Considering how Fulham’s season has gone, you probably wished you would never watched this team the rest of the year until further notice. Add in the Kahn’s stopping at nothing to price gouge you out of Craven Cottage, and I don’t blame you. But somehow, the bottom of the Premier League table keeps on teasing us all into thinking a great escape can happen. First comes the boring Brighton side at home tonight followed by a trip to the usually under-achieving Crystal Palace. After another battering to the hands of a resurgent Manchester United comes two away trips to Southampton and West Ham, the latter of which lost horribly to the hands of AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup. Do you believe in any more miracles?
Probably not, and I get you. But hey, if you ever want to keep watching this Fulham side with any tier of enthusiasm, you might as well dab into the criminally insane. But let’s roll launch out some facts here.
Brighton are probably going to include Glenn Murray into the starting XI today, and he’s probably going to look like Diego Costa again out there against the so-called Premier League quality defender known as Tim Ream. Besides that, center back Shane Duffy is the only Seagull to have scored more than two goals in the league this season. In fact, you have to find Jurgen Locadia, a man with just 706 Premier League minutes into his account this season, next in line on expected goals with just 2.70.
You would like to call Brighton a resilient bunch by picking up so many points while scoring so few. After all, they have a win over Manchester United and a draw with Arsenal on their CV. But this is also the same Brighton team that have lost to Cardiff and Burnley. So who on Earth knows which side turns up tonight. If only Matthew Ryan can be a bit jet-lagged after his return from Asian Cup duty for Australia.
Still, this is Fulham we’re talking about. Ryan Babel did come on and delivered some much needed improvements in the side’s attacking third, but it still wasn’t enough to deliver three points against a Tottenham side that now looks mid-table at best without tons of their key players. Fulham have to not only put in a much better 90-minute performance, but Claudio Ranieri has to do a much better job with his halftime adjustments and his substitutions if they are to ever win another game. It was so unbearably obvious the club became a much worse unit when Babel and Jean-Michael Seri were substituted too early and at all, respectively.
On that note though, there is another game to be played. And surely something will be different this time around. Here are three players that will be key if Brighton were to succeed.
First up is a former England Under-21 International that has suddenly become the team’s best threat at scoring or creating goals. To say that this is a coming out party for Solly March is a bit too late to the party as he has been a regular for Brighton since 2014. But with his combined 66 key passes and shots, as well as a club leading five assists, it might as well be something like that to the now 24-year old.
That being said, those 33 shots still translates to just 1.41 of them per 90 minutes; a very low total for someone expected to start every league fixture, let alone one of the most important players on the senior team. In some ways, plenty of that has to do with the negative tactics employed by manager Chris Hughton for a player of his potential caliber. In fact, under Hughton’s 4-5-1 formation, Brighton have only been able to generate 9.1 shots per 90 minutes as a club. No other side have is that poor in creating chances. So if anything, March is like a by-default attacker. After all, when you have a 35-year old as your leading goal scorer and Pascal Groß no longer starting for you week-in week-out, is it any surprise Brighton aren’t that good with the ball at their feet?
Next up is a real proper player in midfield. Puns aside, you’ll always know what this 29-year old Dutchman will bring. If anything, this is exactly what Kevin McDonald was supposed to be when he moved up to the Premier League. Instead, it has been the former PSV Eindhoven that has come in and done a great job in the holding midfield role this season. Propper’s reward has been eight of his 13 senior caps for his country and being a major cause to their qualification into the UEFA Nations League final. It will be interesting to see how far his career will go considering where he is at this stage of his career. But for tonight, he will certainly be among the reasons why it will be a struggle for Fulham to score.
Another reason why it will be hard for Fulham to score is that Brighton probably have the best center back partnership in the bottom half of the Premier League. Shane Duffy was already profiled earlier this season, but to say that Lewis Dunk isn’t far behind is a real understatement. He was personally one of my favorite non-Fulham players back when Brighton were in the Championship and it’s fantastic to see him succeed in England’s top flight. Also, I feel quite vindicated that my #LewisDunkForEngland campaign was quite a success. Dunk’s tackles and interceptions have dwindled now that Brighton have played more of a deep lying counter-attacking system, but his ability to block shots and be a good release valve playing the ball from a back are still there for all to see. That said, I hope Aleksander Mitrovic gives him a torrid time tonight.