Premier League | Craven Cottage | Sat 1 Feb | 3pm
A "must-win" for Fulham, so says Kieran Richardson. No arguments here.
Fulham were installed as the bookmakers’ favourites to go down following their midweek defeat at Swansea, and there’s a growing sense of inevitability that the Cottagers will soon be returning to the second tier for the first time since 2000/01.
- Swansea 2–0 Fulham (Prem)
- Sheffield Utd 1–1 Fulham (FAC)
- Arsenal 2–0 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 3–0 Norwich (FAC)
- Fulham 1–4 S'land (Prem)
- So'ton 2–2 Arsenal (Prem)
- So'ton 2–0 Yeovil (FAC)
- S'land 2–2 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 1–0 WBA (Prem)
- So'ton 4–3 Burnley (FAC)
Swansea had gone eight Premier League games without a win but enjoyed the sort of good fortune Rene Meulensteen’s free-fallers would kill for right now, with both goals in the 2-0 win needing deflections to beat Maarten Stekelenburg.
“We need to get our noses in front for once, if you do it becomes a different sort of game," said Meulensteen. "We're lacking goals. The chances we get are few and far between, so the opportunities you get we have to take".
However, help is on the way with a deal agreed for Olympiakos striker Kostas Mitroglou. The 6ft 1in marksman has been in devastating form this season scoring 21 goals in 23 outings for club and country (including a Champions League hat-trick against Anderlecht), and helping Greece qualify for the World Cup.
Two more men who have signed are Denmark midfielder William Kvist from Stuttgart and Lewis Holtby on loan from Tottenham.
There is also talk of Meulensteen returning to former club Manchester United to sign young defender Ryan Tunnicliffe, recently on loan at Ipswich, and exciting forward Larnell Cole.
They need reinforcements pronto, as on paper it looks bleak; Fulham have lost more league games than any other side (16) and conceded 50 goals, 10 more than the second worst defence.
And after Saturday, three of the west Londoners’ next four games are against Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, making a win this weekend of paramount importance.
Unfortunately for Fulham, they appear to be running into a revitalised Southampton side.
After a run of seven defeats in 11 matches, Maurico Pochettino’s men are now unbeaten in five in all competitions and walked away from the midweek draw with Arsenal disappointed not to have won.
Boardroom turmoil and training ground dust-ups don't appear to have knocked the Saints off their stride, with bad boy Dani Osvaldo wanted by Juventus and Jose Fonte insisting team spirit hasn't been affected.
Further clashes against Stoke, Hull and West Ham should do little to disturb their current place among the top 10. But Craven Cottage is a venue where they have not triumphed in 15 trips, last winning 2-0 in October 1947.
Fulham centre-back Fernando Amorebieta could return after a knee injury, while John Arne Riise missed the midweek defeat at Swansea with a hamstring problem.
Rickie Lambert may be fit in time to feature after his own hamstring woe forced him to miss the draw with Arsenal. Gaston Ramirez and Dejan Lovren both have ankle knack that will keep them out until March, while Osvaldo remains on the naughty step.
Player to watch: Luke Shaw (Southampton)
The 18-year-old academy graduate continues to be courted by Manchester United and Chelsea, and on Tuesday night’s showing it’s easy to see why.
The left-back put in another assured display against Arsene Wenger’s table-toppers, crossing for Fonte to nod in the opener as well as making 9 ball recoveries.
Shaw showed a constant willingness to get forward, with Morgan Schneiderlin’s diagonal balls to the left flank proving Saints’ most successful pass combination on the night, and he will expect to get even more joy from a defence as susceptible as Fulham’s.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- So'ton 2–0 Fulham (Prem, Oct 13)
- Fulham 1–1 So'ton (Prem, Dec 12)
- So'ton 2–2 Fulham (Prem, Oct 12)
- So'ton 3–3 Fulham (Prem, Jan 05)
- Fulham 1–0 So'ton (Prem, Sep 04)
"You need to defend better and you need to take your chances," opined Meulensteen after Tuesday's defeat to Swansea. Sounds reasonable, but the Cottagers are struggling to stick to the straightforward game plan.
Pochettino is in a much happier place after seeing his side run high-flying Arsenal close on Tuesday. "The team was fantastic in the first half, but also in the second half when we had to get back into the game after conceding those two goals. The team was really brave and courageous and played really well to get back into the game," he said.
"We felt positive and optimistic about the future, I think we can continue to play well from this moment on."
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Southampton have won just 1 of their last 8 Premier League away games (W1 D4 L3).
- Fulham have conceded first in their last 8 matches.
- Fulham have conceded 14 goals from long-range this season in the Premier League, more than any other side.
- Fulham have been leading at half-time in their last 5 home matches against Southampton.
- James Ward-Prowse has found a team-mate with more crosses and corners (46) than any other player.
- Southampton’s last 2 games have ended 2-2; only 1 team in Premier League history (Liverpool, 2002) has drawn three successive matches 2-2.
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Fulham profligacy proves fatal, and a late sucker-punch ends Saints’ long wait for a Craven Cottage win. 1-2.