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Statistical Preview: Fulham vs. Derby County - First Leg

Here. We. Go.

Derby County v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship

Just when you thought Fulham had what it took to pull the impossible and come from as low as 17th in the league all the way up to second by season’s end, they couldn’t get over the hump against a game Birmingham side. And because said opponents were just trying to stave off relegation, that put a bitter pill for us supporters to accept. Now its time for us to rally the troops and get ready for the first of two legs against a Derby County side also looking forward to conquering their own past demons.

While Fulham have never won a playoff fixture in their club’s history, along with never winning at Pride Park since 2001 until this season, Derby County have been among the best football clubs in the Championship over the past six campaigns, but have never been able to make that final step towards Premier League promotion. This will be the third time the Rams have made it to the playoff rounds in those six campaigns, and the previous two occasions have had their fair share of misery. In 2014, they lost by a solitary goal to Queen’s Park Rangers at Wembley and in 2016, they started the first leg of their two-leg semifinal with a 3-0 defeat and weren’t able to overcome the deficit in the second leg against eventual playoff winners Hull City.

So if Fulham were to continue Derby’s woe, maybe a positive omen is ahead for them. Then again, defeating Birmingham last Sunday would be the real positive omen if they ever deserved one. But enough of the sour grapes, let’s take a deeper look between these two clubs.

November 18th Fixture

Teams Goals Expected Goals Possession Formations Total Shots Shots on Target Passes Forward Passes
Teams Goals Expected Goals Possession Formations Total Shots Shots on Target Passes Forward Passes
Fulham 1 1.0 56.8 4-3-3 12 2 513 324
Derby County 1 0.5 43.2 4-2-3-1 5 2 400 208
All data from experimental361.com and fulhamfc.com

March 3rd Fixture

Teams Goals Expected Goals Possession Formations Total Shots Shots on Target Passes Forward Passes
Teams Goals Expected Goals Possession Formations Total Shots Shots on Target Passes Forward Passes
Fulham 2 1.3 57.7 4-3-3 12 4 527 319
Derby County 1 1.5 42.3 4-2-3-1 18 4 374 257
All data from experimental361.com and fulhamfc.com

In the two fixtures this league campaign, the home team was the one able to dictate the tempo by way of forward progression and by way of total shots. While Fulham’s four points collected for the table in these two outings were much better than Derby’s one point, I do expect this playoff tie to be much closer than most people make it out to be. After all, the combined expected goal scoreline was just 2.3-2.2 in favor of Derby County.

In terms of age, personnel, and normal looking data such as this thing called goals, Fulham should have the edge across the board. After all, Fulham just came off of a 23-match unbeaten run While Derby only have nine players with four goal contributions (goals plus assists), Fulham have 13 players that have hit that milestone. While the Cottagers were second to Wolves in attack and joint-sixth in defense based off of goals alone, the Rams were fourth in attack and eighth in defense. Along with that, Fulham

However, it is the shooting that really separates the two clubs. While Fulham were fifth in attack (13.8 per 90 minutes) and seventh in defense (11.4 per 90 minutes), Derby were much worse across the board. With their measly 12.0 shots per 90 minutes in attack, they sat just 16th-best in the Championship, while their typical Gary Rowett-style carried them through the season, but only to an 11th-best 12.6 shots conceded per 90 minutes. And while Fulham roughly rank the same on both sides of the pitch with regards to shots on target, shot quality was an emphasis for Rowett’s system as Derby actually concede a fourth-best 3.24 shots on target per fixture.

All data from experimental361.com

But all in all, it just goes to show that both clubs do have a tendency of overachieving their goal tallies. Since their defeat to Sunderland on December 16th, Fulham have went on to outscore the opposition 52-18! However, the expected scoreline since that same time span was 38.8-22.0. A few Kevin McDonald butt goals and some Mitrovic magic will do that to anyone’s attack, let alone Fulham’s.

But it’s not like Derby are alone in performing the impossible either. Between December 2nd and February 3rd, they went on to outscore opponents 21-7 while picking up nine clean sheets in 12 fixtures. That is despite the fact that their defense was only good enough to be expected to concede 14.7 goals during that span, but it was enough to see them collect 26 points in the table.

All data from experimental361.com

In recent times, however, Derby County have been a completely different club by the way of their tactical systems. Previously, Rowett’s team relied so much on Matej Vydra’s workrate playing behind the center forward in their 4-2-3-1 formation that the rest of their attacking players was beginning to be abandoned completely. With a daunting trio of fixtures Middlesbrough, Cardiff City, and Aston Villa before facing Barnsley to close out the league campaign, Derby County had to get out of a rut that saw them sliding down the table and out of the playoff places. After that magical run that started their winter so well, they went on a rut that had them win only twice their 12 previous fixtures since February 10th, collect just 11 points in the table, get outscored 23-11, and lose to both Burton Albion and Sunderland in the process. Something had to change.

Along came a new 3-4-3 formation that not only saw mostly a Richard Keogh-Curtis Davies-Craig Forsyth back line, but an attacking trio of Andres Wiemann, Tom Lawrence, and newly added Cameron Jerome up front. Despite not having Vydra and his league-leading 23 goals in the Starting XI, Derby’s attack became much more aggressive (56 total shots with 19 of them going on target in four games) thanks to its multi-dimensional approach and the benefits have truly been rewarded. The biggest of accomplishments was a 3-1 win over Cardiff City that saved their season, and that is why we see Derby in the playoffs today. While the 31-year old Jerome is no longer the guaranteed threat he has been in previous Championship campaigns, Lawrence has really come alive under this new system (1 goal, 12 shots, 7 key passes).

The real question will be if Derby’s midfield can be able to handle Fulham’s. While the center of Fulham’s midfield can be cramped by Derby’s numbers, I can’t imagine the likes of Bradley Johnson and Tom Huddlestone being able to run their defensive responsibilities for the full 90 minutes and hold not only Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen, but especially especially Ryan Sessegnon and Floyd Ayite should they come in to support. It will be critical for Fulham to maintain their defensive shape and not have their fullbacks drift too far forward once Derby retrieve the ball. They were able to stave off a team playing a 3-4-3 formation before in league-champions Wolves, but with Fulham being on a small run of poor form, they will have to find a way to regather the magic back into beating Derby and their current tricks.

In short, this playoff tie will be a tight one with Rowett and Slavisa Jokanovic trying to impose their tactics the most. Whoever comes out on top will also be the one with the most confidence and mental fortitude. Let’s hope the team that presents those qualities is Fulham.