It’s been a bit of a strange week for Fulham. Sure, this team is coming off the back of an admirable defeat to Tottenham, but they have seen a few coaches leave the club since. First, Peter Grant has left as senior professional development and PL2 coach. Next, it was Jose Sambade Carreira who resigned as senior goalkeeping coach that may or may not have anything to do with the already controversial scenario of having too many starting goalkeepers battling for the number one position. And this comes off the back of having an up and coming, yet inexperienced Scott Parker replace Stuart Gray as first team coach just before this campaign began. Plenty of this may be much ado about nothing, but this is quite a lot of turnover within a coaching staff that was beginning to build some continuity and is not expecting to see manager Slavisa Jokanovic lose his job anytime soon.
If anything, it has the potential to be a distraction towards today’s fixture that is already being seen as a “six pointer”. If Fulham don’t win at Craven Cottage, this will be seen as the beginning of quite a rough patch and many will wonder how they will be able to get themselves out of it. Burnley may not possess the attacking talent nor is their depth as strong as others to withstand both a Premier League and Europa League season, but this is still an outfit that is in its third consecutive campaign in the top flight. They know who they are as a football club and have maintained the exact same style of play ever since Sean Dyche has managed them.
They are a team that couldn’t care less if they can’t be entertaining. They are here to come into other clubs’ buildings, play that old fashioned 4-4-1-1, and snatch points away from you with frustrating defense and a strong enough counter-attack. That doesn’t mean Fulham aren’t capable of breaking them down. The players will definitely have plenty of possession of the ball. However, the pressure will be on them if they are not clinical in taking their chances. I seriously would like to see Fulham’s wide players constantly attack Burnley’s back line and spell relief for Aleksander Mitrovic, who will be guaranteed to have his hands full all afternoon. If they can do that and if we can see Jean-Michael Seri and Tom Cairney strike a balance in midfield we haven’t completely seen these past two games, Fulham definitely have a strong chance.
However, they will have to get past three of these players in order to collect all three points today.
Last season, Burnley were in need of depth up front to spell relief of Sam Vokes. Instead of finding a more cultured player elsewhere in Europe, the club chose Chris Wood from Championship side Leeds United. It’s not like Wood didn’t deserve a chance in the Premier League. After all, he was coming off the back of a 30-goal season in 2016/17 off of just 2.63 shots per 90 minutes while still being 25 years-old. And while his 11 goals combined for Leeds and Burnley seemed like a massive dropoff, consider that Wood was doing this while only shooting 2.17 shots per 90 minutes but with an astronomically high 23.9% goal conversion rate as a result. Even if that latter statistic looks unsustainable, Wood’s shots-on-target accuracy has dramatically increased over the past three seasons as it ended up climbing to 58.7% in 2017/18.
This campaign, he’s already put two of his first three shots on target. While he hasn’t come close to opening his scoring account just yet, all it takes is one moment of magic for the New Zealand vice-captain to put the ball in the back of the net.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson
If you are ever looking for any form of creativity in this Burnley side, look no further than the Icelandic International. This past season, Gudmundsson led all Burnley players with eight assists and was easily the club leader in key passes with 67. In fact, the closest to Gudmundsson in this category is a tie between Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady with 26. Add in the fact that Gudmundsson also led the club in successful dribbles with 36 and you can see how much he is counted upon to create attacking options for his teammates. Oh, and it makes perfect sense that he’s among their first choice players to take corners. It’s these numbers alone that prove how valuable he is to Burnley. Thus, it is more than critical that Joe Bryan and Ryan Sessegnon is able to prevent Gudmundsson from creating good chances when he is in possession of the ball.
Lastly, we couldn’t ever leave a Burnley preview post without profiling a center back, can’t we? Jack Cork also provides solid defensive cover as well as strong box-to-box play and Ben Mee is no slouch either. But at the end of the day, we had to finish this preview by taking a look at someone who received an England cap not too long ago. Along with that, Fulham are definitely not unfamiliar with what Tarkowski brings to the table as there were rumors of the club signing him from rivals Brentford in the summer of 2015. Instead, the now 25 year-old moved to Burnley in the January transfer window in 2016 for £3.6 million. More than two years have passed and that still looks Burnley robbed Brentford’s bank as Transfermarket lists him as a £13.5 million player.
However, Tarkowski needed Michael Keane to leave for Everton before having his chance to show what he can do in the Premier League. But once he got his starting place alongside Mee, Tarkowski has more than proven to be one of the best defensive center backs in England. After scoring his first goal for Burnley the previous weekend, he has already gotten off to a great start to his 2018/19 season. And with Gary Cahill possibly retiring from International duty, there still could be plenty of chances for Tarkowski to add to his lone England cap he received back in March.