer, has just returned from international duty with Jamaica. He played the full 90 minutes against Panama in Panama City on September 2nd and went another 16 minutes against Haiti in Kingston just four days later. Even though he’s 32, you wouldn’t expect that much action to really wear him out. Keep in mind though that the weather in those two countries is very hot and humid that time of year, which is a little harder on the players. The biggest thing however is the distance travelled. It’s a fifteen hour flight from Kingston to Birmingham, with a very large time change. I can tell you from experience that just functioning normally can take a few days. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to play a competitive match. If he can’t go who starts in his place?
Predicted Lineup and scoreline?
The big questions for me where who starts on the left side. Floyd Ayite is healthy, but perhaps asking him to go 90 while coming back from injury is too much. However Kebano also just traveled and played on international duty as well. I would guess they both see some time, but I’m picking Kebano to start. At left back, it’s really a toss up between Sessegnon and Malone. With Birmingham more likely to sit back and absorb pressure, I’m going to pick the fullback who can provide the most pressure.
As for the score, I think Fulham win. It’s certainly possible for Fulham to have one of those unlucky games where they dominate but get beat on a quick counter, a penalty, or a set piece; but I think if you play this game 10 times, Fulham probably wins 5 or 6 draws 2 or 3, and hardly ever loses.