After a solid outing against Watford over the weekend, Fulham travel to Millwall in the third round of the Carabao Cup. Many across England will always regard this competition as a waste of everyone’s time and energy. After all, it has been five years since a football club outside of the top six has won the competition (including four of the past 18 years) and almost all of the heavy favorites in each fixture play their second string. It will not be surprising at all if Fulham do the same tonight. That being said, this is an opportunity for silverware in a much more unpredictable environment than in League competition and the winner automatically qualifies for a Europa League spot. Lastly, Fulham have never made it past the quarterfinals in this event, so it will be nice to create some more history, even if it is deemed minuscule by others.
With that said, this trip to the Den should be a good outing. The Lions are a completely different side when we last saw them. The starting XI is almost unchanged since Fulham’s 3-0 victory last season, but you could argue that this is a bad thing in this instance. Neil Harris’ team only have six points in nine fixtures and are sitting in one of the three relegation spots. This comes after surprising many with their eighth place finish.
That being said, their defense was almost a full 15 goals too lucky in defense according to experimental 361 and regression was surely bound to happen. Remember, this is a squad that only retained the ball 43.4% of the time last season and were only able to complete 62.2% of their passes. Along with that, Harris never rotated his squad as just 14 players went on to play over 1,000 Championship. With the loss of George Saville to Middlesbrough, it was predictable that Millwall were in sixes and sevens when it came to finding a replacement for him in house or on the transfer market.
If this team were to turn things around this season, it actually isn’t because of their defense. After all, their current run of 1.32 expected goals per fixture is almost in line with the 1.31 per 90 output they generated last season. If anything, it’s Millwall’s attack that has gone stale. So far, the club has only scored seven goals and have only put up 9.9 expected goals to show for it (or 1.10 expected goals per outing). That is a much worse rate than the 56 actual goals and 1.42 expected goals per fixture they put up last season. To put the cherry on top, no club in the Championship has generated fewer shots on target than Millwall’s 2.6 per game. Until that improves, Millwall look like they’re heading back to League One in a hurry.
With that in mind, there are still a few players that will be expected to start the club’s improvement and would love to do so starting tonight.
So if Millwall are trying to find answers in attack, it will come from the club’s main source from midfield. This season, Wallace is tops among Millwall players with 32 total offensive contributions (combined shots and key passes) and is hitting the prime of his footballing career at 24 years of age. This comes off of the back of a breakout campaign for winger with six goals, nine assists and 145 total offensive contributions in 2017/18. Only Steve Morrison bettered Wallace’s attacking output with 154 total contributions, but the veteran striker is looking more and more of his 35 years of age. If anything, Millwall need to have more players in their mid-20s stepping up and taking charge of the club. Otherwise, the doom and gloom will continue down at the den.
The next person in need of boosting the club’s morale is who is in charge of the center of the park now that Saville is gone. It will now be up to Shaun Williams to take the lead after the former was such a presence as a true box-to-box midfielder. That being said, Williams has the abilties to take more responsibility as his 13 key passes are currently tops among Millwall players. Along with that, his 30 total defensive contributions (combined tackles and interceptions) is also best in the club. That production will come in handy as Harris is still looking for a replacement to Saville as his center midfield partner in the 4-4-2 formation. Among those in contention for that spot is former Fulham player Ryan Tunnicliffe.
Lastly, we get to the backline where we see a surprise contributor to Millwall’s attack. With another ex-Cottager in Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper rounds out the usual center back partnership and profiles as one that is all-defense and no ball-playing skills. That being said, Cooper is joint third in shots (10) and is within reach of the leaderboard in key passes (7). Add in one goal and two assists into account and you have a source of offensive production in a club that is starved for one. Is it realistic to have someone so far back be such a contributor on the attacking side of Millwall’s system? Probably not, but in desperate times, desperate measures are called upon.