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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 16 vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

If Fulham are to ever put an end to their miserable run of form, they will have to outperform these three players from Wolves.

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Welp, another night, another wasted opportunity to make any positive momentum for Fulham thanks to a 2-0 defeat to Bristol City. The boys in Southwest London are not only running out of time to achieve their goals, but they are now in the midst of having to overcome disarray in the boardroom as well. This came after it was announced that Craig Kline, Fulham’s goto data analyst for player recruitment, was released from the club after so many months of not being able to see eye to eye with him and manager Slavisa Jokanovic.

What’s even more disgusting about this saga is the fact that the club never made an announcement about the resignation or firing through their club website or social media. In fact, you needed other sources of news coverage in order to figure out what just happened. With a story that has been debated so many times at Craven Cottage, public relations and the rest of Fulham’s front office made a horrifyingly wrong choice by going out of sight, out of mind with the issue that doesn’t even look to be over anytime soon. Whether you think these tweets were made by Mr. Kline or not, this is a sign that Fulham is back to having instability from the top down.

Even with just the sacking of Kline, the blame towards Fulham’s poor run of form now lies on Jokanovic alone if this were to continue. I’ve written multiple times how he has struggled mightily all month in putting players in their best-suited positions to win football matches, and thus making the work done by Kline, Tony Kahn and the rest of Fulham’s recruitment staff rendered useless.

The truth of the matter, in the year 2017, is that managers can’t be in charge of the entirety of how a team should be created anymore. Football clubs have no choice but to be too big in order to even reach a level playing field with the best in the world, and thus, are in need of a larger staff to take most of the work off of the manager.

Nowadays, the roles of such key figures roaming down the touchline every match day should be focused on coaching the senior team to the best of his abilities. Even that part of the job within itself is a 25 hour-a-day task considering the constant evolution of tactics in football. Lastly, if a manager were to leave the club, via his own request or by sacking, the club is stuck with a new regime, and thus new ideas in such a short period of time.

As unconventional as it looks to see the likes of Watford’s scouting network or Liverpool’s analytics hub do more of the grunt work, it is the way clubs work in the modern era. As the saying goes: teamwork makes the dream work. In any case, Fulham are no where near living by that mantra and only obvious egotism can sink what was a promising ship.

Anyways, Fulham now has to travel to Molineux to take on the best team in the entire Championship. Wolves captured all the headlines this summer after completing so many transfers from what seems like super agent Jorge Mendes’ Rolodex of clients. In total, 13 players were bought and another five were picked up on loan. As a result, only five players from last year’s squad are part of manager Nuno’s Santos’ 15-man rotation by playing over 300 minutes in the Championship this season.

When looking at shot totals alone, Wolves don’t completely wow you in the ways that Newcastle and Brighton did last season. However, they are in the top ten in both total shots for and against and shots on goal for and against. That within itself makes them a well rounded side in attack and defense. Considering how much more parity there is in this season’s Sky Bet Championship, that should be enough to get them over the hurdle of gaining promotion this season.

While there are elite talents around, it’s also evident that Wolves play a very strong pressing game, particularly in their midfield and wing backs in Santos’ 3-4-3 formation. Consider that despite having 51.4% of the possession all season, the West Midlands club are fourth in the league in both interceptions and successful tackles. As a result, the opposition have no chance in taking the ball towards the back three of Danny Batth, Connor Coady and Roderick Miranda. Loads have sides have been able to quell Fulham in these tactics and it is critical for the Cottagers to get off to a fast start in all phases of the game. Otherwise, Halloween might as well be ground hog day.

Especially for tonight, Fulham will hope that these three players don’t give them nightmares after tonight’s clash.

Diogo Jota

All data from whoscored.com

There is absolutely no way you can write a preview on Wolves without starting to talk about Diogo Jota. With about a month to go before his 21st birthday, this guy simply has no business playing in second tier European football as he hopes to return to play first team football for Atletico Madrid once his loan agreement is done.

With 65 offensive contributions (key passes plus shots), Jota clearly is the most dangerous attacker playing at Molineux and his dribbling is already at a level that far exceeds this league. Oh, and I really don’t need to mention how he has seven goals in 12 league appearances. Again, this player hasn’t even turned 21 yet!

He can lose possession a bit and that is where Fulham can exploit him. Otherwise, it will spell complete danger if Jota were to get passed anyone marking him or to be given time and space to unleash his shot.

If he were to stay at Wolves, it will surely be an expensive buyout to get Jota due to the fact that he is only on year two of a five-year contract with the La Liga club. But like all footballers, Jota will have to decide whether it is best for his career to play in the starting XI for any club of notoriety or to play in one of the most successful clubs currently in world football even though playing time will be at a premium. Either way, this season has been a positive one for him as he continues to develop at Wolves and at Portugal’s Under-21 National team.

Leo Bonatini

All data from whoscored.com

Hilariously, Jota isn’t even the leading scorer for Wolves. With nine goals, that distinction belongs to another loanee in 23-year old Leo Bonatini. The Brazilian has had plenty of travels in his footballing career after coming out of Cruzeiro’s academy. After not getting a single appearance for the club, Bonatini was loaned to second division side Goias before moving to Portugal for Estoril. After having a breakout season in 2015/16 with 20 goals in 37 appearances, Bonatini surprisingly moved to Al-Hilal to play in Saudi Arabia.

Now at Wolves, there is no denying the talent he presents at this level. Bonatini clearly has the data to match that of an ideal center forward and there can’t be any suitors not losing sight on him should he decide to make a move back to European football. Wolves would certainly love to have him as a permanent fixture, but it will be safe to say they won’t be alone in requesting Bonatini’s signature.

Matt Doherty

All data from whoscored.com

While Wolves hope to make their star players become more permanent attractions, there are a few British mainstays that have helped the club perform in top shape as well. The biggest example is their right wing back in Matt Doherty. After signing for the club in 2010, Doherty has gradually improved over the years and has been a permanent fixture within the squad since 2012/13. Now at 25, Doherty is among the best right backs in the Championship as evidenced by this season’s performances and his nomination for team of the year through his rating at whoscored.com last campaign.

Even receiving such accolades, Doherty has improved dramatically with the offensive side of his game and has turned himself into a complete footballer. You would think by now he would get a handful of caps for Ireland by now. But with Stephen Ward, Seamus Coleman, Paul McShane and Cyrus Christie holding down the fort in Doherty’s position, it will be quite difficult to become such a regular for the National team until the latter stages of his career. Still, that didn’t stop Martin O’Neill from calling Doherty up to the team for the pivotal playoff series against Denmark for World Cup qualification.