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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 26 vs. Ipswich Town

Can Fulham start their 2018 right with a win at Craven Cottage?

Ipswich Town v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

After a tidal wave of fixtures that started on the Saturday before Christmas, Fulham can finally take a breather after today’s meeting with Ipswich Town at Craven Cottage. If they can come away with any points in the Championship, the home side should call this holiday period a job well done. They have closed the gap with those in the playoff places to five points and are now starting to improve their finishing ability towards goal. Since the start of this grueling run of fixtures, Fulham has not scored less than two goals in every game. Long may that continue!

Fans have been missing their attack being so lethal as they were when the lead the league in shot and goals. However, it was nice to see a center forward get in the act for a change. It may have taken awhile, but Aboubakar Kamara is really coming into his own as a footballer in this league. If he or Rui Fonte can ever maintain some run of strong performances, Fulham can be unbeatable. When you have four wide attacking players in Sheyi Ojo, Ryan Sessegnon, Floyd Ayite and Neeskans Kebano, there is almost no excuse for you not to have among the most dangerous attacking teams in the Championship and that’s excluding what the midfield can do.

Against a team like Ipswich, Fulham should be able to impose their will on the game from a shot-taking standpoint. Mick McCarthy’s side continues to defy the expected goals metrics by outscoring opponents 38-35 on the season despite being outshot 263-388. The one thing that can’t be counted out is how Ipswich is able to get their goals. While not as deadly as Cardiff in their tactics, Ipswich does impose a counterattacking style to their 4-2-3-1 formation and will create quality chances off of the turnover. Despite only averaging 10.5 shots per 90 minutes, Ipswich is able to get off 0.104 expected goals per shot thanks to taking advantage of teams being out of position. This is all thanks to their non-stop defensive efforts in which they rank in the top ten in interceptions (5th), clearances (4th), and aerial duels won (7th).

Plenty of that has to do with the Tractor Boys only seeing the ball for 46.3% of the game throughout this season; which is good for fifth worst in the Championship. But it is quite clear how Ipswich will win this game. In the away fixture at Portman Road, Fulham was able to wear down Ipswich and put in arguably their most complete performance of the season. To win again, they will have to maintain their shape while on the attack and maybe even Marcus Bettinelli will have to start needing to make some timely saves to justify his place on the team. If this was the Fulham of last year, they should comfortably win this game. Sadly they are not. Along with the ones mentioned from the first fixture, here are another three players for the good guys to look out for tonight.

Martyn Waghorn

All data from whoscored.com

First up is Ipswich’s leading goal scorer in the 27-year old Waghorn. The former Sunderland youth product has had quite a perplexing career as he never had a season where he scored more than 12 goals in a single season until he moved to Rangers to help them win promotion back into the Scottish Premiership.

At 25, Waghorn went on to collect 28 goals as he was a major contributor to the most trophy leaden club regaining their status as a top-flight club in their country after suffering so much while being in financial ruin. However, Waghorn was part of a club that was also going through constant turnover at manager and was only able to collect 16 goals in 41 appearances the next season. With his move to Portman Road hoping to be a continuation in form while looking for stability on and off the field, the South Shields-born center forward has certainly found that.

While he has played almost anywhere along the attacking four, Waghorn has been able to collect 10 goals with little shots taken for such an amount. At 2.49 shots per 90 minutes, his goal conversion rate of 21.3% will make you question if his form will continue. It will be up for David McGoldrick and Joe Garner to step up if that were to happen.

Bersant Celina

All data from whoscored.com

Or, maybe the 21-year old Manchester City academy graduate to continue his hot run of form himself. Based off of his radar alone, Celina’s style of play is a little bit like Jesse Lingard’s in the way they have been in such hot streaks for their respective clubs while also being a tad underrated with their passing. Despite not having an assist in the league this season, the Kosovo International has created 1.91 chances per 90 minutes. And with only playing just over 1100 league minutes, Celina has been able to make the most of them by way of shot rate (2.21 per 90 minutes) and by shots on target percentage (57.1%!!!) while usually playing in wide attacking areas.

No matter what comes to the rest of the way, this season can be considered a successful loan spell and it will be fascinating to see where the rest of his career goes.

Jordan Spence

All data from whoscored.com

If you were to follow Spence’s career since 2007, you would have thought that he would be the next great center back to be representing England for years to come. Instead, here he is as a 27-year old fullback in the Championship. It has been a career full of adversity for the former England Under-17 and Under-18 captain as he has gone from famed West Ham youth academy graduate to failing to receive game time wherever he went up until 2013/14.

At 24, Spence’s career looked lost until Milton Keynes Dons came calling. In his three years at the club, he was able to make 111 appearances before the club was relegated to League One. However, his exploits were not unnoticed at right back and he was able to be a solid fit under McCarthy’s system. While not being that adventurous, Spence is an underrated crosser of the ball and is able to use his 6’2” frame to claim headers for days.

If this were any matchday involving Ipswich, central midfielder Cole Skuse would be among the players highlighted as evidenced by his club-leading 97 combined tackles and interceptions. But with him possibly out due to an ankle injury, McCarthy will be counting on Spence and fellow fullback Jonas Knudsen to lead the way in defense.