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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 33 vs. Bristol City

With another monstrous display last Saturday, Fulham will hope to continue their strong run of form at Ashton Gate

Bristol City v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship

What else is there to say about this football club? After another impressive display at Craven Cottage, Fulham may not have been able to climb up the Championship table any further, but they have let the entire league know who the hottest team is right now. Along with that, it is quite difficult to imagine many clubs that can topple Fulham with their strength in depth across many key areas in the squad.

Last Saturday was the starting debut of Aleksandar Mitrovic, who lead the line of Slavisa Jokanovic’s attacking three. While he may not have scored, he battered and bruised Aston Villa’s central defense and opened channels for Ryan Sessegnon and Ryan Fredericks to constantly run on to by games end. The game admittedly started quite tense, but by the final whistle, Villa’s defense was shattered to dust. They struggled mightily to collect the ball and do anything with it going the other way. As a result, Villa was reduced to just 37% possession, a 68.7% completion of all passes, 0.6 expected goals, and just seven total shots all game. In fact, only two of those seven shots occurred in the second half.

As I stated last week, Fulham are not only performing well, but they are performing well beyond their means. You know things are going you’re way when you can receive a turnover ball from the opposing goalkeeper and strike it back from almost halfway into the back of the net.

This isn’t so much to say that Fulham are doomed for some regression, but more so to do with the fact that you need a bit of luck, as well as talent, in order to make a 10-game unbeaten run happen. Since the calendar turned to 2018, Fulham have been more than lapping the competition by outscoring them 19-3. However, expected goals only suggests that they should be dominating 13.1-5.0 during their seven-game run.

But to bring this topic back on a positive note, if there’s a team that will put an end to Fulham’s hot streak, I’m not confident that it would be today’s opponents. Bristol City have been on a torrid spell of late by only winning once in 2018 and only gaining seven out of a possible 21 points. This all came after a 5-0 drubbing the Robins suffered to the hands of Fulham’s most recent opponents, Aston Villa. To make matter’s worse, their process since that fateful fixture (7.8 expected goals for, 11.1 expected goals against) has basically matched their performances (7 goals for, 12 goals against).

One criticism that has been received recently is that manager Lee Johnson relies too much on the same starting XI every week. It’s not wrong to state that as 13 players have played over 1,000 Championship minutes this season. The player with the 14th most minutes played is Eros Pisano with 513 and Liverpool loanee Ryan Kent is the lone player you can argue that Johnson has been using in his squad rotation recently that is not among the top-13. To put things in perspective, Fulham have had 16 players play over 1,000 league minutes, and this is excluding the additions of Mitrovic and Matt Targett, plus the return of Lucas Piazon from injury.

Plenty of these facts are due to circumstances such as squad turnover and injuries, but eventually the grind of an EFL season, plus a Carabao Cup run that saw Bristol City make it all the way to the semifinals has to be wearing down on them. Still, the XI that usually have been used are full of talented players that can truly pose a threat to Fulham on any given night, especially in a midweek fixture.

With that in mind, here are the three players to watch for from Bristol City.

Famara Diedhiou

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While I discussed Bobby Reid and his fantastic campaign in the reverse fixture, his running mate has not had a bad season either. With nine goals into his account, Diedhou has adapted quite well in his first season in English football. This is after five years of French club football that was topped off with an eight goals in 31 appearances campaign with Ligue 1 side Angers the previous season. At 25, Diedhou still has some room to grow into his game, but eventually, you would like to have the Senegalese international become more of a high-volume shooter. But with Reid being such a focal point, his 2.62 shots per 90 minutes will do. That being said, his 9.2 aerial duels won per 90 minutes certainly match his center forward’s profile as only Nathan Baker has a better rate among Robins regulars.

Aden Flint

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Once we get past Bobby Reid and Diedhoura, the leading goalscorer among remaining Robbins has been the club’s best center back. At 28, you know what you are going to get out of Aden Flint: a no-nonsense defender that will hoof everything out of his vicinity if you or the ball stand in his way. To top it off, his 6’5.5” frame will always be put into good use thanks to his strong aerial ability. If anything, the man is becoming a club legend for Bristol City as he has helped them gain promotion to the Championship in 2014/15 and has racked up 232 in his five-year stay. Whether Flint is capable of making the grade up to the Premier League whenever they get promoted is a debate for another time, but for now, he is a perfect compliment to the club’s bevy of attacking players.

Bailey Wright

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Lastly, while all the attention is rightfully given to Joe Bryan and his talents, don’t sleep on the Australian International. While usually behind the marauding Jay Brownhill or Jamie Patterson on the wings of Johnson’s 4-4-1-1 formation, the 25-year old Wright usually sits deep and breaks up any potential counter attacks. Along with that, he has gotten an underrated cross under his arsenal as his two assists match that of his fellow fullback partner in crime.

After seven seasons with Preston North End, where he was able to play 205 times for the club and help them gain promotion to the Championship in 2014/15, Wright joined the Robins in the January 2017 transfer window and has been a key member of the club since. With one year left on his contract and a World Cup to take place this summer, don’t be surprised to see his transfer value increase as teams will be looking for a steady presence out wide on the defensive line.