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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 19 vs. Millwall

Fulham will hope to close November on a high note against another newly promoted club

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12 shots. 9 goals.

Five of those tallies belonged to Fulham.

Three of those Fulham net bulgers belonged to 17-year old Ryan Sessegnon.

You could not have asked for a more wild game of football last Tuesday! What’s most important was that Fulham came away with three points and a move further up the Championship table. Now they’ll return home against a Millwall side that, like Sheffield United, are also playing well beyond their expectations.

It has been an eventful spell as manager for club legend Neil Harris. Before becoming the head boss, he was Millwall’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 138 in all competitions. But after overseeing his club through relegation in 2015/16, the Lions returned to the Championship via playoff and carried their momentum from last season ever since.

Under Harris, Millwall play as traditional of a 4-4-2 formation as you can get. Unlike Sheffield United, Millwall can play some attacking football as evidenced by their 13.8 shots per 90 minutes and 25.4 total expected goals. Such numbers put them within the top seven in the Championship, but their 19 actual goals will make you think they are much more dier than they are. That is more due to the fact that the most creativity will be coming from the midfield while their two center forwards don’t bring loads of pace towards goal.

In defense, it seems to be the opposite story. While their 19 goals against is very solid, Millwall’s 12.8 shots against per 90 minutes and 23.1 expected goals against look more average than what they are to be believed. Add that all together and you have a solid outfit more than anything else. These numbers don’t look strong enough for Millwall to push for a playoff spot, but for their fans, they already are on cloud nine. What they demand now is stability and a standard as a competitive club in England’s second tier. Anything higher than that is a bonus.

For Fulham, continuing their improved run of form is key if they want to keep moving on up the Championship. But to do that, they will have to keep their eyes on these three players.

George Saville

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The star player in the early stage of Millwall’s season has been the central midfielder that started out in Chelsea’s famed academy. If anything, he was signed as an 11-year old and was coached by Brandon Rodgers before his successful spells as manager with Swansea City, Liverpool, and Celtic. However, Saville never made an appearance for the Blues and was eventually shipped out to Wolves in 2014. Even with them, Saville would have to go under two loan spells with Bristol and then his current club before finding a permanent home.

Now as a regular at the Den, Saville has started 2017/18 with six goals out of central midfield. It is a truly remarkable rise for the 24-year old and it has seen him be rewarded with three Northern Ireland caps during their quest for World Cup qualification. Not only has Saville been able to show his attacking prowess, but he is not that far behind in leading the team in defensive actions as well. He is a true box-to-box midfielder and has really led by example this campaign.

James Meredith

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Next up is one of Millwall's two fullbacks that have really kept the back four solid all season long. Despite being born in Australia, Meredith started his footballing career under Derby County’s youth academy in 2004. However, it took until 2009/10 until he became a regular for any professional side and that was with Conference Premier League side York City. After 162 appearances for the club in three seasons, Meredith signed with Bradford City and guided them into established force in League One. After another 220 appearances and a League One Team of the Year award last season, the 29-year old received the call from Millwall to help guide them towards the deep waters of the Championship.

This season, Meredith has held his own by leading the South London club in tackles (57) and is tied for second in interceptions (28). Along with that, Meredith has been solid in crossing the ball and being strong in the air. Like his other fullback Conor McLaughlin, they will not wow you with mobility and attacking flair, but they are solid defensively and know what to do in their basic roles. Sometimes, it is the understanding of said basics that make players successful and that is the type of player James Meredith is.

Shaun Williams

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Lastly, the one threat to attack teams with the killer pass will be coming out of Williams’ left boot. With 25 key passes, 31 completed crosses and 26 completed corners taken, no other Millwall player comes close to the level of passing that he brings. He is easily the engine of Millwall’s attack and if Fulham can kill off the head of this snake, they should perform well. If not, it will be a long 90 minutes in Southwest London.

The Dublin born midfielder spent his first five seasons professionally in his native Ireland before coming to England. He first plied his trade for Drogheda United before becoming a regular for Sporting Fingal. It was his exploits for the latter club that garnered attention from MK Dons and Williams signed for them in March 2011. He stayed with the club for another three seasons where he played attacking midfielder and center back. Through his hard work, he was awarded MK Dons’ player of the season in 2012/13 before he arrived in Millwall in 2014. Williams hasn’t looked back since that signing and he was even a part of the clubs previous outings in the Championship before their return this year. He certainly has put his experience to good use and at 30, has been a real fulcrum to Harris wants out of his team.