Jack Stroudley looks ahead to our final match of 2022 as we look to end a stellar year on a high.
It’s safe to say Fulham are well and truly back. A dominant 3-0 victory at Selhurst Park on Boxing Day helped cement our place in the top half and alleviated concerns that fans may have had coming back into this bizarre Premier League campaign. Next up we face a struggling Southampton side who have won one of their last 11 league fixtures.
Despite Nathan Jones having a full World Cup to get to grips with his squad, the Saints couldn’t have had a worse opening game losing 3-1 at home on Boxing Day. On paper this is probably the first time this season that Fulham are expected to win by the vast majority – but are we in danger of underestimating the Premier League’s bottom club?
It’s difficult to gauge how Nathan Jones will line Southampton up given that he has only been in charge for two games. But so far he’s tried to overload the left-hand channel to put pressure on the opposition right-back (in our case, Kenny Tete). Southampton have struggled for possession in their two games under Nathan Jones, having 33% and 40% of the ball in those respective matches, this does have to be taken with a pinch of salt as they did face two possession-heavy sides in Brighton and Liverpool.
It’s been a transitional season for Southampton with a lot of younger players coming through the door. This was apparent on Boxing Day with their starting XI averaging an age of 24.8 against Brighton, compared to our 29.1 average age against Crystal Palace. This team need time to gel and unfortunately for them, they are being punished for it. Despite all of this, the performances don’t necessarily correlate the points total they have.
In front of goal, they are nowhere near as clinical as their xG suggests, scoring 15 goals despite having the chances to have scored 19. Che Adams has helped with the bulk of those goals scoring eight so far this season, but he isn’t supported by the remainder of his side with midfielder James Ward Prowse and defender Romain Perraud both getting on the scoresheet more than once. Joe Aribo has also scored twice this season but other attackers like Djenepo and Elyounoussi have struggled so far this campaign.
It’s the same story in defence, where despite conceding 30 this season they are only expected to have conceded 25 so far. The main reason for this so far is young keeper Gavin Bazunu who is statistically in the bottom 1% of keepers in Europe. Difficulties in both boxes have led to Southampton’s downfall who are currently sitting in 20th despite being 15th in the xG table.
How do we prepare?
I’ll keep this short and sweet; we keep it exactly the same as Crystal Palace. Barring any fresh injury concerns we are unaware of, there is no need to make any changes to the starting eleven from Boxing Day. The only potential players who could be brought in for rotation are Tosin or Harry Wilson, but I can’t see Marco Silva dropping any of Issa Diop, Tim Ream, Bobby Decordova-Reid or Willian who all performed excellently at Selhurst Park.
The final verdict
This is an extremely unusual position for Fulham; being the clear favourites in a Premier League game is a bit of an alien concept – but we have warranted it. Our performances this season have been sensational and barring any silly mistakes, I am confident we will approach Southampton in the same vein as Crystal Palace and come away with a similar result.