2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)

Match by match, Unai Emery is winning the Gooners over.

Arsenal look to make it six wins on the spin in league play and nine on the trot overall in a London derby at Craven Cottage on Sunday versus Fulham.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

After two underwhelming seasons at Paris-St. Germain – in the context of the French club’s outsize ambitions – Arsenal supporters were not exactly bowled over when Emery was picked as the man to succeed Arsene Wenger. At the same time, a good portion of the fan base were willing to have anyone replace Wenger as Arsenal (5-0-2) had slipped from Premier League title contenders to a second tier outside the top four.

Emery’s welcome to the Premier League could not have been any more difficult, starting the season with losses to reigning champions Manchester City and London rivals Chelsea. But the Gunners have been perfect since, adjusting to Emery’s 4-2-3-1 formation and relying on a high-powered offence to help overcome the teething pains of an unsteady back four.

That defence, though, has tightened of late with three clean sheets in their last four matches across all competitions following a 3-0 victory at Azerbaijan side Qarabag FK on Thursday. Defender Sokratis marked his return after a two-match absence due to injury with a goal in the sixth minute before teenagers Emile Smith-Rowe and Matteo Guendouzi added second-half tallies.

The scoreline, though, was flattering to a degree as Emery tinkered with a largely second-choice squad. He played three at the back in the first half before introducing Lucas Torreira at the restart and dropping Stephan Lichtsteiner back into a proper four. Mesut Ozil and Alexander Lacazette made late cameos, with Lacazette assisting on Guendouzi’s goal, and Emery thought his team still has room to improve.

“Each match for us is not easy,” said Emery, whose side traveled 4,000 kilometres back to London almost immediately after the victory. “Their mobility, their quality in above all the first half, I think we suffered in the match. But I want to suffer. I want to not find easy matches, like today. Then, in our moments, to show you and show them our possibilities, our quality and our organised moments. I think in the 90 minutes today, the team worked very well.”

Arsenal left behind three players in London – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – due to various reasons, and it seems likely at least Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan will return to the starting XI. Ramsey is waiting for his wife to deliver twins and could be a match-time decision.

At the same time, Emery has enough flexibility that he can move Ozil into the central playmaker’s role for Ramsey and slide Mkhitaryan from the bench to the right wing. Emery could also start Alex Iwobi, who continues to make his case to be in the first XI after assisting on Smith-Rowe’s goal and continuing his strong play over the past month.

“For us, each match is very important to show us and for them to take responsibility, take confidence and take rhythm,” Emery said without tipping his potential lineup. “I am very happy with how they are responding on the pitch. Alex Iwobi is another player who is the same. When we arrive on the match at Sunday against Fulham, it’s also very important that we decide the best first eleven and the players on the bench for continuing together in this way, away at a very good and difficult team like Fulham.”

The Cottagers (1-2-4) are learning the hard way that money does not always buy victories as the £100 million they spent on a fresh influx of players after earning promotion has yet to produce a cohesive side in the top flight. Some of that is due to the injuries along the back line, with the latest casualties Timothy Fosu-Mensah after the Manchester United loanee separated his shoulder eight minutes into Fulham’s 3-0 defeat to Everton last weekend and Joe Bryan.

Fulham have taken just two points from their last four league matches around a pair of Carabao Cup victories, and Whites boss Slavisa Jokanovic is viewing three points at home as imperative to kick on this season and avoid getting sucked into a relegation scrap.

“This is our home, we must start to mark our territory and push hard to hurt the opposition team,” he said at his Thursday news conference, aware the game is a sellout. “In this competition, you must make yourself strong at home. I’ve been here two-and-a-half years and we always find support from our stands. We always find a positive ambience in Craven Cottage.

“I am sure our fans are going to give everything to push us in a positive and right direction, fighting for the victories. But the solution is in our hands. We definitely need to encourage them.”

Between lack of quality and injuries, Jokanovic has been pressed into using nine defenders in league play, with regular centre back Tim Ream the latest to enter the fray in making his season debut after being sidelined due to injury. Fosu-Mensah’s absence likely creates an opening for Cyrus Christie at right back after he entered the game against Everton as Fulham try to record their first clean sheet in league play. Versatile Ryan Sessegnon is expected to drop down to left back after playing recent matches wide in the midfield.

In attack, Aleksander Mitrovic looks to add to his team-high five-goal haul. Three of them have come at Craven Cottage, and the Serbia international has 17 goals in 27 league appearances for the Whites since his move from Newcastle United last January.

Arsenal did the double over Fulham the last time the Cottagers were in the Premier League in the 2013-14 season. The Whites have just three wins in 26 matches (3-5-18) versus the Gunners in the Premier League era, but all three have come at Craven Cottage, and the most recent one came in 2012.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are strong favourites to run off their ninth consecutive victory, entering the match with 4/6 odds to return back to north London with three points. Oddsmakers think highly enough of the Gunners to offer better odds on a draw (16/5) than a Whites victory (18/5).

Arsenal are 23/20 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored in the match, with a 1-0 or 2-0 victory getting 24/5 odds. The odds of the teams splitting the points after playing 90 minutes 0-0 or 1-1 are 11/2, while Fulham have 5/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals. Oddsmakers are offering 8/1 on a high-scoring draw, while a low-scoring Cottagers victory is the longshot of the bunch at 12/1.

Gunners forwards Lacazette and Aubameyang are joint-favourites to score the first goal of the match at 7/2, with Danny Welbeck a surprising third at 5/1, just ahead of Mitrovic (6/1). Mkhitaryan is also getting action at 6/1, with Ramsey 13/2 despite his uncertain status. Andre Schurrle is Fulham’s second-best choice at 15/2, nudging out Ozil at 8/1.

Aubameyang and Lacazette are even money to score during the match, with Welbeck crowding in at 11/8. Mkhitaryan is also a strong Gunners option at 7/4, while Mitrovic would provide a 17/10 return beating Leno. Schurrle (21/10) and Luciano Vietto (3/1) are Fulham’s other top options.

PREDICTION

These teams are trending in opposite directions, and it is a bit of a dangerous match for Fulham. Things have not gone according to plan for Jokanovic, and much of his press conference centered around confidence, or the lack of it from his team at the moment. The Cottagers have struggled defensively following their promotion, and while Jokanovic took pains to stay true to Fulham’s identity as a side that would play positive football, the tinkering he did in last week’s loss to Everton may have unwittingly done more damage.

If there is a silver lining, it may be a plus to return Sessegnon to left back, where he excelled last season in the Championship bombing forward. How often he pushes up will depend on how well Arsenal hold possession, but a young player going back to where he enjoyed success is something Fulham need as the revolving door on defence continues due to injury.

It would not be surprising to see Ramsey dropped from the match all together as his wife prepares to give birth, though it also would not be surprising to see him on the bench. That Emery has options for either contingency with both he and Ozil relatively well-rested as the former Germany international played just 25 minutes at Qarabag is a huge positive going forward, and it would be interesting to see Ozil back in the middle of the park pulling strings.

Leno gets the chance to follow up a strong outing in his first proper Premier League start after making quality saves in the win over Watford. How he interacts with his back four — notably Sokratis and Mustafi — will be something to watch, as well as his distribution given that was the 1A reason Arsenal paid £19 million to Bayer Leverkusen for his services.

Arsenal’s form is currently too good to see them leave Craven Cottage with anything less than one point and more likely, all three. But it would surprise no one to see Mitrovic put one past Leno in order to make the Gunners work for their result and an extension of their winning streak heading into the international break.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Fulham 1, ARSENAL 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)
Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)
Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Manchester City (3-1-0) vs. Fulham (1-1-2)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

As group play in the Champions League beckons, Pep Guardiola and reigning champions Manchester City come out of the international break looking to finalise their rotations for league and continental play starting with Saturday’s match versus Fulham at the Etihad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

City (3-1-0) were given a fairly easy draw to begin their bid for European glory, which starts Wednesday at home versus French side Lyon. In domestic play, the reigning Premier League champions enter the fifth match day in fourth place – two points off the 100 percent pace set by Liverpool, resurgent Chelsea and upstart Watford – but save injured star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, everyone is healthy as the chase resumes.

“I’m not sure if this is the best start of a season for me, but it’s the best I’ve felt in years,” said striker Sergio Aguero, who underwent knee surgery late last season, to the club’s official website. “It shows in my game. The challenge now is keeping up this level, and I’ll be working nonstop to maintain it.”

Aguero, already City’s all-time leading scorer with 204 goals, followed up his brace in the Community Shield win over Chelsea by scoring three goals in the team’s first four league matches. The Argentina international enjoyed plenty of success when Fulham were in the top flight previously, totaling four goals and one assist in four matches from 2011-13.

“Here’s hoping my good run continues against them – but I remember them all being tough matches,” Aguero noted. “They impressed me last season and went on a long unbeaten run and have started this season well. We’ll keep focused, we’ll stay true to our game, and we’ll aim for the win as we always do.”

Aguero and Gabriel Jesus will likely lead the line for City considering they have been on the field together for seven of the team’s 11 goals. The team’s Brasilian contingent of players – Jesus, keeper Ederson, out-of-favour holding midfielder Fernandinho and fullback Danilo – were all left off the national team’s roster for friendlies against the United States and El Salvador and should be fully rested.

Danilo has yet to feature for City this season after being sidelined with a foot injury in training with the Selecao ahead of the World Cup. He has been practising with the first team this week, giving Guardiola depth behind Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker on either flank.

Raheem Sterling is in contention to start after his early withdrawal from the England national team during the break due to a back injury. Sterling, who has two goals in three matches for City, pulled out of the matches against Spain and Switzerland as a precautionary measure.

Fulham (1-1-2) are one of three teams on four points, trailing Southampton on goal difference for 12th place. The Cottagers are unbeaten in their last three matches across all competitions but threw away a two-goal lead before the international break as they were pegged back in a 2-2 draw at Brighton and Hove Albion.

The Cottagers had five players on international duty during the break, with central striker Aleksander Mitrovic continuing his blistering form with a brace for Serbia in their 2-2 draw against Romania in UEFA Nations League play Monday night.

Mitrovic shares the Premier League scoring lead with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane on four goals, bagging all of them in Fulham’s last three league contests. Since his arrival on loan from Newcastle in January to help the Cottagers win promotion – a deal made permanent ahead of this term – Mitrovic has 16 goals in 22 league matches.

At the other end of the pitch, keeper Marcus Bettinelli appears to have claimed Fulham’s No. 1 shirt and is coming off his first international call-up with England. Bettinelli missed the start of the season due to injury, and while he has allowed four goals in his two starts, Fulham have claimed four points.

Coach Slavisa Jokanovic had the team train in Spain during the international break, and the biggest takeaway is he appears to have settled on a back four. Summer signings Alfie Mawson and Maxime Le Marchand are expected to be the pairing in central defence, with Joe Bryan at left back and Timothy Fosu-Mensah on the right as Fulham look to tighten up a leaky defence that shipped nine goals in league play.

While Mitrovic has been enjoying a purple patch, the same cannot be said of Ryan Sessegnon, who has had trouble adjusting to the Premier League after exceling in the Championship. The 18-year-old played for England’s Under-21 side during the international break, and there is talk Fulham are set to give him a new contract to fend off bigger teams – most notably Tottenham Hotspur – from poaching him.

City have won five on the trot over Fulham – all in league play – and are unbeaten in 11 (8-3-0) across all competitions since a 3-1 loss at home April 12, 2009. Fulham have been outscored 16-3 in those five most recent defeats, including 10-0 in their last three trips to the Eithad.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are heavy 1/8 favourites, while Fulham have 25/1 odds of pulling off a shock scoreline to grab all three points. A draw also has substantially long odds at 8/1.

Oddsmakers are also expecting the Citizens to rack up goals as there are 4/11 odds for a win by the hosts with more than 2.5 goals. There are 17/4 odds on a City win of either 1-0 or 2-0, while the next-shortest odds are a draw under 2.5 goals at 12/1.

Befitting his track record against Fulham, Aguero is the odds-on favourite to score the first goal of the match at 9/4, with Jesus 16/5 and Sterling at 9/2. All told, there are nine City players thought to be more likely to make it 1-0 for the hosts than Mitrovic, the top Fulham option at 11/1.

Aguero and Jesus are better than even-money odds to score in this game at 4/11 and 4/6, respectively. Despite the fact City have not posted a clean sheet in their last three league matches, Mitrovic getting 13/5 any-time goal-scoring odds feels like a play to take advantage of.

PREDICTION

Though he may not admit it publicly, there may be a tiny part of Guardiola happy he is riding just behind Liverpool (and to a lesser extent, Chelsea and Watford) at the moment. That allows City to fly just under the radar — as much as reigning Premier League champions conceivably could — and be the ones who apply the pressure.

This is a match tailor-made for them since Fulham will stay true to their identity playing their 4-3-3 and getting after it. The Cottagers can take solace in knowing fellow new boys Wolverhampton nicked a point off the champs, however it is a much different proposition getting said point at the Etihad.

It would not be surprising to see Sterling held out ahead of the Champions League opener or make a late runout if the match is well in hand. It also is why Kompany is listed over Stones for this match to keep the England international fresh for their midweek match versus Lyon.

Fulham’s midfield pairing of Seri and Anguissa are going to have to do yeoman’s work to keep the Cottagers competitive. Jankovic may have found his back four while in Spain during the international break, but the rubber will meet the road quickly in determining this to be true.

Predicted Final Score: MANCHESTER CITY 3, Fulham 1

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Watford vs. Manchester United
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 3 Preview — Fulham (0-0-2) vs. Burnley (0-1-1)

Burnley are in danger of having their Europa League adventure come to an early end in addition to enduring a slow start domestically as they look to get on track Sunday at Craven Cottage versus Fulham.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Clarets (0-1-1) have a challenging task next week at Turf Moor, where they will attempt to overturn a two-goal deficit to reach the group stages of the Europa League after suffering a 3-1 loss at Olympiakos in the first leg of the final qualifying round Thursday.

Chris Wood secured an important away goal from the spot just after the half-hour, but the Greek side scored twice in an 11-minute span of the second half. Burnley manager Sean Dyche was seething after a controversial handball on Ben Gibson resulted in both a penalty for the hosts and the defender’s second yellow card, leaving the Clarets with 10 men for the final half-hour.

“All I keep getting told is respect the referees and about conduct and the scenes I saw at half time around the referee were interesting, from all and sundry,” the gaffer said post-match. “Then things get changed in the second half and you are left scratching your head. Ben gets booked early doors and within a millisecond Kevin (Long) gets booked in the same incident.

“Then, miraculously, it seems to me, one of our players is sent off when he goes to block the ball. I’ve seen it and it hits Ben’s hip first and his hand second and that’s deemed a professional hand ball and he’s sent off. I’ve just seen it back on DVD, but hey ho, you live and learn.”

Gibson is ineligible for next week’s second leg but can play in this match. The loss continued a troubling trend for Burnley in which they started the second half flat. It was the second straight contest they conceded two goals in the first 15 minutes after halftime, something that contributed to their 3-1 loss to Watford at home last Sunday.

Keeper Tom Heaton, seeing his first action of the season after getting the nod over Joe Hart, likely did not do enough to stay between the sticks for this contest. The two will continue to vie for the No. 1 shirt as starter Nick Pope remains sidelined with a shoulder injury suffered in the first leg of the first-round Europa League tie versus Aberdeen.

Dyche also held out some regulars from domestic play. Defender Ben Mee did not make the trip while right back Matt Lowton and central midfielder Ashley Westwood stayed on the bench. Summer signing and striker Matej Vydra was included in the 18 for the first time but also did not see any action.

Fulham (0-0-2) are still looking for their first top-flight win since defeating Norwich City on April 12, 2014, before being relegated. The Cottagers were outclassed by Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 at Wembley on Aug. 18, with Kieran Trippier’s goal on a free kick in the 74th minute snapping a deadlock and Harry Kane adding the insurance marker three minutes later for Spurs.

Aleksander Mitrovic had pulled Fulham level seven minutes after the re-start with a header from close range. The goal capped a sweeping 27-pass movement that showed what Slavisa Jokanovic’s team can be all about going forward, but the defence has yet to fully adjust to the faster tempo and higher quality of life in the Premier League.

“These two games were good tests,” summer signing and midfielder Jean Michael Seri told the club’s official website. “In the second game there were many positives to take, of course there are areas to work on also, but I think there are good elements for us all to build on, and I am not worried at all.”

Fulham’s back line could finally be at full strength as centre back Tim Ream is expected to be available for selection after missing the first two matches with a thigh injury. That could help lessen the burden on Fabri, who has recorded a Premier League-high 16 saves through the Whites’ first two matches.

The 16 saves also highlight the fact opponents are finding open spaces and shooting lanes — 20 of the 36 shots Fulham have conceded have been on target.

If there is one area where the Cottagers need a quick fix, it is seeing the first half through to the whistle. They have allowed goals in the final five minutes before halftime in each of their first two matches.

“I can be encouraged by certain things, but it is clear we need to improve during different parts of the game,” Jokanovic noted. “We were in trouble in the first 45 minutes. We had one great chance, but we didn’t finish it, and then they scored a goal at a bad moment for us.”

This is the first Premier League meeting between the teams since Fulham routed Burnley 3-0 at Craven Cottage on Feb. 9, 2010. The Clarets, however, did the double in the Championship in 2015-16 en route to winning promotion and are 5-2-1 in the last eight across all competitions.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Fulham are favourites to break through for their first win of the season at 19/20 odds, while Burnley are 3/1 underdogs. The teams splitting the points barely sneaks in between them at 9/4.

The expected result of a 1-1 draw is a slight favourite at 14/5 odds, closely trailed by a Fulham victory and under 2.5 goals (29/10). Punters who think Burnley can scrape out a win while staying under 2.5 goals can get 6/1 odds.

For first goal-scorers, Mitrovic leads the line at 7/2, followed by Burnley’s Wood at 9/2. Fulham sport the next two options as Kamara and Luciano Vietto are 11/2 odds, just ahead of Ashley Barnes at 6/1. Mitrovic has 7/5 odds to score his 14th goal in 20 matches with the Whites, and Wood is a 17/10 any-time scorer for the Clarets.

Lurking in the back of the pack is Sessegnon with 13/2 odds to make it 1-0 and 12/5 odds as an anytime goal-scorer.

PREDICTION

There is going to be an edge to this game as neither team wants to be winless after three league matches, more so for Fulham as they have mid-week duties in the Carabao Cup. Burnley also need to right themselves quickly or will be facing a fourth loss on the spin as they try to overturn that 1-3 deficit against Olympiakos to get to the Europa League group stages.

Both teams have problem spots — Fulham tend to shut off before halftime and Burnley do not seem to come out of the blocks well after it. The Clarets also play a similar well-drilled defensive style that compares to Crystal Palace, and Fulham did not fare all that well breaking down the Eagles.

While Dyche has said all the right things after Burnley’s two losses, it is also clear he feels aggrieved by the officiating in both matches. That’s his right, but it also serves as cover for an offence that had only one shot on target in Greece — Wood’s successful penalty — and put only three on frame against Watford. That has to improve.

Fulham have had their adjustment period to life in the Premier League, and the biggest thing they need to do is to extend moments of positive play to minutes and then extend those minutes to stretches. It happened in pockets against Tottenham, and while it is believable there may be a few more instances versus Burnley, a gritty draw seems the most likely outcome at Craven Cottage.

Predicted Final Score: Fulham 1, Burnley 1.

Other Match Day 3 previews:

Wolverhampton (0-1-1) vs. Manchester City (2-0-0)
Arsenal (0-0-2) vs. West Ham United (0-0-2)
Newcastle United (0-1-1) vs. Chelsea (2-0-0)
Manchester United (1-0-1) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview — Fulham (0-0-0) vs. Crystal Palace (0-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Back in the Premier League for the first time in five years, Fulham hope they have spent enough to not be a one-season wonder as they open play at Craven Cottage in a London derby against Crystal Palace on Saturday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

It has been a three-year process to get here for the Cottagers (25-13-8 in 2017-18 Championship), whose fortunes turned after hiring Slavisa Jokanovic to avoid relegation to League One in 2015-16. Fulham finished sixth in 2016-17 and then third this past season. After edging Derby County in a two-legged tie to reach the playoff final, Fulham earned their Premier League spot with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium on a goal by Tom Cairney.

With the deep pockets of owner Shahid Khan – who already owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and is bidding to buy Wembley Stadium – Fulham have made the financial commitment to remain in the Premier League by spending approximately £100 million in transfers.

Their biggest offseason signing was acquiring striker Aleksander Mitrovic from Newcastle United for a reported £22 million – at the time a record for Fulham – after the Serbia international was a driving force in their run to promotion by scoring 12 goals in 17 matches after arriving on loan in January.

“We have obviously talked to Mitro since last season and he always wanted to come back here,” midfielder Stefan Johnson told Fulham’s official website regarding Mitrovic. “He knows the head coach well, he knows the players around him and he knows the club, so it’s a good match for him and for us obviously so I’m sure he will do big things.”

The Cottagers then broke that spending record right before the close of the window Thursday, agreeing on a reported £30 million transfer for Marseille midfielder and Cameroon international Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa. That further strengthens Fulham’s side as they had previously added central midfielder Jean Michael Seri from Nice and centre back Alfie Mawson from relegated Swansea City in deals believed to total £33 million.

The Cottagers also poached Bristol City left back Joe Bryan, who had undergone a physical to make a lateral move to Aston Villa in the Championship. Goalkeeper Sergio Rico, defender Calum Chambers and winger Andre Schurrle also are on Fulham via loans from Sevilla, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund, respectively, and striker Luciano Vietto was a late loan arrival from Atletico Madrid.

Rico is expected to start the season deputising behind Fabri, who signed from Turkish side Besiktas and is the No. 1 since Marcus Bettinelli has been sidelined all preseason due to injury. Schurrle makes his return to the Premier League after scoring 11 goals in 44 league matches for Chelsea from 2013-15.

Behind Mitrovic up front, Fulham have one of England’s top young players in 18-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, who moves up to the wing in their 4-3-3 formation after playing left back last season and scoring a team-high 16 goals in all competitions to win EFL Player of the Year honours. Cairney is the team’s primary playmaker, having totaled 21 assists in all competitions in the last three seasons.

Thirteen kilometres to the southeast, Crystal Palace (11-11-16 in 2017-18 Premier League) are out to avoid a second straight disastrous start that would have relegated most teams. The Eagles set a dubious standard last term by becoming the first side in 129 years of English football to lose their first seven matches while failing to score in any of them.

They sacked Ronald de Boer after the first four defeats and called on Roy Hodgson to rescue his boyhood team. The former England manager did that and more, missing out on a top-half finish behind Newcastle United on goal difference as a return to a four-man back and simpler playing style proved more conducive to success.

For his efforts, the 71-year-old Hodgson was rewarded with a one-year contract extension through the 2019-20 season. This will be his 43rd season on the touchline overall as Palace seek a seventh straight season in the top flight starting with Saturday’s contest.

Repeating last season’s success, however, could prove challenging. Midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek is no longer with the side as the England international’s loan from Chelsea ended. Palace stayed true to their word they would not sell winger Wilfried Zaha, cognizant of the fact they lost all 10 league matches he did not play last term.

Luka Milivojevic, who led Palace with 10 goals last season – seven from the penalty spot – is the creative force of the midfield and will look for help from Zaha and Andros Townsend on the wings. Christian Benteke leads the line, looking to rebound from a dismal season in which he scored three goals in league play after bagging 15 in 2016-17.

“We have a lot of abilities through our team with a lot of players able to score, whether it be from free kicks or headers,” Benteke told his team’s official website. “(The season opener) is going to be big for both teams, they will be looking to show their fans that they are back and will be looking to win the game but we will also be going there looking to get maximum points.”

Palace’s two notable summer signings – defensive midfielder Cheikou Kouyate from West Ham United and Max Meyer from German side Schalke04 – will likely be available as reserves for Hodgson. The Eagles added striker Jordan Ayew on loan from relegated Swansea City ahead of the transfer deadline.

Fulham are 2-1-1 in Premier League matches versus Palace, taking four points in the most recent meetings in 2013-14. The Cottagers lead the all-time series 17-11, and there have been 15 draws.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Fulham are slight favourites at 29/20 odds, while Crystal Palace check in at 9/5. There are 9/4 odds on the teams splitting the points.

A potential parlay could be to play both teams scoring with a Fulham victory at 15/4 odds plus the over of 2.5 goals at 3/1 odds.

Mitrovic getting first goal-scorer odds at 4/1 feels like a fair play considering his 7/5 any-time odds, while new Fulham signing Vietto jumped into joint-second for first-goal honours at 11/2 with Zaha. At 2/1, Zaha also ranks ahead of Benteke (9/4) as Palace’s top any-time goal-scorer.

PREDICTION

The buzz of top-flight football at Craven Cottage for the first time in five seasons is augmented by Fulham’s staggering aggressiveness in the summer window. The triumvirate of Mitrovic, Sessegnon and Cairney will hold much of the Cottagers’ hopes for success, and the sooner Sessegnon can transition to his wing role from left back, the better.

Palace will undoubtedly be a better team than it was at this time last year after Hodgson’ rescue job, but how they replace Loftus-Cheek’s industry in the middle will be pivotal. Benteke also has to get going quickly because even with Ayew’s addition, the options at striker will not put fear into the hearts of any defences.

Look for the new boys to start out on the right foot as Fulham make their return to the Premier League with a victory.

PREDICTION: FULHAM 2, CRYSTAL PALACE 1

2018-19 EPL Team-by-Team Previews: Fulham (July 18)

A day-by-day (hopefully) look at all 20 Premier League teams for the 2018-19 season starts with one of the promoted sides — Fulham.

(Writer’s Note: This is the first of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, having all 20 teams done prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on Aug. 10. Links to previews for the other teams can be found at the bottom of the page.)

FULHAM COTTAGERS

Manager: Slovisa Jokanovic (Hire date: Dec. 27, 2015)
Tenure Length: 7th/20 in Premier League and 19th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 25-13-8, 88 points, 3rd in Championship
2017-18 Goals scored: 79
2017-18 Goal Difference: plus-33
Number of Consecutive seasons in Premier League: 0
Last Promotion: 2018
Last Relegation: 2014
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Second-round loss (Bristol Rovers)
2017-18 FA Cup: Third-round loss (Southampton)

2017/18 Review

Fulham made its way back into the Premier League after four years in the Championship, claiming the playoff spot for promotion by rallying to defeat Derby County in the second leg of their semifinal to advance 2-1 on aggregate. The Cottagers then edged out Aston Villa 1-0 through Tom Cairney’s first-half goal and playing the final 20 minutes with 10 men.

The Cottagers did not kick into a higher gear until late December; they were as low as 15th in the Championship table on Dec. 2 after a 3-1 defeat to Brentford. But taking 10 of a possible 12 points from the holiday fixtures ignited a 23-match unbeaten run (18-5-0) for Fulham that did not end until the final matchday.

While Cairney and 18-year-old left back Ryan Sessegnon — the Championship Player of the Year — were the primary drivers of Fulham, the arrival of Aleksandar Mitrovic from Newcastle at the end of the January transfer window proved to be a pivotal addition for the young side. The Serbia international, who only joined Fulham after a loan deal to Belgian side Anderlecht fell through, scored 12 goals in 17 league matches.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

 

Fulham Lineup

(Note: Numbers for new players are little more than educated guesses from previous teams)

Jokanovic is not expected to stray from the 4-3-3 set-up that led to Fulham racking up the second-most goals in the Championship. The key to this, however, will be whether Newcastle United wants to keep Mitrovic.

Fulham reportedly has made a £20 million offer — a record transfer for owner Shahid Khan — to make the loan permanent. Though Sessengon is tipped to be one of the up-and-coming stars in the Premier League after racking up a team-high 16 goals, having a pure striker lead the line in the Serbian international may go a longer way in the Cottagers surviving for a second season in the top flight.

If the move for Mitrovic fails to materialize, Aboubakar Kamara — fourth on the team last season with seven goals — would likely get the first shot at leading the line. Behind Johansen and Cairney is Sheyi Ojo, who was on loan from Liverpool last season.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

Fulham may make one additional high-profile move even if it lands Mitrovic as Khan is willing to spend to help keep his team in the top flight, but its big coup this summer was signing midfielder Jean Seri from Ligue 1 side Nice. The Ivory Coast international reportedly had Arsenal and Chelsea interested in his services and had nearly joined Barcelona prior to last season before a deal fell through right before the summer transfer deadline.

Left back Maxime Le Marchand followed Seri from Nice to Fulham in a double signing, a move that will allow Sessengon more freedom to maraud up and down the left flank to use his pace.

Right back is up for grabs after Ryan Fredericks moved to West Ham United, with Cyrus Christie expected to get first crack at claiming the spot. Goalkeeper David Button, who split time with Marcus Bettinelli last season, moved on to Brighton and Hove Albion.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Ryan Sessegnon (MF) — Sessegnon was reportedly in the mix late to be part of England’s World Cup roster despite not having made any previous appearances for the senior team. He claimed five individual post-season awards, and national manager Gareth Southgate likely will hand the teen his first Three Lions call-up this fall when they begin plotting their qualifying course for the 2020 European Championship.

What sets Sessegnon apart is his advanced maturity and poise in playing the game. Jokanovic has given the 18-year-old plenty of responsibility, telling The Independent, “I try to avoid calling this man a kid, because he is in an important business and what he is doing, normally a kid cannot do,”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Fulham currently is listed as the third-most likely team to go back down at 13/8 odds as of July 17, trailing fellow promoted side Cardiff City (4/5) and 2017 promoted side Huddersfield Town (6/5). The Cottagers are joint-third with Brighton and Hove Albion and Watford to finish in the bottom half of the table at 1/10 odds and listed at 5/1 odds to crack the top half.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 11 — Crystal Palace (11th) H
Aug. 18 — Tottenham Hotspur (3rd) A
Aug. 25 — Burnley (7th) H
Sep. 1 — Brighton and Hove Albion (15th) A
————
Apr. 20 — Bournemouth (12th) A
Apr. 27 — Cardiff City (N/A) H
May 4 — Wolverhampton (N/A) A
May 12 — Newcastle United (10th) H

OUTLOOK

The good news is that even if Fulham’s goal total from last season is scaled back to a 38-match average, the 62.8 goals would have ranked sixth in the top flight in 2017-18, trailing the top four teams and sixth-place Arsenal while edging out fifth-place Chelsea.

The bad news is Premier League defences are more airtight than those in the Championship. Again, though, the Cottagers can be optimistic considering Brighton and Hove Albion, Huddersfield Town and Southampton all stayed up despite averaging less than one goal per match and Newcastle United finished in the top half of the table while scoring just 39 goals in 38 matches.

If Mitrovic does wind up back at Craven Cottage, Fulham’s chances of staying up go from near 50/50 to as high as 80/20. The Cottagers appear to have a quality spine with Ream and Odoi in central defense and newcomer Seri joining holdovers Johansen and Cairney in the midfield underneath Mitrovic should he be on board.

The offence, though, will rightfully revolve around Sessengon as Jokanovic will play him in a more advanced role. While being targeted for physical play will be nothing new for the teenager, Sessengon is also going to have to adjust to higher-caliber defences, and how quickly he learns those nuances could determine the rate of adjustment Fulham makes in the top flight.

The other factor in Fulham’s favor is much like Bournemouth and Burnley, Jokanovic has a system in place over multiple seasons. After making sure the Cottagers did not fall to League One after taking over in December 2015, Fulham finished sixth and third in his two full seasons in the Championship.

Bournemouth is now enjoying its fourth consecutive season in the top flight, while Burnley is on its third straight Premier League campaign after needing to regroup in the Championship in 2014-15. That is what the Cottagers should be aiming for in the short-to-medium term, with an eye on Khan’s planned purchase of Wembley Stadium from the England FA something to watch going forward.

PREDICTED FINISH

14th place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                           August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                           August 6 — Manchester City