So after getting accustomed to the fact that Claudio Ranieri is the new manager, Fulham will get back to it for a home fixture against Southampton. Simply put, this will be the first of many six-pointers the rest of the season the rest of this Premier League season. That’s what happens when you are sitting 20th in the table, have lost to Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City, and have been among the worst defenses in the first 12 games in Premier League history. Simply put, this football club has to regroup and develop a consistent system that works for every player involved at the club.
Whether Ranieri can develop that system and get results will be determined later on, but for now, Fulham will have to worry about their opposition first. While the Saints might have only scored a joint-second worst eight times this season, their expected goals tally of 15.74 is good enough for 12th in the league. If anything, their defense that has conceded 21 goals, 20.29 expected goals and 112 opposition passes within 20 yards from goal are among the five worst in the league. So a mediocre attach and an even worse defense has resulted in Mark Hughes’ side with just eight points in the table.
Did I forget to mention the injury list that looks to be mounting for the Saints? Ryan Bertrand seems to be out while Danny Ings, Mario Lemina, Shane Long and Mohamed Elyanousi look doubtful. Essentially, those are five starting players, including their leading goal scorer out for tomorrow’s contest.
On Fulham’s end, Kevin McDonald, Joe Bryan and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa look to be out as well. We’re at a place where the grind of the Premier League is starting to take its toll, but it’s fair game for both teams. So there are no excuses for both sides to not be ready to play. It will be interesting to see what starting XI Ranieri will come up with, though I will say that having Calum Chambers as a holding midfielder was good for Fulham against a surging Liverpool. To have a temporary midfield with him, Tom Cairney and Jean Michael Seri would be good to see but it will be critical to have the latter two succeed in the system Ranieri chooses. Either way, there will be plenty of anticipation at Craven Cottage on Saturday.
On that note, among those healthy from Southampton, just which three players should Fulham watch out the most?
At right back, Soares has been a dependable defense-first player throughout his time at Southampton. He has never scored for the Saints, but he has been solid in the tackle and it has been the bread-and-butter that’s lead to his 33 Portugal caps. Along with that, Soares was a member of Portugal’s 2018 World Cup squad and 2016 European Championship team. Before his exploits in England, he racked up 84 appearances with Sporting Lisbon. Soares was a part of his boyhood club since he was eight years old and stuck around until 2015, where he claimed a Portuguese Cup back in his final season with the club.
Next up is an up-and-coming central midfielder in Højberg. Last season was the most league minutes he ever played in league play with 1,671 minutes and his 797 minutes already are well on pace to surpassing that total. And with two goals, Højberg is on pace for having his best offensive season of his career as well. It has just this season where he has started to become a regular for Denmark’s National Team, where he already has 22 caps and will be seeing his country play in League A in the 2020-21 Nations League. It would be nice to see Højberg improve his game even further for him to be well respected throughout the Premier League, but at 23 years old, and already with 181 club appearances with Southampton and in the Bundesliga, he’ll have plenty of time to be able to make that happen.
Lastly, we take a look at one of the most unfortunate attacking players in the Premier League. It wasn’t that long ago when Nathan Redmond was considered one of the up-and-coming English attacking players like Ryan Sessegnon. But like Andros Townsend, Redmond’s shooting has been very subpar and his finishing fell along with it. He’s still a great dribbler and he will get his chances to deliver a killer pass. But until then, Redmond has to improve dramatically from his abysmal 1.61 shots per contest and 15.8% shot-on-target ratio. Otherwise, aging attackers like Charlie Austin and Shane Long will have to get the job done if Southampton will be able to get out of their scoring slump on Saturday.