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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 23 vs. Barnsley

After an embarrassing defeat to Sunderland, can Fulham rebound to start their rough slate of fixtures

Burton Albion v Barnsley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Welp, that was an utter disgrace last weekend.

Plain and simple, Fulham could not afford to throw away opportunities where they can climb the table and avoid claiming all three points, let alone any point, against the worst opposition in the Championship. Not only did Fulham accomplish such embarrassment by losing to Sunderland, they did so by being the Black Cats’ first victims of a defeat at the Stadium of Light in over a year.

While doing so, Slavisa Jokanovic continued to play Stefan Johansen up front while Rui Fonte was placed out wide. Because of these eternal square-peg-meets-round-hole tactics, Fulham was only able to put up 11 shots despite holding onto the ball for 66% of the game. On the other end, Fulham’s defense gave up an unforgivable 17 shots, to a side that was playing with five at the back and came into the fixture only averaging just 10 per contest. It was just meant to be that an unknown 18-year old named Josh Maja scored the only goal of the game.

While it is understandable that fans believe Craig Kline put the club in the mess they are in right now, I do feel like the #SlavOut campaign is just as well. At the end of the day, our manager does have a fullback in Rafa Soares that he never uses. He does have depth at central midfield that he can interchange if anyone goes down with an injury or loses form. Even if you feel like Fonte and Aboubakar Kamara are not even close to their price tags, Jokanovic has done little in changing his tactics beyond just maintaining a 4-3-3. In fact, I would love to see him trot out a 3-4-3 with Michael Madl coming back into the side or even Denis Odoi playing the Cesar Azpilicueta role.

Even if you disagree with my ideas, the point still stands that there are significantly better options for Jokanovic to work with that are easily at his disposal. That is the stuff that doesn’t require a January transfer window under any circumstances. Fulham already has no choice but to work on a tight budget or sell their best players at above their market value. What happens if Fulham is hit with too much debt ala Bolton after too many seasons in the Championship? Will Slav give up then or will he continue to fight? Bluntly, it’s horrifyingly difficult to see the latter and that’s why I understand if he’s not our manager anymore.

While that subject rages on for another time, Fulham greets a Barnsley side that, under any other circumstances will be begging for their three points to be given to someone else. While they are a solid attacking side with good creativity around the park, manager Paul Heckingbottom believes in a traditional structure with defenders defending, midfielders midfielding and forwards going forward and scoring. As a result, space will be there for Fulham to be creative, but they have to make sure that they don’t allow counter-attacking opportunities like they have been doing all year.

Here are some of the names from Barnsley who Fulham will have at the top of their scouting report.

Harvey Barnes

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First on the list has arguably been Barnsley’s best player. It’s just a darn shame for them that he is a 20-year old loanee from Leicester City. Before joining the Tykes this season, Barnes was also out on loan with MK Dons, where he scored six goals in 21 appearances and claimed the club’s young player of the year award. After playing for the Dons on loan last season, Barnes signed a four-year contract with his parent club, so his future in professional football is surely taken care of.

With his production down at Oakwell, it’s looking like Barnes has certainly continued his development and is proving to be more than just a speedy dribbler. At 2.53 shots per 90 minutes and with 1.88 chances created per 90 minutes, he is proving to be a well rounded attacking force that Fulham are hoping Ryan Sessegnon will become.

Joe Williams

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Next up is another player that has come to Barnsley via the loan system. This time it is one from Everton in 21-year old Williams. Unlike Barnes, Williams is just plying his trade in professional football and is not as well recognized among England’s youth National Teams.

That being said, he has given it a go as Barnsley’s holding midfielder in their 4-1-4-1 formation. While he hasn’t shown any elite skills just yet, Williams has been able to start every game and hold his own in that position. He has had a tendency of allowing one too many opposing players through in defense, but that is all from being Barnsley’s go-to man on preventing the opposition from scoring. As he is improving his efficiency, it is important for Fulham to prevent him having a game that will boost his confidence in the long run.

Matty Pearson

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While I could talk about Barnsley’s other stars in their attacking quintet in Adam Hammill and Tom Bradshaw, I’d figure I would take a look at someone in the back four in left back Pearson. As you can see from his radar, he’s not one to provide an extra element to Barnsley’s attack, but he is what you ask for when it comes to cleaning up anything that is heading towards his way. Even with such a defense-first background, Pearson will also provide a killer cross that could lead to quality chances.

Unlike his counterparts, Pearson recently signed with Barnsley after spending his entire footballing career between the fourth and sixth tiers of English football. After going through Blackburn’s academy, he spent the first four years of senior football at Lincoln City, Rochdale, and Halifax Town before signing with League Two outfit Accrington Stanley. After spending two years there, Pearson became a major hit for the club and gained 103 appearances and 12 goals during that span. After such a tremendous tenure, Barnsley was next to come calling for his services when he signed a three-year contract for them this summer.