Considering how early this season is, it is most appropriate to remember not to panic if your team struggles and to take things into context. For Fulham’s case, they haven’t won once out of their first three games. That being said, all their fixtures have been drawn, with one of them occurred while playing with ten men for almost the entirety of the 90 minutes, and all of their opponents finished within the top eight of the Championship last season. This next fixture is no exception as fellow playoff participants Sheffield Wednesday come to Craven Cottage.
Like Fulham, the Owls come to Southwest London in desperate need of a win. They currently have two points in three games, recently drawing with Sunderland last Wednesday. While a defeat shouldn’t put anyone of these teams at a crisis point, it will be difficult for the loser’s sets of fans to not start to panic. After all, Sheffield Wednesday will be hoping this is their third straight year where they are contending for promotion back to the Premier League after a 17-year absence.
During his two years at Hillsborough, Carlos Carvalhal has drilled his team to a solid defensive unit that can also beat you with high-caliber shot selection on offense. Last campaign, Wednesday only gave up 45 goals, and their 51.5 expected goals against tally were strong enough to have both totals finish in the top four in the Championship.
On the other side of the ball, Wednesday was not known as a team that will pound you into submission. After all, they were just slightly above average in shot rate with 13.2 per 90 minutes. However, Along with that, the Owls were able to rack up a sixth best total of 68.5 expected goals, despite only scoring a league average 60 actual ones. That is due to being so strong in getting the ball to the six-yard box that their 1.22 shots per 90 minutes from that area was only bettered by Brighton and Wolves.
Wednesday really doesn't have the personnel to simply walk it into that area. They were among the worst teams in the Championship in successful dribbles last campaign and this campaign is no exception. What they do have is some of the best players in executing crosses and long ball passes. While no team really wants to make football difficult for themselves, if one team has such a strength, they might as well use it. With that in mind, let’s look at the key players Fulham will have to deal with this Saturday.
The one thing you can count on with a Carvahal coached Wednesday is that they will certainly have a strong spine in whatever formation he chooses. Daniel Pudil has been exceptional moving from left back to center back this season, but the one constant in central defense for the Owls over the years has been Lees.
Based on his radar alone, The 26-year old has been the best case scenario Fulham fans were hoping for when Dan Burn was at the club. While the current Wigan man may have a good five inches over Lees, that doesn’t mean that the former England Under-21 International cannot dominate in the air. In fact, Lees’ 4.72 aerials duels won and 70% aerial win percentage since 2013/14 has been one of the best outputs in the Championship during that span.
What has prevented him from being a Premier League caliber defender is his lack of high numbers in other defensive categories. Still, his 74.5% tackle success rate since 2013/14 is solid and he can pass from the back at a decent rate as well. He will be key to Sheffield once again when facing any of Fulham’s front line players.
While I could also highlight the former Aston Villa midfielder Barry Bannan as being the one player that emphasizes Carvalhal’s systems the most, I prefer to highlight the former Burnley midfielder for being the key man to unlock Fulham’s defense. Wallace is certainly no Tom Cairney, but the 32-year old’s 74 key passes last season are certainly something that can’t be ignored. And while Fulham was begging for players that knew how to cross a ball, there was no team better at doing that than Wednesday last season.
The ring leader for such situations was Wallace himself, thanks to his team-leading 75 successful crosses and an incredible 32.5% success rate in such passes to go along with it. That being said, Bannan was no slouch in this area of expertise along with fullbacks Adam Reach and Jack Hunt. It will be critical of Fulham to not give any of Wednesday’s passers time with the ball at their feet, otherwise, they could be picked apart by the men getting on the end of such passes.
While the English media have had their eyes on the situation going on at Chelsea with striker Diego Costa, the start of the season for Forestieri has not been a rosy one either. Transfer rumors have been swirling for the 27-year old with Brighton being the team in most demand for him. Along with that, Forestieri has played only one of Wednesday’s games so far due to a supposed training session bust-up during a between him and teammate Sam Winnall.
With the additions of Winnall, Steven Fletcher, and Jordan Rhodes in the past 18 months, Wednesday are not short on attacking talent and experience. That said, Forestieri is definitely the better of the four options thanks to being the best dribbler in the club last season (46) and consistently averaging over three interceptions and tackles per 90 minutes every season.
Along with having a high shot volume and being a better than average passer of the ball, the former Italy youth international definitely has what it takes to play in the top flight of English football. He certainly is not as talented as his comparison, but his radar has similarities to that of Tottenham’s Heung Min-Son. With such productive seasons while at Hillsborough, there’s no denying the talented player that he is and he will be missed from a football standpoint if he were to miss Saturday’s game.