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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 39 vs. Norwich City

How will Fulham bounce back after the last International break of the season?

Norwich City v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

So Fulham is back at it after another International Break that nobody really wants. Sure, people want to know who England and other nations are going to pick for the 2018 World Cup, but the games were more pageantry and distraction than meaningful contests. And sure, it was a joyous occasion to see many Fulham players play for their country, including 17-year old Ryan Sessegnon continuing to make his rapid climb in top-tier football by making his Under-21 International debut. But at the end of the day, nobody in the squad got hurt away from club duty and that is what matters most.

Now the boys have to return to England and travel to Carrow Road to get three points against a week, but still frisky Norwich City side. This comes off the back of losing two out of a possible three points to arch-rivals Queen’s Park Rangers just two weeks ago. It has been said here before that Fulham has been due for some bad performances via regression to the mean. But if anything, it is a sign of a club that now knows that they can not afford to be coasting the rest of their way through the season. Many clubs are still chomping at the bit to claim a famous victory over Fulham and are hoping to surpass them in the playoff positions. Until the season is done, this club just cannot rest on their laurels and hope that a promotion place is given to them. They genuinely are going to have to earn it.

To get back on track, Fulham will be facing a Norwich side that has been the pure definition of average. However, with the way the club plays, Norwich are anything but that. In fact, they are almost exact clones of Fulham in that they like to hold on to the ball in possession, they like to play a short passing and dribble game and they generate a solid 13.0 shots per 90 minutes as a result of it. But with 41 goals, the Canaries are considered one of the most wasteful attacks in the league. Their 47.5 expected goals put them in a more respectable 14th in this category, but that still shouldn’t be acceptable for this club considering how they have the resources to be much better. In defense, Norwich is better but only so much that they are barely in the top half in both actual (44) and expected goals (48.3).

What is important for Fulham is to make sure they continue to make Norwich a wasteful side and outperform them in their strengths. With Sessegnon, Aleksander Mitrovic and many more attackers that can score, the good guys should be able to out-man them in a game featuring two teams with similar styles throughout this match. But if that doesn’t take place, Fulham will be in for a rude awakening.

Here are three of Norwich’s players to look out for should they be able to spring the upset.

James Maddison

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There is no denying that the best thing to happen to Norwich this season has been the growth and development of their 21-year old attacking midfield sensation. And with a few caps with the England Under-21s, the best is surely yet to come for Maddison. It has been an incredible journey for the Coventry-born star as Maddison actually started his professional career with his hometown club, Coventry City.

After making his debut at the start of 2014/15 season, Maddison moved to Norwich on a 3-year deal in the 2016 January transfer window. But after making a return to the Ricoh Arena via a loan spell followed by another such movement to Aberdeen, Maddison can finally consider himself a full-time Canary.

It will be curious to see how much Maddison can further develop whenever he gets better attacking players around him, however. Josh Murphy has been another solid addition to Norwich this season, but Wes Hoolahan and Marley Watkins have combined for just three assists in just over 2,300 league minutes and not a single goal being scored. And it’s not like Norwich are THAT bad at creating chances. If anything, their 10.4 chances created and 11.7 successful dribbles per game are both ranked in the top five in the Championship. So the impetus is there, but it would be nice for Norwich to get a player or two that knows how to score goals.

Harrison Reed

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Next up is another young player in Norwich’s usual XI, except he is actually not one of their own. Instead, Harrison Reed is just here finishing out a loan spell with Southampton. However, the 23-year old is having a fine season in the Championship thanks to over 2,300 league minutes and solid performances as a defensive midfielder.

Along with that, Reed has been playing along Norwich’s back three and out at wingback whenever manager Daniel Farke was looking to reconfigure his tactics of late. Whether any of these positions work for Reed, in the long run, is anyone’s guess, but it is a positive sign to see a young player being counted upon in so many different positions around the pitch.

It will be curious to see where he goes from here as he has a contract with his parent club that goes into 2021. Will Southampton see if a player that should be in the prime of his career work in the Premier League or is it best for both parties to cut bait and give Reed a shot at more playing time somewhere else?

Grant Hanley

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Lastly, we take a look at a center back who is having a career resurgence since joining Norwich City over the summer. It was just a season ago where it seemed like Hanley’s future in the top tiers of English football were being slammed shut. Instead, the Scottish International is having a strong season with the Canaries and has been a mainstay with Timm Klose along Farke’s back line. Hanley will never be the mobile ball-playing defender that is required for today’s game, but he can do a job in the hard graft parts and use his size to his complete advantage. As long as he’s part of a club that can accentuate such strengths, Hanley will be a perfect fit. Though to his credit, Hanley is setting career highs in passing completion percentage and long balls completed per game.