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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 10 vs. Nottingham Forest

After losing two points against Middlesbrough, Fulham hope to move past mid-table status at the City Ground

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Welp, what else is new? Fulham had a chance to seal the victory against a strong Middlesbrough side thanks to Aboubakar Kamara’s first goal for the club, only for a poorly defended set piece goal to put those dreams to an end.

To make matters worse, the underlying numbers still indicate that Fulham are performing roughly as well or as poor as their results indicate. They’re nothing more than a mid-table side that is missing one too many players due to injury, due to not being in form or due to the players that left. No matter the situation, Slavisa Jokanovic and his team have to make due with what they got and get the most out of the month of September with two critical games on the road. The first is at Nottingham Forest, where they are also within the same vicinity as Fulham in the Championship table.

Manager Mark Warburton initially had his team moving in the right direction by winning three of their first four games. Since then, they’ve lost all but one of their last five games and their underlying numbers match with what is seen on the football pitch. During these last five games, Forest have scored four goals and given up nine, while expected goals has them scoring 3.4 and giving up 7.6.

Their attack is very limited at 11.7 shots per 90 minutes despite having among the most possession in the Championship. Along with that, teams beat them on the counter-attack quite easily at a rate 16.0 shots per 90 minutes. To put things in perspective, those are almost similar shot and possession numbers to when Fulham were managed under Kit Symons. Still, the Cottagers have not business complaining about Nottingham Forest being ahead of them in the table for a reason. Here are the players that have contributed the most for Warburton at this stage of the 2017/18 campaign.

Daryl Murphy

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At 34 years young, Murphy has found a way to return to his days at Ipswich where he scored 51 goals in 129 total appearances from 2013/14 to 2015/16. This season, he’s put up five goals in nine games and has hit peak levels of passing accuracy (72.1%) and shots on target percentage (55.6%) among every league season has kept track of him.

That being said, Murphy’s 27-goal season from 2014/15 happened when he averaged 3.64 total shots per 90 minutes. That number has dwindled to 2.27 shots per 90 minutes and his 27.8% goal conversion rate is almost double his usual average of 14.0%. Add the fact that he doesn’t provide much else in terms of overall footballing skill set these days and things could get testy at Forest if the Irish International doesn’t continue to deliver.

Barrie McKay

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While there is one man scoring the goals, there has to be someone that provides the service that leads to those goals. With two tallies of his own and four assists into his first season at the City Ground, Mckay is doing just that. The 22-year Scottish International seemed to be one for the future at Rangers before having a falling out with new manager Pedro Caixinha. With that, he left for Nottingham Forest this summer to meet up with the manager that gave him his senior club debut for just £500,000.

As one of the wingers in Forest’s 4-2-3-1 formation, McKay is adjusting quite well in England by leading the club with 2.37 key passes and 3.48 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. Already, his dribbling rate is sixth best among those that have made four appearances or more in the Championship. I suggest you ignore his high dispossession rate by how many times he takes people on. Thus, having 59.5% of those situations lead to successful dribbles is a more telling statistic and how staggeringly good he is with the ball at his feet. With so many years of his prime left, the world is McKay’s oyster and I for one will not be surprised to see him playing in the Premier League somehow in the near future.

Joe Worrall

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Tendayi Darikawa has also been a worthy candidate for this column because he has been sensational over at right back in both going forward and in defense this season. However, if there is one player that fits the playing style and ethos of the club, it has been the 20-year old Worrall.

After making 21 appearances last season, the England Under-21 International has now made one of the center back positions his own and he could take a strangle hold on that for a long time if he were to stay throughout his career. There are two numbers that have made Nottingham Forest elite this campaign and that has been the usage of the long ball passes (35.2 per 90 minutes with 49.0% accuracy) and their ability to block shots (4.0 per 90 minutes). Among all outfield players, Worrall leads the team in both categories (5.11 long balls and 1.67 blocked shots per 90 minutes with 54.8% long ball passing accuracy).

While getting this much playing time at such a key position at a young age, Worrall is just one of many Under-22 Nottingham Forest players doing just that. Along with Worrall and McKay regularly starting, 22-year old Jordan Smith has taken the reigns as the team’s number one goalkeeper after being in the middle of a three-man battle with Stephen Henderson and Vladimir Stojkovic. Also, 19-year old Everton loanee Kieran Dowell and 18-year old Forest academy product Ben Brereton are getting plenty of minutes after successful spells in England’s youth teams. While Dowell was a key member of the Under-20 World Cup winning squad, Brereton was joint leading scorer for European Champion Under-19 side.

Whether you think Forest are a good side or not, there is no denying that they are giving England’s future a chance and that is something to give plenty of plaudits to. With so many of the youth national teams proving that they can not only go toe-to-toe, but beat the best from around the world, club agendas like the one Forest are initiating (and even Fulham thanks to Ryan Sessegnon) are critical for English football’s future.