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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 17 vs. Derby County

Find out who will Fulham have to outperform in order to beat Derby County and reclaim their season.

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Throughout the past two weeks, we witnessed the misery of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland failing to build their Euro2016 qualification success towards the World Cup. That being said, nothing came close to how Italy, among the most successful footballing nations, are in such a catatonic state after watching themselves not qualify for next summer’s tournament for the first time in 60 years. On the brighter side, we witnessed Peru make it back to the dance for the first time since 1982 and generate an earthquake through their celebrations in the process. Beyond those important matters, international football was very boring these past two weeks. I mean, you did not witness one goal if you were simply watching England during that timespan.

You know what isn’t boring? All the turmoil that is going on at Fulham, that’s what! Ah yes, I needed to refresh your memory banks towards those joyful news stories that were coming out of the club since the end of October. Whichever way you looked at the Craig Kline fiasco, this Saturday is a good time to put them to bed and support the club towards their quest to regain their place in the upper echelons of the Championship.

For that to happen, they will have to face the daunting task of claiming three points against a Derby County side that Fulham always seems to have trouble with. Since their return to the Championship in 2014, Fulham have only beaten Derby once in their six fixtures with them. That one victory occurred in February 2015 in the thick of Kit Symons’ managerial reign. You know it has felt like a long time when Nikolai Bodurov and Cauley Woodrow were the goal scorers that day. In short, Derby have been a pain to Fulham’s side for some time now and Slavisa Jokanovic has to find a way to get more than just a draw considering how far behind they are in the table.

That being said, Derby don’t seem to be the same Derby we’re used to seeing. Under manager Gary Rowett, they’re style of play suggests that they still have the same hard-edged elements that previous iterations have had. However, their underlying numbers indicate that Derby have a hint of vulnerability they are hiding.

For starts, they only hold on to the ball 48.4% of the time this season; which is only good for 15th best in the Championship. Now you only need to find another Fulham supporter to find out if possession has any form of validity throughout the footballing world. But even with said possession, Derby only generate just an 18th best rate of 11.4 shots per 90 minutes. Still, they have scored 23 goals this season despite having their expected goal total hit just 19.1 this campaign according to Ben Mayhew at Experimental 361.

In defense, Derby are not doing much better. They have given up the same 19 goal total as Fulham have but are doing so by giving up 13.1 shots per 90 minutes in the process. Such a negative shot differential and a goal scoring output that is above expectations indicate a side that is not only due for some regression despite them chasing a promotion spot themselves. This is a club that has been in the top ten of the Championship in each of the past five seasons. Making it back to that spot isn’t good enough for the supporters and all involved anymore and they demand much better finishes to the season. A chance to correct any problem spots against a weak-in-confidence Fulham side would be a great start for them. Here are three players that will hope to carry out that task.

Curtis Davies

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At 32, Davies is still as lively as ever been after amassing 472 appearances in English club football. With 62 interceptions and tackles, he is the most active defender on the team and is the catalyst of Derby’s pressing game that springboards their attack. Along with that, there is no other Derby player that has contested and won more aerial duels (68 in 112). Even at such an age, Davies is always there to do all the dirty work, just like Tomas Kalas is for Fulham. After going back and forth between the Championship and the Premier League during the early parts of his career, it wasn’t until his days with Hull City where Davies became a mainstay in England’s top flight. He hopes to return to the big stage again under one of England’s sleepiest giants.

Tom Huddlestone

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Another player that would love to prove his value again in the Premier League is the 30-year old Huddlestone. With four England caps to his name, the former Tottenham man was among the brighter stars in the Premier League. However, injuries and fallouts with the manager regarding his fitness prevented him from adding to his international pedigree and he has never set foot on a club as big as Spurs since.

Still, Huddlestone is among the best long ball merchants of his era and his rate of 6.13 such passes completed per 90 minutes is among the highest you’ll see in England’s second tier this campaign. Consider that during his Tottenham days, that his long ball pass rate was as high as 9.31 per 90 minutes in 5,106 league minutes since 2009-10. That number has dwindled a bit, but that doesn’t prevent the fact that he is an impact player for the Rams in 2017/18 and Fulham can’t take their eyes off of him.

Matej Vydra

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Up front, Derby certainly don’t possess an elite talent but they have spread the goals around this campaign. While the 25-year old Vydra has put up a team leading six goals, fellow strikers David Nugent and Sam Winnall along with central midfielder Bradley Johnson are not that far behind with four goals each. Still, at 655 minutes, Vydra’s production has been impressive to start the season and a 2.89 shots per 90 minutes rate that is the highest he’s recorded in his last five league campaigns definitely helps.

Still, how is it that a player of Vydra’s talent has only played 655 out of a possible 1,350 league minutes for Derby County? He did pick up a thigh injury in August, but only missed one game due to that unfortunate circumstance. There were three other occasions where he was in the 18-man squad, but never left the bench: including Derby’s last two league fixtures. Along with that, Vydra has never stayed with one club for more than a season since his days with Udinese. The last time he was seen there was in 2012! This was a Czech International who was hoping to add to his 19 caps and five international goals but hasn’t been called up to the National team since October 2016.

Whether he’s an instant impact or not could decide tomorrow’s fixture. Then again, I’m sure Chris Martin will score the late winner tomorrow because that’s how supporting Fulham works.