The Premier League is finally back and boy are Fulham in for a real test. After showing what they were worth through four fixtures that included an away day back at Wembley versus Tottenham, now the boys will have to travel to the Etihad and take on the defending Premier League Champions. Even with a draw to Wolves and the loss of Kevin De Bruyne due to a knee injury, this Manchester City side is still quite good. They didn’t get to 100 points and score 106 goals because it was just a fluke.
Simply put, Pep Guardiola is the greatest manager of his generation and he has a squad that perfectly fits his system and can be as interchangeable as possible. If anything, new signing Riyad Mahrez or established stalwart Ilkay Gundoghan can come in to replace the reigning player of the season and still be as invincible as ever. According to Understat, City’s 10.49 expected goals scored is not that far from their league leading 11-goal output. Along with that, their 2.9 expected goals conceded is not that far from the three they’ve given up so far. We’re still at a point where sample sizes are just too small to draw to conclusions about City’s chances for repeating as champions. However, they are off to a great start and are simply one-bad day in the office from completely changing the narrative of their season.
As for Fulham, they are in for a world of trouble regardless of whether or not Tom Cairney is playing tomorrow. Even if Raheem Sterling is the latest to be out for City due to injury while playing for England, that basically means a better chance to play more playing time for Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane. The one thing we do know is that Fulham will continue to play in their normal 4-3-3 formation regardless of personnel while City...
Yeah, that might be the one caveat of this fixture for Fulham because Guardiola has already tried everything from a 3-5-2 to a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and a 4-1-3-2. Talent is not an issue at all but City’s lineup was so intact that their starting XI played in a 4-3-3 in all but 683 league minutes last season. Already, they have played 270 minutes outside of their standard system. If anything, there concern is being able to maintain cohesion while missing pieces are on the shelf. Can a Gundoghan-Fernandinho central midfield work in 2018/19? How about Sane coming in as a Delle Alli style midfielder or would he better suited in a three-man attack with Aguero and Jesus? The questions are endless, but that doesn’t mean that they should be scared a Fulham team still trying to figure out who they are when at their best.
While Slavisa Jokanovic’s team is not in sight of relegation just yet, they will have to sort out their defense quickly. Understat currently has them at 8.01 expected goals against, which is lower than Huddersfield and West Ham United. Along with that, only the Hammers are worse in conceding non-cross passes within 20-yards from their own goal than Fulham’s 36 so far this season. They’ve already tried four differeny back four combinations and they would be wise to trot out a fifth because Maxime Le Marchand has no business playing fullback anymore. But until there’s consistent and dependable answers on that side of the pitch, don’t expect this to improve anytime soon, especially when Watford, Everton and Arsenal are next before the next international break.
In the meantime, here are three of the zillions of players that Fulham have to watch out for on Saturday.
It’s quite amazing that a 200-goal scorer for his club is this much of an afterthought in the mainstream football world. But that is what Sergio Aguero has become while being on a team full of stars and with the Premier League constantly churning new and exciting talent every season. If Mo Salah is Drake, Aguero might as well be Bruce Springsteen. Their best years are behind them, but he ain’t dead yet and you absolutely know what you’re going to get out of him every year. Plenty of him being behind the shadow could also be because of his invisible and injury-riddled performances in World Cups, but this man is a legend, regardless of what anyone things. Already with three goals and an assist onto his account, and a xG Chain of 1.08 per 90 minutes that is only topped by Salah among all Premier League players with over 200 minutes played, expect the 30-year old to still be a part of the golden boot race all-season long.
We go from one ageless wonder to the next in a former World Cup winner and 2x European Champion. It was sad to see David Silva not be able to bow out of the Spanish National Team in style, but he has been such a wonderful servant with any side he has played for. His 125 international appearances are sixth all-time for his country and he is one goal shy of his 100th for his entire club career.
If there are any signs of wear-and-tear for the 32-year old, it could be that he hasn’t been committed to the defensive/pressing side of the game this early into the season. However, his assist total should eventually start racking up once one of his trade mark passes leads to a goal for his club. With De Bruyne out and Mahrez getting used to his surroundings, there is no denying how much City still have to depend on Silva for creativity from midfield.
Lastly, we talk about the “find” of the season so far for City in Benjamin Mendy. The term find deserves to be in quotes because we all know what the 24-year old 2018 World Cup winner can deliver (seriously, how many of these guys has so much National Team pedigree?). However, a torn ACL will do that for ya as Mendy had to watch City’s title-winning campaign from the stands. But that didn’t stop City fans from making him a cult-hero with his joyful personality and his love for sharks.
This season, Mendy has returned with a vengeance with four assists already into his account. All he needs is one more helper to tie his career high for any season and that was back in his lone campaign at Monaco. His expected assist total of 1.37 is nowhere near that total, but it still leads all City players and his total xG Buildup of 2.92 (or 0.73 per 90 minutes) is tops of the club as well. It will be fascinating to see if he can maintain this level of form as he has never had an xG Buildup higher than 0.33 per 90 minutes, but he already is showcasing what everyone has been missing of the Frenchman.