Jack Stroudley looks ahead to our first league game in six weeks – at Selhurst Park.
It feels a little bit like the start of the season again! Just a week ago we were all gearing up for what turned out to be one of the best World Cup finals in history and now we have to psych ourselves up for a trip to Selhurst Park on Boxing Day. Nevertheless, this is a good opportunity for Fulham to restart the season on a high and while it’s difficult to predict how either side are going to approach the game – but someone’s got to do it!
Patrick Vieira will be pleased with how his side has performed this season, sitting pretty in mid-table on the same points as Fulham with a game in hand. Crystal Palace like to play attractive and expansive football with the Eagles having an array of top-quality attacking players. The likes of Wilfred Zaha, Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze can change the game in an instant and Fulham will have to be cautious of this.
While an average position map from two months ago may need to be taken with a slight pinch of salt, it certainly shows that Crystal Palace like to play up the pitch and put pressure on opponents with six players average position being in the opposition half. The three mentioned prior as well as Edouard like to press in packs and make life difficult for teams forcing them to play it long in the hopes one of Andersen or Guehi can collect the ball allowing Palace to recycle play.
With a mention on that defensive partnership, one of them will be missing on Boxing Day, with Marc Guehi picking up a suspension before the World Cup. This is absolutely an area that Fulham can exploit, despite being blessed with a flurry of attacking quality, Palace do lack defensive depth and one of Joel Ward or James Tomkins will slot in to cover for Guehi on Monday.
How do we prepare?
Despite talking about Palace’s problems with squad selection it isn’t exactly plain sailing for Fulham either, with both Aleksandar Mitrovic and Antonee Robinson confirmed as doubts for the game by Marco Silva. Carlos Vinicius is the man who will replace Mitrovic and despite scoring against West Ham in our mid-season friendly last Saturday, I’m still not overly convinced he has the quality to lead the line for a side with aspirations of staying in the Premier League.
Antonee Robinson’s replacement will likely be Tim Ream, who continues to remain a key cog for this Fulham side. Layvin Kurzawa’s absence from that friendly against West Ham meant that Ream had to deputise at left-back and was solid for the majority of the game.
Joao Palhinha should be back, and the names Reed and Pereira most likely pick themselves, alongside Brazilian winger Willian. It’s on the other side where there are question marks. Despite all of us wanting him to be back, I don’t think we’re going to see Manor Solomon in a Fulham shirt just yet, which leaves either Dan James or Harry Wilson to plug in.
I don’t necessarily think either option has set the world alight in a Fulham shirt this season but I think that Dan James is more likely to make an impact in this game. With Crystal Palace’s high line, I think that James’s raw pace could be used effectively when countering at Selhurst Park. He bagged a goal against Manchester United before the break as well, so who knows?
The final verdict
Fulham need to restart the campaign well. After Palace and Southampton we face Leicester, Newcastle, Chelsea and Spurs where points may be hard to come by, so picking some up from the get-go could be absolutely crucial to maintaining our pre World Cup form. While the midfield battle between Palhinha and Cheick Doucoure excites me, both sides aren’t at full strength and with a lack of match sharpness, I think we could be in for a draw.