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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 25 vs. Crystal Palace

Can Fulham Finally String Some Wins Together?

Southampton FC v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Well that was a fantastic win by Fulham last Tuesday, followed by a very underwhelming transfer window. Still, I don’t think the fans and the supporters should be too down on how they feel about Saturday’s contest over at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace. It’s a return fixture against the same opponents Fulham played against at the beginning of the season and I personally felt like they did about as well as they could for the opening 25-30 minutes. However, Roy Hodgson knew everything about Fulham all the way up to where we’d like to score in the second half and they counter-attacked us to pieces 2-0.

Tomorrow’s contest may be no different, in spite of the fact that Wilfried Zaha will not play due to a red card suspension. That could open the door for new loanee Michi Batshuayi to make his Palace debut, but it is more likely for Jordan Ayew to take his place instead. What we do know is that it does look like any other season for the boys South of the Thames as they’ll be resolute in defense and looking to attack teams when they least suspect them.

It is the lone difference between them and Fulham’s previous opponents, Brighton. While Chris Hughton’s team lacks depth in attackers that know how to finish with consistency and while in peak age, Palace can hurt you in so many different ways. It is why they generate 12.8 shots per contest while Brighton could only muster 9.1.

In defense, in spite of just having the ball 47.2% of the time, they are able to be resolute by giving up just 12.6 shots per contest and an eighth-best 32.5 expected goals in the league. Hodgson loves to play with three attacking players up front, but they’re wide forwards do a solid job supporting their fullbacks and are quite comfortable playing in a reserved 4-5-1 formation.

Which goes back to asking: what Fulham should try to do? They truly were at their best on Tuesday when they were completely on the front foot and not worrying about what happens when they lose the ball. However, that may go against the grain when it comes to how they should play against a Palace team that is so comfortable being attacked in waves on open play and then capitalizing on any mistake. If either the players or Claudio Ranieri can get a system that is not only comfortable for everyone in the squad for tomorrow, but also for the rest of the season, it could go a long way to their chances are for staying up.

On that note, here are three players to watch representing the Selhurst Park faithful.

Andros Townsend

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With Zaha suspended for tomorrow, it will be up to the 27-year old former Tottenham man to get the goals from up front. In spite of so many years of Premier League experience, Andros Townsend has struggled to consistently perform in attack at an elite level. This season in particular, he is averaging just 1.65 shots per 90 minutes with just a 30.8% of them going on target. Add in a career 5.8% goal conversion rate, and you wonder why it is such a struggle for him to get over four goals in a Premier League season.

Townsend’s hit that mark already, but his shot rate has struggled to go over two per contest since 2015/16 and his current goal conversion rate is almost double his normal rate at 10.3%. Either he has to improve his game or his luck has to continue to stay abnormally hot. At the prime of his career, you wonder if the 13 times capped England International has any ability left for him to improve.

Luka Milivojevic

All data from whoscored.com

Welp, since Mr. Townsend only has four goals and the suspended Zaha surprisingly has three, somebody has to do much better in contributing to Crystal Palace’s wins. Fortunately, there is one midfielder that is doing, but he’s also contributing defensively on account of the fact that he’s, oh I don’t know, PLAYING THE HOLDING ROLE! How Roy Hodgson can you get when Luka Milivojevic just so happens to be their most consistent attacking outlet. Not only has he contributed six goals this season, but the 30-capped Serbian International also recorded ten tallies in 2017/18. That is 0.27 goals per 90 minutes during that span; good enough for even some of the more league average attackers in any given season.

Along with contributing up front, Milivojevic is also holding his defensive responsibilities by being third among key Palace players (only counting those that have played one-fourth of the club’s total EPL minutes played) in tackle rate and second in interception rate. Lastly, only Max Meyer better’s his 0.17 xG Buildup and plays such a prominent role in Hodgson’s thin rotation. If there’s anything going on in open play, almost certainly will Milivojevic be involved.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

All data from whoscored.com

Lastly, we take a look at one of the finds of the season. At 21 years old, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has already become one of the best defensive fullbacks in the Premier League and it could be a matter of time before he garners national team recognition. Right away, he has lead all key Palace players in tackles and interceptions and knows how to bomb forward when he needs to.

Let’s not forget that it was his dribble past Ryan Sessegnon and his pass that set up Palace’s second goal against Fulham that was converted by Zaha. From here the England Under-21 International’s stock has continued to rise as his performances have become more consistent. Despite representing the country of his birth, he is also of Congolese descent and has played for that country’s Under-20 team once. Thus, it is still up for debade between which National team he will play for. He will have to deal with Kyle Walker and fellow up-and-comers Ben Chilwell and Trent Alexander-Arnold to get any game time for England at his right back position, so Under-21 appearances would be best for him at the moment. Or would he go the way of Zaha, Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses and play for his ancestral country so that he can get more playing time? If anything else, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a talent that can’t be ignored and he’ll surely see his reputation grow for the years to come.