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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 41 vs. Sheffield Wednesday

Can Fulham seek revenge from their defeat at Craven Cottage earlier this season?

Another evening. Another three points for Fulham.

It’s almost becoming too routine for this club as the good guys came away from last Tuesday with a comfortable 2-0 win over a Leeds United side that just didn't have any answers at all. But in the end, Fulham did what the best clubs in the Championship do: put a weakened team to the sword and never look back.

Even Fulham’s run of good fortune found a way to continue as Kevin McDonald was credited for the first goal after the ball hit off of his backside from a powerful Aleksander Mitrovic header. All that mattered was that McDonald was at the right place at the right time. Some will say that is McDonald doing what he does best: being a presence wherever he is on the pitch and taking initiatives to how the game will be won. But really, he just so happened to be point blank range in the opposition penalty area not knowing where the ball was going to go. But because he is such a tall human being, no one could get in his way from just having any body part touch the ball and pass Bailey Peacock-Farrell towards the back of the net.

The second goal was no where close to a fluke as a terrific save from Marcus Bettinelli lead to a counterattack that was full of direct dribbling and minimal touch passing. While Leeds did have enough men back to possibly prevent a goal from happening, the ball was just moving so crisply that Mitrovic’s cannon of a right foot was the least of their worries. As stated beforehand, it was only a matter of time before Fulham found cracks in Leeds’ midfield and that second goal proved to be the death nail.

Now Fulham will travel to Hillsborough and see if they can put in a much better performance than what they did against the same Sheffield Wednesday team they faced at Craven Cottage close to the beginning of this season. Things have changed dramatically since these teams have last met. As we all know, Fulham’s attack is so much better and much more confident than that fateful Saturday. On the other side, the Owls are a team in complete retooling mode under a new manager.

Gone is Carlos Carvajal after so many seasons of looking like the club had a shot of being promoted to the Premier League. In his place is a Jos Luhukay; a Dutch manager that plied his managerial trade in the Bundesliga with FC Augsburg and Hertha Berlin being his longest tenured stints. It has taken quite a while for Wednesday to start seeing results improve, but it looks like things are finally turning a corner for them after going unbeaten in four games. However, this is without so much trials and tribulations throughout the course of the season.

The club have used 23 players that have played 900 minutes or more of Championship football and different formations have had to be used to have the squad best fit into Luhukay’s systems. But with a 3-5-2 now being the main formation used over recent weeks, Wednesday are finally seeing the results come through. Wins over Preston North End and Leeds United being signs of what the club can truly be as they have outscored opponents 10-4 during the past month. Like all other fixtures, this is another one in which Fulham can not take their eyes off of if they are to maintain their historic run and continue to push towards promotion.

So amidst all the chaos that is Sheffield Wednesday’s season, let’s take a look at three players that have stepped up in recent weeks for them.

Adam Reach

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With the aforementioned turnover of players this season, there has been one constant for this team. This season, Adam Reach has gone on to play 3,535 minutes of league football and has recently surpassed the most league appearances he has ever had in one season during his young career. In fact, Reach has been such a calming presence to the club that the next man up in the league minutes leaderboard for Wednesday has been fullback Morgan Fox with only 2,204. I haven’t even had the chance to bring up where Reach has played on the pitch this campaign, because it has been everywhere.

Whether it is out on the wing or wingback, in the attacking midfield behind the two center forwards or as the more creative central midfielder in the double pivot, Reach has done it all. And with four goals and eight assists, that is a mighty fine tally for a 25-year old that still has plenty of seasons ahead for him. With one year left on his contract, I’ll be fascinated to see which club could pick him up for 2018/19 if he were to decide to leave. After being on so many Premier League promotion pushes with his boyhood club Middlesbrough, can you blame him for wanting bigger and better things?

Lucas Joao

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Up next is a striker that has found a way to return to Wednesday’s good graces after playing for Blackburn on loan the previous campaign. The 25-year old Portuguese International has been in integral part in the clubs resurgence thanks to his seven goals in his last 11 appearances. If this season were to end, Joao still would have scored more goals than he ever has in his six seasons of second tier English football and top flight Portuguese football.

Despite being 6’3”, Joao has also proven to be a great dribbler of the ball that has brought great balance at the front of Luhukay’s formation. Like Reach, Joao has one last year on his contract. Unlike Reach, Joao’s campaign seems more like a one-year blip more so than a continued improvement of his footballing career. As you will see above, Joao’s goal conversion and shots on target ratio have been the categories improving more than his shot rate: a sign of luck being the reason for success more so than talent. Whoever he plays for must know that there will be more questions than answers.

Atdhe Nuhiu

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Lastly, we go from one hulking striker to the next. At 6’6”, Atdhe Nuhiu will surely be nothing short of a neisance in the air and on the ground thanks to his seven goals in the last three games. With just 1,077 league minutes, it hasn’t taken him that long for the Kosovo international to lead the club in aerial duels won with 131. Sprinkle a little bit of mathematics, and you are left with a whopping 10.9 aerial duels won per 90 minutes. For those still recovering from the PTSD of Fulham’s playoff fixtures against Reading, that is basically Yann Kermorgant times two! With Sheffield Wednesday currently sixth in the league in completed long passes with 32.6 per fixture, you will certainly know who will be on the receiving end of such passes.