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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 20 vs. Brentford

In today’s derby with Brentford, find out who are the key players Fulham will need to mark in order to collect all three points.

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After another win to close out November, Fulham is climbing up the Championship table to 12th place and are still not that far off from a position in the playoffs. Slavisa Jokanovic’s team was able to shut down a pedestrian, but still challenging, Millwall outfit by coming away with a clean sheet and only facing one shot on target throughout the whole 90 minutes. Along with that, Fulham’s attack generated 16 shots in which five were towards goal. Despite getting only one tally from Oliver Norwood on the penalty spot, those shots combined for a well-respected 2.5 expected goals throughout the contest. However, Fulham’s rebuilding job is not done just yet.

Today, they will open the month of December with a trip to Griffin Park and take on another team on the rise in Brentford. And considering the style both teams play, this will be a fun game of football. Throughout the course of the season, the Bees have been the best shot generation outfit in the Championship at 18.1 shots per 90 minutes by some distance. However, those shot totals have only resulted in 28 goals throughout the course of the season: good for just 10th best in the league. Plenty of that is due to their lack of shot quality based on their 0.093 expected goals per shot. However, Brentford’s lack of finishers has been a worrying concern all season.

Still, the Bees are not afraid to play a possession based game and come at the opposition in waves. Along with leading the Championship in shots, they also lead the league in chances created at 13.2 per 90 minutes. In fact, their eighth-best passing completion percentage could be even higher if it weren’t for their third best rate of long ball completions rate at 34.6 per 90 minutes. However, said long ball passes have been completed an astounding 48.7% of the time when those events are isolated. Lastly, Brentford can absolutely take you on in the dribble as they are tied with Fulham for fourth place in the league at 10.8 per 90 minutes.

So like Fulham, Brentford are an attack first unit that can take on anybody in the Championship if they are able to turn their input into goals. While the table suggests this is not the biggest matchup in the Championship, it certainly will not be the most boring. On that note, who are the players Fulham will need to look out from the other side of West London?

Ollie Watkins

All data from whoscored.com

If there’s one player that has been the main attraction for Brentford, it has been the 21-year old attacking midfielder. In his first season in the Championship, Watkins has more than impressed at Griffin Park with his six goals and one assist from attacking midfield. His game is about as action-packed as you will see in this division with a team-leading 66 shots and 43 chances created.

However, like the rest of his teammates, Watkins suffers from having his output go to waste considering how much attacking output Brentford produce. While averaging an astounding 3.89 shots per 90 minutes, only 22.7% of those shots have been aimed towards goal. To put things in perspective, Sone Aluko received so much gripe about his lack of shot quality last season, yet he was able to generate a higher shots-on-target percentage at 28.4%. Along with that, Watkins’ 2.53 key passes per 90 minutes is nearly elite, yet he has only been able to generate one assist out of all that production. Plenty of that is not his fault, but you would imagine for Brentford to succeed, that assist count will have to skyrocket sometime soon.

After winning the 2017 EFL young footballer of the year while at Exeter, Watkins decided the time was now to make his move from League Two into much higher competition in the second tier of English football. If he and his teammates can improve throughout the season, Watkins’ 2017/18 campaign will be more than just an astounding success.

Nico Yennaris

All data from whoscored.com

If there’s anyone else in the club that can match Watkins’ contribution to the team, it’s definitely the 24-year old talisman of a central midfielder. While at Arsenal as an academy product since he was seven years old, Yennaris has been a long-standing captain to many of their youth sides, including their 2009-10 Premier League Academy title-winning club. Among his teammates on that side included Queen’s Park Rangers’ Luke Freeman and Bournemouth’s Benik Afobe. But after five years of just four senior appearances under his belt, Yennaris moved to Brentford where he still plays today.

Injuries have been a consistent issue with the former England youth international, but once he shook them off in 2015-16, he really began to show his quality. At four goals, one assist and a career-high 1.72 chances created per 90 minutes, Yennaris is finally beginning to show who he truly is as a professional footballer. Whether he becomes any better than the Championship level player he is now is anybody’s guess. If anything, it is great to see his persistence pay off and see him become a leading contributor to a respected club in English football.

Yoann Barbet

All data from whoscored.com

Instead of picking another attacking star like Lasse Vibe or Neal Maupay, I’ll go ahead and take a player that is literally out of left field. In his third season with the club, Barbet has struggled with injury and finding his way through the starting XI. However, the 24-year old has been picked at left-back recently after mainly being used as a center back throughout his entire career. In his new position, Barbet’s passing can be implemented much better and Brentford have become a more mobile unit because of it.

Before joining Brentford, Barbet was in Ligue 2 playing for Chamois Niortais for one season. This came after coming from Bordeaux’s academy yet never progressing beyond their reserve side. But at such a young age, Brentford was able to purchase him and make Barbet a valuable member of their squad.