Eddie Howe’s league cup semi-final mags. Yes, it has been on our mind all week, probably still is today – cracking evening at SJP, the city buzzing after and I’m sure a few rather sore heads last Wednesday for those with early starts at work. Hopefully we get to do it all again in a few weeks and the talk from some of cup final tickets, booking hotels, loyalty points, celebrating cup wins etc will all mean something. People are excited and dreaming though, and why not, no harm done, and the manager won’t be letting the players get carried away.
But all of that for another day… as the other hat this team is currently wearing is that of Eddie Howe’s top four mags. And that is where the focus turns to today with the visit of Fulham. It was an interesting day in the premier league, plenty of laughs with Liverpool losing, and both West Ham and Everton currently in the bottom three. But at our end of the table, it is getting tight. We could feasibly finish the evening one point off second, or even end up fifth depending on how ours and other results go.
Pre match chatter will again turn to the team selection, taking on a slightly different dimension following a surprising incident involving Joelinton, arrested for drink driving on Thursday morning. Sam writes an excellent article on the selection dilemma facing Howe over this today and well worth a read on the website. The manager handled a challenging situation at the pre match presser with the usual measured calmness we’ve come to expect. It is a rare breach of discipline for a player in this group and I would personally be surprised to see him in the starting line-up this afternoon.
Assuming that is the case will it be ASM or Murphy? Or will he go Isak? On the latter, it was again promising to see another glimpse of him towards the end of Tuesday, the lad is quick and gradually starting to get his match fitness back – it is more likely we see him again from the bench but what an option to have back. We used to laugh about an injured player being ‘just like a new signing’ when coming back into the team but this does feel like it and has the potential to have a massive impact if he can pick up where he left off. I’d love to see ASM start today and get at them, but assuming Joelinton does not start will we be missing too much in the way of cover on the flanks, and does Howe therefore lean to Murphy?
This probably leads us on to Fulham – a team who come to us in excellent form with four wins from their last four. They have an excellent manager in Marco Silva (discussed in the match preview, worth a read if you haven’t already, although feel free to skip over the bit about my less than accurate score predictions…I’ll get one right eventually…) and they will come here confident they can compete. I don’t think I particularly learned much about them sitting in the stands at Craven Cottage when we played them in September, an early red card, key man Palhinha suspended and Mitrovic trudging off injured after 37 mins contributed to a very comfortable afternoon. Palhinha is back today and he will be crucial in that midfield battle. They tend to play on the break, with him and Harrison Reed looking to win the ball in their third and push on, a danger in a game where we again should have a lot of the ball and be looking to break them down. They are also one of the stronger teams in the league at set pieces, scoring 9 so far, so expect our big lads to be kept busy.
Fulham are ultimately overachieving, which I guess isn’t a shock statement to make about a team just coming back into the league and sitting in sixth – but an interesting stat showing them having the worst ‘expected goals conceded’ in the league (at 32.3) plays into this view a bit. Defensively they have been better recently, conceding only two in the last four games but they do give away a lot of chances, so you can see opportunities for us to get ahead and we should have the options to change it up if things aren’t quite going to plan in front of goal.
I’m looking forward to today being an entertaining game, seeing how we cope against another form team and hopefully seeing Isak getting more minutes at some point. It’s a pleasure watching this lot at the minute and impossible not to have some level of confidence we can get another result today. I’m feeling 3-1 as per the above and it clicking for us today, why not!