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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 31 vs. Liverpool

Fulham Will Look to Compete Against the First of Two Straight Premier League Contenders.

Liverpool FC v Burnley FC - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

For every step forward, Fulham have just always found a way to take a good two, maybe even five steps back this Premier League season. Even under the guidance under Scott Parker, they just can’t help but put themselves in the wrong foot with regards to their play. It’s as if both Ryan Sessegnon and Tim Ream have to be removed from the Craven Cottage for the sake of maintaining whatever is left of their self-confidence at this level. With Floyd Ayite scoring, it will be quite difficult not seeing how he would get his first start for Fulham today. It’s just a darn shame it’ll be against the first of two straight Premier League title contenders that the 30-year old will be up against.

Liverpool just came off a famous victory at Bayern Munich to advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but there is no way they will take their foot off the gas for this contest. They have a 29-year League title drought to end and they can only do so by outperforming Manchester City these last eight fixtures. It can be done, but Manchester City are so good as well. In Mo Salah and Virgil Van Dijk, they probably have to of the best players in their respective positions in the world. The rest have either been up-and-coming stars, further world class talent in goal and midfielders that can out-run anyone on any given day.

Now that Jurgen Klopp has been in charge of Liverpool since 2015, you almost know what’s coming from them. They’ll press hard up the pitch. Their front three are the most dangerous in club football when they work in concert and are as efficient in getting behind defenses. Lastly, their fullbacks will join in on the attack better than any side in England. The lone difference in recent seasons is that their center backs and goalkeeping are elite now. In almost every category, Manchester City is the lone team that can compete head-to-head with them.

The only criticism I have always had with this Liverpool side, is that they are one creative player from midfield away from being unstoppable. However, that addition to the team could go against all of Klopp’s tactics and what he wants out of his team. Regardless, Fulham are probably going to lose. Let’s just hope we don’t ship goals by the boat load again. On that note, here are three additional players to watch at Craven Cottage.

Sadio Mané

All data from whoscored.com

Yeah, Sadio Mané is good. I mean, really really good. If he’s not one of the five best attacking players in the Premier League, I find it quite difficult to figure out many more that are better than him. At age 26, it’s quite evident that his goal-scoring matches where he is at his stage of his career: which is his absolute prime. At 16 goals in just 67 shots in the Premier League, Mané has hit career highs with his scoring and his efficiency this season.

His 23.9% conversion rate and 12.07 expected goals indicate that he is due for some regression to the mean, but having a 49.3% shot-on-target ratio will do the trick as well. One thing to watch throughout the rest of Mané’s career is that his dribbling is hitting a career low for a second straight season (just 1.61 per 90 minutes). However, that may also have to do with the shared responsibility of moving the ball towards goal with Mo Salah more than just a decrease in athleticism. You don’t round Manuel Neuer and be graded as “losing a step” overnight.

Fabinho

All data from whoscored.com

Next up has been an underrated talent that has now become a mainstay in Liverpool’s starting XI. Fabinho took some time to bed in, but now that Jordan Henderson has been phased out, the former Monaco man has taken his spot on the team with two hands and may be keeping it for the foreseeable future. Add in Georgino Wijnaldum’s decline in his production and Naby Keita’s lack of instant impact and Fabinho’s season has been magnified much greater. Only James Milner provides the same well-rounded play that the Brazilian International has for his club from midfield. It has taken some time to get the recognition he’s deserved, but now as he’s gotten more starts from Klopp, his impact has been felt more and more with each performance.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

All data from whoscored.com

Lastly, it is an absolute pain to figure out who England’s starting right back is at the moment. It could be Kyle Walker. It could be Kieran Trippier if you only put him in a position to David Beckham his way through 90 minutes. Or, it could be my choice in Trent Alexander-Arnold. Playing with such great talent around him definitely helps boost his stock alone, but you will struggle to find many that will rack up one goal, six assists and a 26.7% successful cross ratio in just his age-20 season. Bluntly, Walker hasn’t delivered the same stats as he did a season ago and Trippier has been criticized with his poor defensive play. If the academy graduate can continue to improve, I seriously have no idea how far he’ll go because the glass ceiling might as well be broken then. He’s been that good for Liverpool. Add in Andrew Robertson’s eight assists coming from the other flank, and you just have no idea how many eggs you’re supposed to put in that one defensive basket.