1) Fulham sit just two points behind Barnsley, and are ahead on goal difference. Taking three points not only will move them up the table, it also denies points to a rival for the playoffs. Given all that, is this a must win for the club?
I hate to call any fixture a must win, but if there is one, it could be this. Fulham could be as high as eighth with a game in hand, and only three points out of the playoffs if everything breaks their way (we can all be Rotherham fans on Saturday).
You would think that facing a team with a positive goal difference who’s ahead of you in the table would be difficult, but I’m not sure it will be as hard as most think. By expected goals, Barnsley has overachieved. They should have a goal difference that’s negative. While their offense is mediocre (ranked 12th), their defense has been bad (ranked 22nd). Even by goals allowed (37) you can tell their defense is not that good.
To make matters worse for them, nearly a quarter of their goals have been scored by Sam Winnall, who has recently departed the club for Sheffield Wednesday. Their third leading scorer and leading assist man Conor Hourihane (he’s scored or assisted 16 of their goals), is also rumored to be all but gone. If he doesn’t play as well, I’m not sure Barnsley can keep winning simply by outscoring clubs, especially given that they seem to have been a bit lucky with their strike rate.
2) What kind of lineup does Slavisa roll out?
Slavisa Jokanovic has said that the differences with Chris Martin have been sorted out, but are they really? Does Martin start up top? If he does that lets Sone Aluko, Lucas Piazon, and Tom Cairney play in the attacking band. However, if Martin doesn’t go, that either leaves Matt Smith to play up top or forces Sone Aluko there. With Aluko up top you’ll likely see either Ryan Fredericks pushed up the field with Denis Odoi playing fullback, or you’ll see Ryan Sessegnon playing wide.
Of course there’s still the defense to worry about as well. Michael Madl and Tomas Kalas are fit, but are they 90 minutes fit? If Kalas plays who is his partner? I’m not sure if we’ve decided who the ideal player is with him. Is it Tim Ream? Madl? Ragnar Sigurdsson?
2) What do you think happens?
I think Barnsley try to bunker and counter more than they would (and they already are a strong counter attacking team). Without some of their best players I think they struggle to keep the ball more than they have this season. Fulham will have plenty of chances. If Fulham can finish those chances and avoid giving up a silly goal or two they should win this game.