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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 8 vs. Burton Albion

With Burton in a possible relegation battle already, we look at who will need to come through to beat Fulham.

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After two games in which Fulham have not come into them with a completely healthy squad, the club is in a much better position than they previously were. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side is now unbeaten in their last three games and now face one of the weakest teams they’ll face all season. With all due respect to all those associated with Burton Albion, this is a team that will struggle mightily all year to stay in the Championship. There is no denying that manager Nigel Clough and his squad full of players are all committed and have been great servants during their meteoric rise in the football league, but one has to wonder how a club with always such a small budget can survive in such a cutthroat league like the Championship.

With four goals for and 14 goals against, only newly promoted Bolton have matched Burton in terms of who has been outperformed the worst. Add expected goals to the equation and it doesn’t look like there is saving grace for the Brewers this campaign. With 4.4 expected goals for and 15.9 expected goals against, no other side has worse underlying numbers in the league. Only Millwall retain the ball less than Burton’s 44.3% and no one else gets worse than the 6.3 shots per game Clough’s men attempt every game. The coup de gras in all this was their 5-0 embarrassment at the hands of Leeds in which they were outshot 30-1.

Thirty. To. One.

Bless your heart Jamie Allen for being the sole owner of that Albion shot towards goal.

Gone is Jackson Irvine and his 10 goals from the club last campaign as he was sold for a tad over 2 million to Hull City. What is left of Burton’s attack is 35-year old loyal servant Lloyd Dyer, maybe Lucas Akins, any of Marvin Sordell’s remaining potential he had from being a 2012 Olympian and, bluntly, that’s probably it. It’s so dire that last year’s joint-third leading goal scorer was Fulham’s own Cauley Woodrow during his half-season loan spell. Woodrow became surplus to requirements at Craven Cottage in case anyone forgets.

Statistically, Fulham produces rates of key passes and dribbles that is more than double what Burton produce in those same categories. Because of that, Clough’s side is among the league leaders in interceptions (14.0 per 90 minutes) and blocked shots (5.9 per 90 minutes). This team will sit deep and hope that they will pull the Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope on the opposition’s George Foreman.

It will be critical of Fulham to not have panic set in if shots aren’t turning into goals. The defense has been much better this campaign as evidenced by their 0.089 expected goals per shot. I shouldn’t expect any troubles from Jokanovic’s side, but I have seen stranger things in sport and the Championship has plenty stories like this.

If Burton were to pull the impossible, here are some players that will take the biggest praise.

Kyle McFadzean

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So far this campaign, Clough has tried so many formations in order to get the best out of his side. However, his bread and butter from last campaign was playing quite a defensive 3-5-2 formation in hopes of beating teams off of the counter-attack. Leading the back three will be the 30-year old McFadzean.

The former MK Dons center back is not a stranger to relegation battles as he was in the middle of one two seasons ago. However, McFadzean has not been off to a great start as it seems like he is hitting four-year lows in every statistical category. Burton is desperate for leaders and star players with the hopes of McFadzean being one of them. However, he may not have that much Championship level football left in the tank.

After all, these past three seasons have been the only time he has ever played this high caliber of football during his 384 senior game career. He will need to come out stronger than ever if he would like to stay at this level.

Jake Buxton

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Another veteran that is not in good form is the fellow center back Buxton. At 32, the former Wigan man is also not a stranger to relegation battles as he was in one with the Latics last season.

It also wasn’t until his age-25 season in 2009/10 in which Buxton began playing in the Championship with Derby County: Nigel Clough’s former club. Buxton would play 159 of his 425 total appearances for the Rams and produced solid seasons for them before moving to Wigan. Buxton is known for his Championship elite level in blocked shots and winning aerials, but this campaign has been where nothing else is working for him.

His overall production will have to be much better if he wants to guide his club beyond the pits they are in right now.

Luke Murphy

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At holding midfield, Luke Murphy has been solid, but not completely spectacular. When your best qualities are to not lose the ball, not commit too many fouls, and not get beat on the dribble, that’s cool and all. However, there has to be more to the table you want to stabilize anything about your team while playing. That’s why I have been looking at tackle, foul and dribble ratios lately.

Take this season for instance where Murphy has had 18 tackles, 9 fouls and 5 times where he was being dribbled past. That will give the 27-year old a tackle percentage of 56.3% and a foul percentage of 28.1%. While his tackling goes in line with what he has normally done the past five Championship seasons (56.7%), his discipline has somewhat worsened (26.6% foul percentage).

Along with that, Murphy’s rate of 2.29 possession adjusted tackles per 90 minutes is his lowest production in the past five years. Again, at 27, that’s no excuse for that to happen beyond system changes or lack of quality teammates around him to let his complete game roam free. I like to think it’s a combination of both.