The bad news about Fulham’s predicament is that every game is a must win for them in order to maintain Premier League status. There simply cannot be any let offs anymore and the pressure of every match day could be unbearable to a a bit too many. The good news is that tonight is a realistic chance for the job to be completed by Slavisa Jokanovic’s team.
That is because Huddersfield are the complete inverse of Fulham despite the fact that they are under the same situation. While Fulham give goals away to the opposition at record rates, Huddersfield just can’t find a way to score at all. So far, they have only put up four markers in ten contests, and while understat is more optimistic about their attack in the future, their 5.98 expected goals is also the worst in the Premier League.
This is not a side that isn’t trying, however. David Wagner has his club playing a 4-2-3-1 that can be compact and will create turnovers. Their 11.20 passes per defensive action conceded is the ninth best in the league and their 13.4 shots conceded per contest is a solid 11th as well. However, goalkeepers Jonas Lossl and Ben Hamer have been quite poor in making crucial saves to keep their side in every league fixture. Only Cardiff City and, welp, Fulham have done worse than ship 4.3 more goals than expectation the way Huddersfield have. Some would say that regression towards the mean can happen again, but Terriers goalkeepers also allowed more than four goals worse than expectation in all of 2017/18. With Lossl still the number one, you’d have to think enough evidence is there that he just might not be a good enough Premier League goalkeeper.
Now that isn’t to say that Fulham’s keepers have done much better as all three in the senior squad have been given an opportunity to start in England’s top flight. Sergio Rico wasn’t bad last weekend against Bournemouth, but he didn’t necessarily instill confidence that he solved the issue entirely either.
If there’s a blessing in disguise with Kevin McDonald’s red card, it would be that Jokanovic should be able to pick a Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa-Jean Michael Seri-Tom Cairney midfield that should have been implemented months ago. Unfortunately, Cairney’s ankle injury didn’t help things out and instability in the back four forced Seri to play a deeper role than he would like. There were signs of a side figuring out its defensive posture over the past couple of weeks, so there is a chance that tonight could be the night things work out. It would also be nice to see Mitro back on fire again.
Until then, let’s look at three of Huddersfield’s most dangerous players as they hope to defend leave the John Smith Stadium with a victory of their own.
From left back, the former Borussia Dortmund man may offer as much defense as Ryan Fredericks, but you will be hard placed to find anyone that can deliver a better cross from that position in the league. At 29, Lowe has come a long way to return back to top flight European football. After just playing seven times for Dortmund’s senior team and six times with their reserves from 2011 to 2013, he left to join Kaiserslauten in Germany’s second tier. From there, he played 119 times for them before moving over to England. From there, he’s been a mainstay for the Terriers and was among the key members guiding them towards promotion in 2017.
Next up, in my opinion, has been Huddersfield’s most statistically appealing players. At just 22, Billing is just starting to make a name for himself as a prominent player in professional football. The holding midfielder leads all Huddersfield players with 31 tackles and only Zanka has more interceptions than Billing’s 19. Along with that, the Danish Under-21 International is third among Terriers players with 14 shots. The latter is more a reflection with how poor Huddersfield’s attack has been, but if he maintains this level of production, I expect Billing to not only stay in the Premier League, via with Huddersfield or a heft transfer fee, but I also expect him to be a full-fledged member of his national team at senior level, as well.
Lastly, we set sights at the engine of Huddersfield’s attack. Bluntly, Aaron Mooy’s production has gotten gradually worse each season since Huddersfield has gained promotion, but it would be nice if better quality players can deliver the goods as well. While still young, Steve Mounie has struggled to be the out-and-out striker Huddersfield can depend on and Laurent Depoitre isn’t that much of an upgrade either. Along with that, Alex Pritchard has contributed in spells, but he’s more of a number ten like Mooy than an attacking wide forward. This could lead to a decrease in Mooy’s production and his role and value within the team. If Wagner’s team is still clicking, the Australian International will surely be Fulham’s biggest threat, so winning the midfield will have to be the biggest priority tonight. Otherwise, who knows if Jokanovic will ever be able to construct a solid midfield capable of winning Premier League games with the squad that he has at his disposal.