The FourFourTwo Preview: Aston Villa vs Fulham
Another nail in Fulham’s coffin.
Five points from safety with six games to play: the cold, hard stats Felix Magath is dealing with at Fulham. Survival is possible, but envisaging it happening is difficult. That’s because the Cottagers have been rock bottom of the Premier League since a 3-0 home trouncing by Southampton on February 1. They’ve won one of their last 12 games, lost nine of those, have conceded 12 more goals than the next-worst defence and haven’t won away since Boxing Day.
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Man Utd 4-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Everton (Prem)
- Man City 5-0 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Chelsea (Prem)
“It is very difficult to take over a team on the bottom and start winning,” said Magath, after declaring he wouldn't walk away should the west Londoners suffer relegation. “But last week we did not play like a relegated team."
He’s right too – against Everton, Fulham had their chances to lead in a first half where they were the better side. Magath continued with his haywire team selections by handing 17-year-old striker Moussa Dembele his first start, and brought academy grads Cauley Woodrow and Patrick Roberts off the bench. The Cottagers have now used 37 players this season – seven more than any other side.
Survival is still very much in their own hands. They only have Spurs from the top six to play before the season’s end, with winnable home games against Norwich, Hull and Crystal Palace to come. To do it, though, they’ll need to stop being so ruddy rubbish at the back; shipping almost two goals a game against bottom-half sides alone.
And so a trip to Aston Villa beckons. Paul Lambert’s men have done a rather marvellous job of avoiding relegation while looking insipid and one-dimensional along the way, but by winning the odd game in five they've hauled themselves eight points above the drop zone.
Credit where it’s due, though; the Villans saw off Chelsea with a clean sheet three weeks ago, and were superb for a half at Anfield in January. They’re better than the sides in the mire with good reason – not least one by the name of Christian Benteke, but also the other young upstarts who are the stronger for last season’s character-building survival bid. But, devastatingly for the West Midlands outfit, Benteke's torn Achilles tendon means he'll miss the rest of the campaign – and, crucially, the World Cup.
Their form at Villa Park is slightly worse (1.06 points per game) than that away (1.13) this season, but with three wins in their last five on home soil Lambert’s boys will fancy starting their top-half tilt here.
Villa remain without the services of likely lads Libor Kozak (leg), Jores Okore (knee) and Charles N’Zogbia (somewhere in a basement), while Karim El Ahmadi may also miss out after tweaking his thigh last week. The crushing news about Benteke means Grant Holt will have to fill the Belgian's huge void.
Fulham could welcome back Kostas Mitroglou and Scott Parker after three and four-game absences. Giorgos Karagounis might make it after a knock, but Dan Burn (muscle) and Damien Duff (knee) are out.
Player to watch: Lewis Holtby (Fulham)
The Tottenham loanee was everywhere in the defeat to Everton last weekend – and how Fulham could do with 11 like him right now. Holtby provides the Cottagers with genuine quality behind the striker (whoever the Wheel of Fortune picks this week), and from set-pieces too – against the Toffees he carved out 6 chances for team-mates and misplaced only 2 passes in the final third. The former Schalke man defended like a man possessed at Craven Cottage too, winning all 12 of his attempted tackles.
He could do with sharpening up in front of goal – just 1 of his 4 efforts tested Tim Howard – but more displays like this will push the Londoners in the right direction. At the moment, any shred of quality is welcome.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Fulham 2-0 Villa (Prem, Dec 13)
- Villa 1-1 Fulham (Prem, Apr 13)
- Fulham 1-0 Villa (Prem, Oct 12)
- Villa 1-0 Fulham (Prem, Mar 12)
- Fulham 0-0 Villa (Prem, Aug 11)
Lambert thought last weekend’s 4-1 defeat at Manchester United was harsh, but refused to criticise striker Benteke after the Belgian spurned a number of opportunities at Old Trafford.
“We had some fantastic chances, and they fell to the big lad who's normally lethal from that distance,” he admitted. “But I can't be too critical of Christian, he has scored some vital goals for us in the last 18 months and he'll continue to do so. He'll come back stronger.” Or not, sadly for Lambert.
Magath, meanwhile, has an unhappy Darren Bent on his hands. The German claimed he didn’t bring on the former Villa man against Everton last weekend due to lack of fitness, but the striker refuted the claims.
“It is just disappointing,” said the ex-England man, who hasn’t started since March 1. “I was fine to play. I am disappointed not to feature, especially in games like that where you feel that you can definitely affect the game. I am more than willing to play. That is what I do, that is what I love to do.”
Facts and figures
- Aston Villa have the 18th best home record this season – last term they had the 17th best
- Since 2008/09, 8 of the 9 meetings between these sides have seen fewer than 3 goals
- Fulham have lost the second half in 10 of their last 14 trips to bottom-half teams, including 6 draw/loss HT/FT doubles
- 8 of Villa’s last 12 home games have been level at half-time
Fulham have conceded first in 13 of their last 15 away matches, while Villa have scored first in their last 3 games
Best Bet: Correct Score 1-1 @ 6.50
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Apparently Felix is Latin for ‘happy’ or ‘lucky’. So far Magath has been none of these things. 2-1 Villa.