In what was probably their most challenging fixture yet from a performance standpoint, Fulham was able to snatch victory from the jaws of a worse outcome. They didn’t play with the same crispness as in previous outings, but can you blame them after so many outstanding performances beforehand? Derby just always has seemed to be Fulham’s bogey team since their time back in the Championship and for them to finally get out of Pride Park alive with three points is enough satisfaction for everyone.
Still, the warning signs might finally begin to show for a football club that has been riding such a massive wave of good fortune. Let me just go ahead and put my tweet up from this week as a bit of a recap.
Something to watch out for fellow Fulham fans...despite outscoring opponents 15-4 since the end of the January transfer window, expected goals only has them at a 10.2-7.1 advantage according to @experimental361. #FFC— DCSportsDork (@DCSportsDork) March 14, 2018
This is not to tell anyone who supports the club to get off of cloud nine or think that the club is downright terrible. This is still a very good side who should be finishing off the season on a high note considering what is in front of them and where they stand in the league table. My concern is seeing everyone dreaming of their glorious return back to the Premier League when the job hasn’t been done just yet.
My other point in all this is Fulham’s unbeaten run is now 15 games. It is absolutely difficult to maintain such a fantastic vein of form all the way to the end and it doesn’t matter who they come up against. Every opponent Fulham will face is going to put their best foot forward for many reasons. In this latest example, Queen’s Park Rangers would not love it more than to rub it in our faces and shout the “who are ya” chant louder than they ever had all season.
Because bluntly, this is another wasted campaign for the hoops. They are on pace to finish in the bottom half of the Championship for a third consecutive season after flirting with becoming a consistent Premier League club in the earlier part of the decade. Along with that, everyone and their relatives cannot wait to see manager Iain Holloway go as he just hasn’t brought any form of improvement in results. But what if I were to tell you that this club isn’t performing as bad as they really are?
Sure, having just Matt Smith and Conor Washington as your most dependable forwards is enough to make them warded off from ever finishing in the top half of the league, let alone a playoff place. But overall, QPR’s shot rates are not that dissimilar from Fulham’s. While Fulham is fourth-best in the league with 13.8 shots per 90 minutes, the Hoops are actually better with 14.0 shots per 90 minutes. On the other end, only decimal points separate Fulham from Rangers’ 12.3 shots per 90 minutes against. Overall, that leads to a 49.8 to 47.9 expected goals advantage throughout the course of the season. However, Holloway’s team is actually seeing his squad being outscored 41-55 instead.
Shot quality can certainly play a factor to this, as it indicates that the hoops are expected to convert less than 10% of their total shots into goals. Nonetheless, this is a team that has positive traits in the way they play. They just have not been getting enough bounces to allow them to claim more victories. In the long run, there really isn’t much that needs to be fixed before Queens Park Rangers begin to be a legitimate club. Regardless if this is a derby or not, that is why today’s opponents should be taken seriously.
On that note, here are three players to watch from the other side of the dugout at Craven Cottage.
First up is the first of two of QPR’s usual starters at wingback in Holloway’s 3-5-2 formation. However, they have lately tried out different systems such as a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-1-1 to see if that could lead to better results. While that has not been the case, Jake Bidwell has had to play multiple positions and has handled them well in his second year with the club. Beforehand, the former Everton Academy product was plying his trade with Brentford in which he was making his first professional appearances.
That being said, Bidwell has shown that he is better suited further back up the pitch where his lack of mobility but strength in quality crosses can shine through the best. In fact, his 31.8% accuracy in such passes is among the best in the league. Along with Luke Freeman, you’ll be seeing constant balls being whipped in by Bidwell all day, so Fulham will have to be ready to defend such passes from connecting and not giving time and space for them to come off well.
Next up is QPR’s other wing back in Pawel Wszolek. Like Bidwell, Wszolek is a young 25-year old with a bright future and great attacking passing skills. Unlike Bidwell, Wszolek likes to be more adventurous by attacking the opposition on the dribble.
It certainly helps that the Polish International started his career in Serie A with Sampdoria before moving over to the Championship. But after failing to make the first team on a regular basis, Wszolek went on loan with a Verona side that failed to avoid relegation in 2015/16. If he were to complete the full 90 minutes today, this will officially become the most minutes he has played in a league campaign while playing in the five biggest countries in European club football.
Lastly, we take a look at the club captain and football league mainstay, Nedum Onuoha. It’s a bit odd that today’s preview features heavily on defenders more so than Rangers’ attack, but that was fully taken care of the last time we previewed them.
At 31, it is quite clear Onuoha’s best days are behind him. That being said, this could be his most well-rounded season since 2013/14 when he guided the club towards promotion back to the Premier League. That all being said, Onuoha’s never been known for being a ball playing center back, nor one that will go in and attack the ball away from the opposition like teammate Jack Robinson does. Instead, he’s always played a positionally sound game in hopes that the men he marks every matchday don’t go past him. Such a style works for someone like Tim Ream and in 2018, not much is going to change with how Onuoha plays either. But if Fulham’s attacking trio can beat him with speed, it might be curtains for him.