2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)

The last time Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri’s sides met in the Premier League, Leicester City’s win over Chelsea started an irreversible spiral that led to Mourinho leaving the London side not even halfway through their title defence and served as the impetus for the Foxes’ stirring run to the title.

This time around, Ranieri will be happy just to navigate Fulham out of the drop, while more dropped points could lead to a more tenuous situation for Mourinho at Man United on Saturday when the teams collide at Old Trafford.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

 

In December 2015, Ranieri’s burgeoning Leicester City hosted the Pensioners. The Foxes had recorded 32 points from 15 matches but yet to beat one of the “Big Six,” while defending champions Chelsea were inconsistent from match to match and had already fallen 17 points behind the Midlands club as Mourinho brooded and stewed, his frustration at a boiling point.

It finally tipped as goals by Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez – the driving forces of that Foxes side – powered a 2-1 win. Mourinho seethed publicly at his players after the match, saying they “betrayed” his game plan and blasted their lack of work ethic. Ranieri – once mocked by Mourinho’s “Zeru Tituli” label of him – would lift the Premier League trophy at season’s end.

Mourinho would leave Chelsea for a second time three days after that loss, a third-year exit that may find history repeating itself at Manchester United. The bad blood between the two has long passed with Ranieri, ever the genial gentleman, gracious in his words ahead of this contest.

“Jose is a fantastic man, very polite,” Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He was the first to send me a message to say ‘welcome back.’ He’s a friend. I’ve known him for a long time, when he came to Chelsea, when he moved to Italy. He was very polite with me in every moment.

“He is a very great man, coach, manager, and also is very important for football.”

United (6-5-4) are in eighth place, trailing Everton and Bournemouth on goal difference, and eight points adrift of Chelsea for fourth. Mourinho’s side have drawn their last three league matches, the last two 2-2 stalemates versus relegation-threatened Southampton and a revived Arsenal.

Once more, Manchester United had to fight back from a losing position, though it took them only a combined five minutes to erase the one-goal deficits Arsenal put them in. Jesse Lingard’s first United goal in any competition this season in the 69th minute – came almost straightaway after an own goal by Marcus Rojo – and provided a split of the points in an entertaining yet scruffy encounter.

Mourinho has projected many moods this season as United have ebbed and flowed over series of matches as well as a single 90-minute contest, but the one that came from Wednesday’s contest was – for him – oddly typical: Frustration about the result but heartened by his team’s will.

“The result is not the result we want, but what can you say,” he said post-match. “Fantastic spirit, fantastic commitment, great intensity, great dynamic, happiness to give absolutely everything, people exhausted at the end of the game, lots of players in difficult circumstances.

“It’s a positive sign (that the players sacrificed themselves), but there are things I cannot get from them and I cannot say much more than this. But they showed a big soul, everybody gave everything. That is for sure and it is a positive feeling. I cannot tell you much more.”

Mourinho made seven changes to his starting XI from the draw at Southampton, with 19-year-old Diogo Dalot thrown into the fire at right back in making his first Premier League start. It was also the first action of any sort for Rojo, while Eric Bailly made a return after not playing the previous nine matches following his hook on 19 minutes in United’s comeback win over Newcastle United.

Injuries have made United’s backline fluid on a match-to-match basis for Mourinho, who will at least have right back Ashley Young available as he returns following his one-match ban for yellow card accumulation. If Luke Shaw has not recovered from the knock that kept him out of Wednesday’s match, Dalot could be flipped to left back, or Young could start there.

It is unknown if Phil Jones will be available after missing the last contest through injury, and Mourinho said Chris Smalling played through a knock himself.

The injury bug, though, has also spread up front as Anthony Martial was taken off just after the hour due to a balky hamstring. The pacey winger picked up his seventh league goal in just nine matches to mark his 23rd birthday and is likely not available for this match. With Alexis Sanchez also sidelined by the same problem, Mourinho’s front three could comprise of Markus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Lingard.

Last, but certainly not least, Paul Pogba could get a start in midfield after his 15-minute runout versus Arsenal off the bench. Mourinho dropped the France international after a sloppy effort against Southampton, with rumours persisting about a falling out between the two after the manager reportedly told Pogba he was like “a virus” for his poor play.

Amid United’s three-ring circus enter Fulham, who have taken four points from Ranieri’s three matches in charge. The Cottagers (2-3-10) are at the foot of the table but only trailing Southampton and Burnley on goal difference. More importantly, a win – how ever unlikely – could lift them out of the drop.

Fulham played Leicester City to a 1-1 draw Wednesday, with Aboubakar Kamara’s goal on 42 minutes for Ranieri’s side canceled out by one from James Maddison 16 minutes from time. The Cottagers are the only team in the Premier League without a clean sheet, yet Ranieri is trying to emphasise the positives with his players as they try to climb out of the bottom three.

“I think if you observe the three matches, we improved a little more, a little more, a little more,” Ranieri said. “I know there is a lot more work to do, but we’re in a good way. It’s not easy because when you stay at the bottom of the table, the confidence is not 100 per cent.

“I try to give my confidence to my players. Of course, when you have two or three good results, the confidence grows immediately. For this reason, we must be satisfied. Three matches, four points – that’s good.”

Ranieri has been experimenting up front trying to find a way to further help Aleksander Mitrovic, the team’s top goal-scorer with seven goals in all competitions. The Serbia international picked up his second assist on Kamara’s goal, and right now it appears midfielder Tom Cairney is best suited to play off Mitrovic, while Ryan Sessegnon is being played more forward.

United are unbeaten in their last 10 matches (8-2-0) in all competitions versus Fulham and 11 (10-1-0) at home. The Cottagers’ lone league win at The Theatre of Dreams in the Premier League era in 13 tries (1-1-11) was a 3-1 victory in 2003.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, United are still heavy 1/3 favourites to claim all three points despite their spate of injuries, while the Cottagers are 9/1 underdogs to claim just their second Premier League-era win at Old Trafford. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 19/4.

Oddsmakers are rightfully expecting goals in this contest, with 4/7 odds on the teams clearing 2.5 goals while 11/8 is the posting for a contest with zero to two goals. They are, however, torn on whether both teams will score — there are 10/11 odds in both directions for no clean sheets or a minimum of one.

Lukaku tops a list of six United players to open the scoring, with the Belgium international a 7/2 favourite. Martial is at 4/1 despite his injury, while Pogba — United’s desginated penalty taker while playing — and Rashford are 9/2. Lingard (7/1) and Juan Mata (8/1) also get play above Mitrovic, Fulham’s top option with 10/1 odds to give the visitors an 0-1 advantage.

Lukaku is also better than even money to score during the match at 5/6 odds, with Martial at even money. Rashford and Pogba are just off that standard at 11/10, while Lingard has 15/8 odds on scoring in back-to-back matches for United. Mitrovic is an 11/4 selection for the Cottagers, with teammates Kamara, Andre Schurrle and Luciano Vietto all getting 9/2 odds to bag one over the 90 minutes.

PREDICTION

After three matches, there are some things that can be gleaned from Ranieri’s presence. The most immediate one is there looks to be an on-field organisation of the players on the pitch and defined roles beyond the back four. While Fulham have yet to record a clean sheet on the season, there was a semblance of a drilled side before being caught out by Maddison and Leicester City.

But the focus is on Manchester United and Mourinho, who could put any combination of 11 players out there at this point due to injuries and decisions, and it really would not surprise too many people. The most curious of those United players not seeing any action of late is Fred, United’s marquee summer signing at a price tag of £47 million. The Brasil international and midfielder has not played since Nov. 3 against Bournemouth, and while Herrera has come on strong of late and warrants both his spot in the starting XI and his playing time, there is still a surprise that he has not been able to crack into the rotation.

Up front, Rashford is coming off one of his better games. If he can string some of these performances together — something Martial has done despite Mourinho’s lack of pattern regarding the France international’s starts, it is possible United can kick on to the next level everyone expects of them and make a run at a top-four spot.

Lingard and Lukaku may be the swing votes in this match given Fulham’s leaky back line. His industry is never in question, but United need results as the December fixtures come thick and fast. Mourinho’s team have played well in fits and spurts, and do not seem to respond until getting punched in the mouth. This is another such match where United can get one or three points in such scenarios, but the preference would be a straightforward win at Old Trafford.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester United 2, Fulham 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)
Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 14 Preview — Chelsea (8-4-1) vs. Fulham (2-2-9)

It is a London derby with a splash of Italian as one-time Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri leads Fulham into Stamford Bridge on Sunday to face Maurizio Sarri and the Blues.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Sarri became the 11th Italian manager in the Premier League era when he succeeded the 10th one – Antonio Conte – this summer. This match marks just the seventh pairing of Italian managers, and Ranieri was involved in two of the previous six, having faced Watford’s Walter Mazzari and Swansea City’s Francesco Guidolin while at Leicester City.

The compatriots hold each other in high esteem and have learned from the other over the decades traversing both Italy and England.

“I spoke with him; he remembers me, he came to me and said ‘can I come to watch your training session?'” Ranieri said at his news conference. “But I think Sarri is not inspired by me, he’s a very good coach, because he arrived so late at the highest level. He deserves it. He has a lot of jobs in his career, and he deserves where he is.”

“Friend is a big word but I like him (Ranieri) very much,” Sarri told Sky Sports. “I visited him in Florence 20 years ago. I think he doesn’t remember this meeting but it was very important for me. “He visited us around 40 days ago to see our training. He spoke to me and Gianfranco (Zola).”

The last time Ranieri was at his old stomping grounds, he was afforded a pre-match honour guard as his Foxes completed their fairy-tale 2015-16 season by lifting the Premier League trophy. Less than three full seasons later, “The Tinkerman” returns to Stamford Bridge trying to rescue a Fulham side who are already three goals shy of matching the 36 the Foxes shipped all season in their championship campaign.

Ranieri did not change much in terms of formation from predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic, who used a 4-3-3 formation that served Fulham (2-2-9) well in their successful promotion bid. In Ranieri’s debut versus Southampton, the Cottagers used a 4-2-3-1 set-up in which Aleksandar Mitrovic served as the target forward with Ryan Sessegnon, Tom Cairney and ex-Chelsea forward Andre Schurrle underneath in attack.

The defence continues to be a problem as Fulham conceded twice in the first half, but there was belief in Fulham, who fought back in the second half with goals from Schurrle and Mitrovic – both set up by Sessegnon – to record a 3-2 victory that snapped a seven-game losing streak in all competitions.

“It’s a new era for the Club with a new manager in charge and the result was a perfect way to start it,” Sessegnon told fulhamfc.com. “We had two really solid training sessions and I believe it showed on the pitch that we are all together.

“That team spirit is massively important. With quite a few of the lads coming back from the international break late, the Gaffer hasn’t had that much time to spend with the whole team. The more we learn from the Manager the more we will be solid going forward.”

The 18-year-old Sessegnon figures to be a key part of Ranieri’s plans to help Fulham avoid the drop – he had just one goal and one assist in the first 12 matches while shuttling up and down the left side at all three levels. It is possible Ranieri views him as the Riyad Mahrez of this team, utilising Sessegnon’s pace and creativity to set up chances for Mitrovic and Schurrle, who have accounted for 12 of Fulham’s 14 goals in league play.

Schurrle, who played for Chelsea from 2013-15 and is on loan from Borussia Dortmund, raised some eyebrows when he said he would likely celebrate if he scored a goal and does not understand the fuss that surrounds the tradition of respecting a former team’s fans.

“I didn’t really think about it. I don’t understand why even fans get angry for a player celebrating,” Schurrle told Sky Sports News. “If I celebrate at Stamford Bridge, it would never be against Chelsea fans or against the club, it will be just for me and the Fulham fans.

“If I should score it will be spontaneous and I hope no one will take offence.”

Chelsea (8-4-1) had a different kind of offence Thursday in Europa League play, offering an emphatic response to their first loss under Sarri with a 4-0 thrashing of Greek side PAOK. The Blues, who had clinched the top spot in Group L before the match, continued their 100 percent record in Europe’s second-tier competition with a first-class result from a largely second-choice side.

The Pensioners played virtually the entire match with a man advantage after Yevhen Khacheridi was given a straight red card in the seventh minute for a tackle from behind. Giroud made the guests pay with a brace in a 10-minute span of the first half. Callum Hudson-Odoi added his first Chelsea goal in the second half before fellow forward Alvaro Morata capped the scoring with a thunderous header on a cross from Hudson-Odoi on 78 minutes.

While Giroud has scored four goals in his last three matches in all competitions, it was clear Sarri was still stewing about last weekend’s 3-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur when asked if the France international had done enough to supplant Morata in the first XI for this contest.

“No, I don’t think so,” Sarri told The Times. “In the last match the problem was the team and not one or two players. So I think that if there were two different players, it would have been the same. Two strikers scored in this match so, for us, I think that’s really very important to have two strikers with confidence.”

All told, he made nine changes from the side who lost to Spurs, retaining keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and left midfielder Ross Barkley. It is possible, though, all nine players could be back in the starting XI for this match.

What offers the most intrigue for Sarri’s lineup selection is with midfielder N’Golo Kante, at whom the gaffer leveled stinging criticisms for going too far upfield and exposing Jorginho to Tottenham’s pacy attackers.

The key returnee will be winger Eden Hazard, who leads Chelsea with eight goals in all competitions. He picked up a knock to his ankle in last weekend’s loss, and Sarri took no chances with the Belgium international since Chelsea had nothing at stake. Barkley’s start in Thursday’s win could mean Mateo Kovacic starts to the left of Jorginho in the midfield.

This London derby has been one-way traffic in Chelsea’s favour in the Premier League era as the Pensioners are 15-10-1 in those matches. Fulham are 0-5-8 at Stamford Bridge and lost 2-0 in their last visit as a top-flight team in the 2013-14 season. The Cottagers have gone 17 matches (0-7-10) without a win at Chelsea since a 2-0 victory in Division Two back in 1979.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Chelsea are strong 2/11 favourites to claim all three points from this derby, while Fulham are 16/1 underdogs to give Ranieri a happy homecoming and record their first Premier League victory at Stamford Bridge. The odds of the teams splitting the points like Ranieri did in his last visit with Leicester City are 7/1.

Oddsmakers are expecting goals to be scored with the over 2.5 selection getting 4/11 odds compared to 11/5 for under. There are 4/5 odds on a clean sheet in at least one direction, and it is slightly better than even money for both teams to get on the scoreboard at 19/20.

A fully-rested Hazard against a slipshod Fulham defence are two compelling reasons to make the Belgian the odds-on favourite to open the scoring at 3/1 odds. Despite his dismissal of starting Giroud for this match, the France international has edged out Morata for second place with 10/3 odds compared to 4/1 for the Spaniard.

There is still a market for Hudson-Odoi at 9/2, ahead of both Willian and Pedro (11/2), while even Barkley is getting action at 15/2 over his likely replacement Kovacic. For Fulham, Mitrovic is 13th overall on the list at 12/1, and for those who think revenge is a German goal scored cold-bloodedly, Schurrle offers a 20/1 return.

Hazard (4/7), Giroud (4/6), Morata (5/6) and Hudson-Odoi (20/21) all are better than even money to find the back of the net in this contest, with Willian and Pedro just off that line at 6/5. Mitrovic has 3/1 odds, while Schurrle checks in at 11/2 to put one by Arrizabalaga, sharing those odds with Luciano Vietto and Aboubakar Kamara.

PREDICTION

For a week, Fulham got to forget about all the misery, all the talk of relegation, all the lampooning of their defence by beating the one team that arguably should have hired Ranieri before they did in Southampton.

This weekend, however, reality is going to come crashing back down upon the Cottagers. While getting Joe Bryan back helps, this is still an evaluation period for Ranieri, who will likely spend all of December figuring out who exactly his best four are. The only two who appear safe are Mawson and Odoi as a central defence pairing, and the decision to move Chambers up as a defensive midfielder gives Fulham three centre backs for all intents and purposes.

Will it be enough? It’s way too early to tell, but the one thing Cottagers supporters should be heartened by is that Ranieri clearly has gotten through to Sessegnon, whom he absolutely needs on board if Fulham are going to escape the drop. This looks to be a more daunting proposition with each passing week as Huddersfield, Newcastle, and now Cardiff City are picking up points here and there.

On the other side, Sarri rightfully viewed Thursday’s victory as little more than a training ground exercise. Chelsea played with a man advantage against an already-overmatched PAOK side for 83 minutes — they should have won 4-0, Hudson-Odoi should have factored prominently, and both his strikers should have scored.

This match, however, will test the resiliency of Chelsea some. How Kante responds to Sarri’s criticism will be something to watch. How Kante interacts with Jorginho and vice versa will be scrutinised to see if Sarri’s directions are taking hold. It may not be as readily visible because Fulham will likely fail to apply much match pressure on the Pensioners, but these are the things that will determine if Chelsea can hold down a top-four spot as the gap between them and City eventually widens.

In a perfect world, Chelsea are in control of this match by an hour and Sarri can lift Hazard to give him some recovery time before Wednesday’s match at Wolverhampton. There will be smiles and hugs before the match between the two Italian managers, but in the end, there will be a Chelsea victory as expected.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 3, Fulham 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 14 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (11-2-0) vs. Bournemouth (6-2-5)
Southampton (1-5-7) vs. Manchester United (6-3-4)
Arsenal (7-3-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (10-0-3)
Liverpool (10-3-0) vs. Everton (6-4-3)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 13 Preview — Fulham (1-2-9) vs. Southampton (1-5-6)

The Tinkerman has much, much work to do.

After engineering the most unlikely story of the Premier League era with his title at Leicester City, Claudio Ranieri faces perhaps a more challenging task in keeping Fulham in the top flight starting with Saturday’s six-point belter with Southampton at Craven Cottage.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Ranieri is known the world over for his stunning Premier League title less than three years ago as his Midlands club built on counterattacking, a steel spine, and the 1-2 punch of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez overcame 5,000-to-1 odds to end the hegemony of the “Big Six” that dated to the days of Blackburn Rovers’ title in 1995.

Ranieri, though, failed to see his title defence through the following season, getting sacked as the Foxes struggled under the weight of the lofty expectations. The Italian, though, has been lured back to the Premier League by way of owner Shahid Khan, who sacked Slavisa Jokanovic after Fulham (1-2-9) limped into the international break last in the table with five points and a crushing minus-20 goal difference.

Ranieri, who is now with his third Premier League team after being the Chelsea manager when Roman Abramovich first bought the club back in 2003, completed one other successful rescue mission in 2007 with Serie A side Parma in Italy.

“When I arrived in Parma at the end of the February it was the same. All my friends said, ‘you are mad to go there, it’s not possible to save this team,'” Ranieri said at his introductory press conference last Saturday. “And I saved the team. At Cagliari, we went 1/8Serie 3/8 C, B, A. I love this kind of battle.”

The battle to save the Cottagers starts at the back, where they have shipped a league-worst 31 goals – the most of any side in Europe’s top five leagues. Their goal difference after 12 games is the third-worst in Premier League history, as is their five points. Fulham’s lone clean sheet in any competition this term was a 2-0 victory over League Two side Exeter City in their first Carabao Cup match, and they have yielded two or more goals in 10 of their 12 league contests.

“The objective at Fulham should never be to merely survive in the Premier League,” Ranieri said. “We must at all times be a difficult opponent and should expect to succeed. This Fulham squad has exceptional talent that is contrary to its position in the table. I know this team is very capable of better performances.”

How he gets those better performances will be the mystery. Ranieri does have a precocious talent in winger Ryan Sessegnon, whose confidence has taken a battering this season as the teenager has just one goal and one assist. He also has a reliable target forward in Aleksander Mitrovic and winger Andre Schurrle, who have combined for nine of Fulham’s 11 goals.

The Cottagers, though, have gone 326 minutes in league play without a goal and 416 in all competitions since Sessegnon’s marker against Cardiff City on Oct. 20. Fulham have lost six on the spin in league play and seven straight in all competitions.

Had Southampton (1-5-6) been less patient with Mark Hughes, it would not be totally implausible that Ranieri would have wound up in the opponents’ coaching box for this match. Hughes has been under fire most of this term as the Saints are above the drop only on goal difference over Cardiff City, yet they are only one point behind 14th-place Newcastle United.

Hughes and his side have been stewing throughout the international break, properly aggrieved at being denied a victory over Watford on an incorrect offsides call on Maya Yoshida in the 66th minute that negated Charlie Austin’s goal and would have given Southampton a 2-0 lead. Given the lifeline, the Hornets took full advantage with an equaliser eight minutes from time that left both goal-scorer and gaffer incandescent with rage post-match.

“We score a perfectly good goal, make it 2-0, game’s done and dusted. The officials cost us two points today,” Austin said immediately after the final whistle. “It’s a joke. We go on about VAR (video assistant referee) this, VAR that – help the officials out, clearly they need help.”

Hughes lamented the goal but also took the league to task for their choice of Simon Hooper – in charge of just his fourth Premier League match – as referee, saying, “Apparently, he (Hooper) thought Maya Yoshida had headed the ball in from an offside position, which is obviously ridiculous. If he thought that he shouldn’t have been there. He was an inexperienced referee . . . not up to the standard required. I hear they’ve admitted they got it wrong, but that’s no consolation to us.”

While it does them no favours now, the end result of the blown call is the Premier League have moved up their timetable to introduce VAR for next season.

Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal in the 20th minute ended a 615-minute drought without a goal in the run of play for Southampton dating back to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s goal in a 2-2 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on Sept. 17. The Saints’ two goals in league play during that stretch came courtesy of Danny Ings from the spot.

Hughes will be forced into one change to his starting XI for this match as talisman and left back Ryan Bertrand will sit out after picking up his fifth yellow card in the draw versus Watford. Matt Targett is the expected replacement there, while midfielder Mario Lemina picked up a knock on international duty with Gabon and is questionable.

Southampton ended Fulham’s FA Cup run last season with a 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage in the third round on a goal by James Ward-Prowse just before the half-hour. The Saints have won three on the bounce over Fulham and are unbeaten in the last six (3-3-0) overall. Southampton did the double over the Cottagers the last time both teams were in the top flight in 2013-14.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Fulham are slight favourites to make Ranieri a winner in his Cottagers debut at 31/20, with Southampton getting 17/10 odds to put some separation between themselves and the drop with a needed three points. A split of the points is the longshot among the options with 23/10 odds.

Though both teams have struggled to score of late, there are still 7/10 odds on both teams to find the back of the net in this contest. Accordingly, a Cottagers draw with more than 2.5 goals has 3/1 odds, with a 0-0 or 1-1 draw the second-most likely outcome according to oddsmakers at 13/4. A Saints victory over 2.5 goals is right behind that at 10/3, while a Fulham win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count has 19/4 odds. A reverse scoreline of the previous listing offers 5/1 odds for Southampton supporters, and a 2-2 draw or higher has 10/1 odds.

Mitrovic leads the line for the first goal-scoring choices at 9/2, followed by his teammate Schurrle and Southampton striker Ings at 5/1. Ings’ strike partner Austin has 11/2 odds, while Fulham’s Aboubakar Kamara and Southampton’s Gabbiadini are both 13/2 options.

The Serbian international is also the top choice to find a goal over 90 minutes at 8/5 odds, with Schurrle and Ings again joint-second at 7/4. Austin lurks just off the pair at 19/10, and Gabbiadini is at 11/5 — just ahead of Kamara at 23/10.

PREDICTION

Usually, the Vatican requires proof of two miracles before canonization can take place. If Ranieri is able to rescue Fulham from their plight and keep them in the top flight for next season, then at the very least he should be referred to as “St. Claudio” for the rest of his football coaching days.

Make no mistake, this is a desperate situation for the Cottagers, who to Jokanovic’s credit, went down swinging on their identity to the very end until it became untenable. One can argue Fulham were hard done at Anfield as Mitrovic’s goal was disallowed by being offsides by a sliver before Alisson’s restart caught everyone off guard, but it still would have been a matter of “when” Liverpool score as opposed to “if” Liverpool score.

It is going to take Ranieri at least three matches to figure out what he has in terms of defence and midfielders. The attacking flanks are actually fairly well off with Sessegnon and Schurrle, and Mitrovic is a load up front. Comparisons to Leicester, however, cannot apply to Fulham since Ranieri does not have a keeper anywhere close to the quality of Kasper Schmeichel, and there are no twin towers in central defence similar to Wes Morgan and Robert Huth in the Midlands.

On the other side are Southampton, still far from safe both in terms of the table and Hughes’ job security. Whether the officiating debacle that led to their draw last match turns into a stay of execution is uncertain, the truth is the Saints are severely struggling offensively beyond Ings — himself on a dry run save his conversions from the spot. Southampton’s defence have been serviceable when not playing the “Big Six,” and that needs to continue to avoid the drop.

Still, it is hard to make any other conclusion other than Hughes could be gone by the turn of the calendar year if they do not make a move up the table.

Adrenaline from the coaching change may be enough to see Fulham scrape out a point, but how they defend — or do not defend — will be the talking point coming out of this contest.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Fulham 1, Southampton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 13 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (3-3-6) vs. Manchester City (10-2-0)
Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) vs. Chelsea (8-4-0)
Bournemouth (6-2-4) vs. Arsenal (7-3-2)
Watford (6-2-4) vs. Liverpool (9-3-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 12 Preview — Liverpool (8-3-0) vs. Fulham (1-2-8)

If Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic thought some of his players were “scared” in a six-point belter against Huddersfield Town, one shudders to think what could be going through their minds ahead of Sunday’s contest against what will be a very angry and title-chasing Liverpool side at Anfield.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The promoted Cottagers (1-2-8) are at the foot of the table, in very real danger of being a one-season wonder as they have shipped a Premier League-record 29 goals through 11 matches. Despite being given a vote of confidence by owner Shahid Khan before last weekend’s 1-0 loss that gave Huddersfield their first win, there is a very real sense Jokanovic is managing for his job with the international break following the final whistle.

“I don’t know if some players were a little bit scared about this kind of responsibility that’s in front of us, and we didn’t perform enough,” Jokanovic said after being consigned to Monday’s defeat by an own goal from Timothy Fosu-Mensah. “You don’t need to be so talented to fight and show enough energy to compete in a Premier League game.

“I don’t know if our preparation wasn’t good enough or if they didn’t understand how important this game was.”

The only player Jokanovic spared a tongue-lashing was teenage starlet Ryan Sessegnon, who has been bounced up and down the left side to try and help jump-start Fulham. The 18-year-old, a driving force in Fulham’s promotion last season with 16 goals in the Championship, has just one in 13 matches in all competitions this term and recently returned to left back to shore up Fulham’s defence, but to no avail.

The Cottagers have dropped six on the trot in all competitions and gone 334 minutes without a goal overall since Sessegnon bagged his only marker in a 4-2 loss at Cardiff City on Oct. 20. They have taken just one point from their six road matches in league play, yielding 16 with only five in reply.

Midfielder Kevin McDonald, who was introduced at halftime versus Huddersfield to add more bite to the side, is questionable for this match after suffering an ankle injury 19 minutes after his entry. Cyrus Christie, who replaced an ineffective Fosu-Mensah at halftime, may be in line to start at right back.

Liverpool (8-3-0) are third in the table, two points behind reigning champions Manchester City and trailing Chelsea on goal difference. But for the second time, manager Jurgen Klopp is looking for his side to show a response after a clunker on the road in Champions League play.

The Merseysides frittered away an excellent chance to put one foot through the door to the knockout round Tuesday, losing 2-0 at Red Star Belgrade. The defeat was a shock considering how Liverpool put the same side to the sword in a 4-0 rout at Anfield a fortnight ago.

Liverpool have six points and a better goal difference than Napoli but technically trail the Italian side by virtue of their 1-0 loss to them. With just two points separating the four sides in Group C, though, there is everything still to play for in the final two matches.

“For us, it was not clicking, it was not easy,” Klopp said post-match. “We never really came back into the situations. We had the moments. We played good balls in, in the right moment. But, similar to the first half, in different situations we had the ball in the box and we could not really finish or they got a leg in between. I saw, unfortunately, a few games like this already and it’s really difficult to find your mojo back, that you can do the right thing in the right moment very naturally.”

While some will note Klopp did not bring in-form winger Xherdan Shaqiri to Serbia to avoid the distractions that come with Shaqiri’s Kosovo heritage or the fact Daniel Sturridge – getting the start over Roberto Firmino – failed to score on a gilt-edged chance early, the greater concern is Liverpool’s midfield right now scares no one. Summer acquisitions Naby Keita and Fabinho were spectators Tuesday while James Milner, Adam Lallana and Giorginio Wijnaldum were second-best throughout, which Lallana readily conceded.

“As players we’ve got to take responsibility. It was a slow start all round really, and we gave them far too many opportunities – especially from set-pieces,” Lallana told Liverpoolfc.com. “Of course there will be a reaction. It’s not the first time we’ve lost games and it’s about how you react and how you bounce back, but we are thoroughly disappointed to come away with nothing.”

Firmino is likely to be restored to his role as central attacker, but his empty 45-minute stint continued a dry patch in which the Brasil international has one goal in his last 10 appearances. Mohamed Salah has gone two matches without a goal after a purple patch in which he had four to go with two assists in Liverpool’s previous three games.

This is the first match between the teams since Liverpool completed the double in the 2013-14 season with a 3-2 victory at Craven Cottage on Steven Gerrard’s stoppage-time penalty. Liverpool have won four on the bounce over the Cottagers, who have one win in 13 Premier League visits to Anfield (1-4-8).

The lone victory came courtesy of an own goal by Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel in the 2011-12 season -which also stands as Fulham’s lone goal in their last eight matches at Anfield. The Reds have outscored Fulham 25-3 at home in the Premier League era.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are heavy, heavy favourites to compound Fulham’s misery with 1/10 odds to take all three points. Even a draw seems far-fetched to oddsmakers at 9/1, while a shock scoreline that sees the Cottagers record their second Premier League win at Anfield offers 22/1 odds.

Liverpool are also 1/3 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, and the 17/4 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline show just how little oddsmakers rate Fulham’s defence. The odds of a draw below 2.5 goals are 14/1 and 25/1 for a deadlock of 2-2 or higher. The odds on a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline for the Cottagers is a staggering 70/1. while one over 2.5 goals is still out there at 40/1.

Salah leads a procession of 10 Liverpool players considered better chances of a first-goal scorer than Mitrovic, who tops Fulham’s options at 16/1. The Egypt international is listed at 23/10, followed by Sturridge and Sadio Mane (16/5), then Firmino and Divock Origi (7/2) and Shaqiri (11/2).

For any-time goal-scorers, oddsmakers list five Liverpool players as better than even money — Salah (2/5), Sturridge (7/10), Mane (7/10) Firmino (4/5), and Origi (5/6) — with Shaqiri just off the pace at 11/8.

PREDICTION

It should not end for Jokanovic like this, not after he built Fulham over the past two-plus seasons to earn promotion, and not with one of England’s most precocious talents in Sessegnon. But this is one of the dangers of spending money for the sake of spending money to stay in the Premier League. The Mitrovic signing is easy to justify, but it is the other £80 million that has yet to prove a positive return on investment that has the Cottagers in trouble. The defence, regardless of who Jokanovic has tried on the back four, has been in shambles, and the goals that came so easily in the Championship have failed to materialise.

Now add in the prospects of playing a severely agitated Liverpool team, and you have the makings for a potential firing come Monday morning at Craven Cottage. Klopp has some riddles to solve, most notably how to get Firmino going and exactly who his three best midfielders are. Having his talisman Jordan Henderson back will at least partially answer this question, but who else? There are all sorts of permutations, though the original trio of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum could be the best three while Klopp goes through a “horses for courses” style of rotation.

Liverpool should get back on track — it really cannot afford a draw or a loss given no one knows if or when City are going to drop points — but the key is Fulham’s level of resistance. A 1-0 or a 2-0 loss at Anfield can be forgiven, maybe even a 3-0 setback if things just don’t go in the Cottagers’ favour. But a lifeless 3-0 loss or anything worse on the scoreline, and there may be a vacancy in south-west London on Monday.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LIVERPOOL 3, Fulham 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 12 EPL PREVIEWS:

Leicester City (5-1-5) vs. Burnley (2-2-7)
Huddersfield Town (1-3-7) vs. West Ham United (3-2-6)
Chelsea (8-3-0) vs. Everton (5-3-3)
Manchester City (9-2-0) vs. Manchester United (6-2-3)

 

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)