Fulham continues their 2-game road trip with a visit to Villa Park, on the heels of a crushing 1-0 defeat by Newcastle at St. James Park. In typical Fulham away fashion (which many had thought the club had put in the past), Martin Jol seemingly played for the draw and Alan Pardew’s crew made him pay. The Fulham midfield is suddenly thin again, and according to both players and coach, they need another win to absolutely secure their Premier League status for next season. They’ll be visiting a Villa side that will be fighting for their lives. What gives?
State of Fulham:
The biggest storyline for Fulham in this match will be their midfield, which has been ravaged in recent weeks for a number of reasons. Steve Sidwell is on the 2nd match of his 3-match red card ban. Urby Emanuelson played extremely poor in his substitute appearance last time he saw the field. And now the injury bug has struck Fulham in a big way. The club made public that Ashkan Dejagah’s ankle will most likely require surgery that will keep him out for the rest of the season, and Eyong Enoh, who came off against Newcastle with an ankle knock of his own, probably won’t play at Villa Park.
The missing names mean we almost certainly will see Emmanuel Frimpong, and we could see Emanuelson get another shot. It probably won’t happen, but a dark horse to start in place of Dejagah would be new extension-signee Buomesca Tue Na Bagna (a.k.a. Mesca), who could possibly get a shot. After what seemed like an experimental lineup at St. James Park, it will be interesting to see who Jol runs out tomorrow.
Fulham’s loss at Newcastle was their first since the beginning of February, and the Whites have 11 points between those two L’s. Still, it will take one more win to allow Martin Jol to sleep easy at night knowing his side will appear on the same table next year.
State of Aston Villa:
Villa have enormously bolstered their position in recent weeks, sticking 9 points in the bank in their last 6 matches to get themselves not only out of the relegation zone but a much-more-comfortable 2-points gap. They will be riding high after picking Stoke apart 3-1 on the road, and are also going to be receiving a few boosts as they head back home.
Cieran Clark could be back after missing 2 matches with a shoulder injury, and Darren Bent could complete his comeback after making a substitute appearance against Stoke. Bent has been out for 5 matches with his second ankle injury of an injury-plagued season. The London native has started just one game since Villa’s last match at Craven Cottage on October 20th, and he hasn’t played a full 90 a 4-1 loss at Southampton in September. With Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor both playing hot, it could be tough for Bent to get back into the side, but we’ll see where Paul Lambert goes down the stretch. The injured list still includes Chris Herd, Marc Albrighton, and Richard Dunne.
Villa have a relatively easy schedule down the stretch, so I wouldn’t label this a must-win for them by any chance, but with Sunderland, Norwich, and Wigan still left on the docket, 3 points or even 1 for Villa could give Villa Park a much better vibe going forward.
EA Sports Stats of the Week:
-Despite making headlines on the scoresheet with his wonder goal, Matthew Lowton’s tackling has been a massive part of the Villa defense. According to the EA Sports Player Performance Index, Lowton is second in the Premier League with 103 tackles, and is successful a fantastic 73.8% of the time.
-Fulham haven’t won at Villa Park in the league since 1973 in the old Division Two, but did win in the FA Cup there in 1999.
-Aston Villa have conceded in their last 16 straight league matches, and a Fulham goal would make 17, the highest of such streak this season. Also, the next goal Villa concede will set a dubious club high of 60 league goals in a season.
-Opponents have hit the woodwork 18 times against Fulham this season – the most in the Premier League.
-A goal by Gabriel Agbonlahor would be his 60th for Villa, a club record.
888sport.com Lines of the Week:
-Christian Benteke to score: 5/6
We’re going safe this week. Those are horrible odds for a reason – he’s scored 10 goals in his last 11 matches. How can you bet against that? Fulham’s defense has been solid recently, but you have to expect Benteke to net. The odds aren’t good but he’s an incredibly safe bet.
-Both teams to score: 8/11
Villa has conceded in its last 16. Benteke and Agbonlahor are on fire. Dimitar Berbatov is calm as always. You have to imagine goals are there to be goals are there for the taking in this one.
-Half with more goals – 2nd half: 21/20
If matches ended at halftime, Fulham would be 5th in the table; Aston Villa would be 6th. That’s enough of a reason to put your money here.
-Damien Duff to score: 9/2
I have to have one reach, right? With Fulham’s midfield a bit thin, expect Duff to switch to Dejagah’s old right side (unless Jol plays Manolev on the right again, yuck), and he’ll have a good link-up with Sascha Riether. That could be Fulham’s main artery of attack in this match.
Goals are certainly in the cards for this match, and I think it will be an incredibly exciting one to watch, so long as Jol doesn’t lineup the same way he did against Newcastle. I can certainly see a 2-2 draw and a point both sides will be extremely happy with.