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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 43 vs. Brentford

Are Fulham seriously going to gain automatic promotion?

Brentford v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

This is a complete fairytale! There’s no other way to describe it. While Fulham has not lost in 20 games, everyone else in the league has crumbled enough to surpass them. Most recently, Cardiff may have had two of the toughest back-to-back fixtures in the whole Championship with Wolves at home and Aston Villa away. But to come away with no points in any of those two games was enough for Fulham to pass them on the table. Now Cardiff still has a game in hand, but that’s not an easy one either as it will be against a Derby County side needing every point they need to confirm a spot in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Fulham has to take full advantage of their position, but it will not be easy whatsoever.

But before we look ahead, let’s recap how they have continued their ludicrous unbeaten run. Just like last weekend, Fulham was able to handle Reading quite comfortably despite a 1-0 scoreline. With complete revenge on their mind, Slavisa Jokanovic’s squad never gave their former playoff foes any chance to have the ball for long periods of the game and they were only able to create two shots all game! Even with Fulham creating just 14 shots of their own, the quality was oozing out of every one of them with 0.135 expected goals per shot according to Ben Mayhew of experimental361.

As a result, the club has now shut out the opposition in four straight games and have generated enough attack where they are actually due to have a field day in any one of their upcoming fixtures. I mean, when was the last time Fulham were ever this good in defense. However fun pounding middling Championship teams to submission was, they will have to keep those performances up against some of the better clubs in the league. Whether Fulhams disagree with this statement or not, Brentford is one of them as they sit just four points out of the top six.

As mentioned before Fulham faced them last time, the Bees had the underlying numbers to show that they have what it takes to be one of the best clubs in the league. However, their finishing was so poor that it made them struggle to maintain even midtable status. But since their win over Fulham in the reverse fixture, Brentford have picked up 12 wins and four draws in 22 games: which is good enough for an 84-point pace if their form were to take place throughout the entire league campaign. Sure, Fulham fans can ignore such a fact considering they have not lost in 20 games themselves. All I’m saying is that Brentford is no longer underachieving and have shown to do things a tad better than Fulham with their style of play when they are at their best.

Even through 42 fixtures, Brentford is still top of the league with 17.5 total shots per 90 minutes and with 13.4 chances created per 90 minutes. Unlike Fulham, Brentford also incorporates the long ball to full effect thanks to a third best 35.7 of that type of pass per 90 minutes as well as a strong 48.5% completion rate. They are also second in the league in dribbling at 12.4 events per fixture, but most of that comes from the well-rounded mastermind that is Ollie Watkins.

Since we’ve already written about him last time, you kind of already know about him. Let’s go ahead and look at the key contributors to Brentford’s season and who may be the cause to spoil Fulham’s hopes and dreams if tonight comes to it.

John Egan

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First up is Brentford’s captain and a two-time capped Ireland International. Things haven’t been easy for Evans after signing a youth contract with Sunderland. The now 25-year old never got a run with his boyhood club and was sent on loan four times before signing a permanent contract with League One side Gillingham. After making a strong impression in his two seasons at Prestfield Stadium, Egan signed with Brentford on a three-year contract.

Rather than being aggressive in the tackle, he tends to prefer a more conservative approach in preventing the opposition from scoring. But Egan certainly knows what he needs to do with the ball at his feet and will make the most of his 6’2” frame to claim what is airborne. If anything else, he is the ball playing center back that will know how to advance it towards midfield and attack, so Fulham will have to shut him down for them to contain Brentford’s goal-scoring prowess as a whole.

Ryan Woods

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Next up is another of Brentford's long ball merchants in Woods. With 204 of those types of passes, no other Brentford outfield player has more. Beyond that though, Woods doesn’t offer that much by way of attack or defense and he isn’t even one of Brentford’s most trusted takers in corner kicks. However, that one skill by Woods is enough to have given him the “Ginger Pirlo” nickname at his previous club at Shrewsbury Town. With such a moniker, it is quite clear that Fulham can not afford to give him any time and space for him to pick them apart.

Before joining Griffin Park, Woods helped his first professional club climb their way towards League One status and was awarded as a member of the PFA League Two team of the year in 2015. His talents were recognized by Brentford and their analytically-inclined boardroom and were able to sign him on a three-year contract the season afterward. Woods’ talents did not go unnoticed as he was nominated as Brentford’s players’ player of the year last campaign. At 24, there is still plenty more awards and accolades to be won in the near future.

Romaine Sawyers

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Lastly, we go to Brentford’s closest answer to Tom Cairney in Romaine Sawyers. Like Cairney, the Saint Kitts and Nevis International like to sit in the center of Brentford’s attacking midfield whenever they play a 4-2-3-1 formation. Unlike Cairney, he is only second to that man Watkins with 70 chances created. However, Sawyers doesn’t provide much else in attack as he only averages 1.07 dribbles per 90 minutes and is only to get his shot on target 21.7% of the time. That being said, he is among the best in the Championship with through-ball passes, so that is a wrinkle that Fulham must pay attention to.

Like Egan, Sawyers needed to leave his first professional club that wanted to continue Premier League aspirations in order to make a name for himself. It took him to playing for League One Walsall to do so before joining manager Dean Smith at the hip and signed for Brentford. This all came after the 26-year old started his career in West Bromwich Albion’s academy.