Prediction: Fulham vs Tottenham Hotspur
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 4/6
Tottenham Hotspur will be making a short trip down to the Thames bank to face Fulham at Craven Cottage on Monday evening, in what will be game 21 for both teams this season in the Premier League. An interesting clash for sure, with plenty out there to be won for both sides.
Had someone told the Fulham fans last summer where their team would be sitting in the Premier League table in the second half of January, it’s questionable if the most optimistic among them would have believed it, let alone the others. Having just earned promotion to the English top flight, many saw them fighting desperately for survival and were ready to brand the season successful should their team avoid the drop.
But at the moment, Fulham are actually fighting for a place in Europe. With 20 games played, they sit in seventh place with 31 points, the same tally as Brighton and Hove Albion in sixth, another surprise package of the season, and two more than the likes of Liverpool, Brentford and Chelsea directly below.
Fulham’s last-six run consists of five wins on the trot, 0-3 away to Crystal Palace, 2-1 at home over Southampton, 0-1 away to Leicester City, 0-2 away to Hull City in the FA Cup, and 2-1 over Chelsea at home. It eventually ended with a 1-0 defeat away to third-place Newcastle last week.
The Cottagers, led by former Watford and Everton boss Marco Silva, are obviously flying high at the moment, adding a refreshing spark to the renowned competitiveness of the Premier League.
Silva cannot call upon winger Neeskens Kebano who is suffering from an Achilles injury and isn’t expected back soon, but defender Shane Duffy should be back in contention after recovering from a virus, and the same goes for left-back Antonee Robinson who served his five-card suspension against Newcastle.
Bernd Leno will be in goal. Tim Ream and Issa Diop will likely form the centre-back partnership, flanked by Robinson on the left and Kenny Tete on the right. Palhinha should pair up with Harrison Reed in the middle of the park, and striker Aleksandar Mitrovic is likely to be supported by the trio of Bobby De Cordova-Reid, Andreas Pereira and Willian.
Having qualified for the Champions League rather regularly in recent years, Spurs appear to be finding it hard to keep up with the increase in competition for the top four places, even if Liverpool and Chelsea have practically dropped out of that race for this season. At the moment, Antonio Conte’s men are fifth, with 33 points, six less than Manchester United in fourth and Newcastle in third, and that with one game played more than the two rivals directly ahead.
Conte continuously faces the issue of having his players perform at the level required through the entire 90 minutes of the game, best represented by the defeat suffered a few days ago away to Manchester City. Having marched through the defending champions’ ranks late in the first half, Spurs went to the break two goals ahead, but ended up losing 4-2 as Pep Guardiola rallied his men for the second half.
That defeat came on the back of some very mixed results, ending a last-six match run which started with a 4-3 home win over Leeds United before the World Cup. Over a month later, they drew 2-2 away to Brentford, lost 0-2 at home to Aston Villa, smashed Crystal Palace away by 0-4, beat Portsmouth in the FA Cup at home by 1-0, and lost the North London Derby to arch-rivals Arsenal, 0-2 at home.
Conte has only one player missing from his ranks at the moment, as winger Lucas Moura fights his way to recovery from a calf injury.
With captain Hugo Lloris, recently retired from international football, in goal, the back line should consist of Cristian Romero, Eric Dier and Ben Davies, though Clement Lenglet is also an option should the manager decide to change something so soon after the City game. In the middle, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Rodrigo Bentacur are set to be flanked by Emerson Royal and Ryan Sessegnon, with Ivan Perisic possibly rested after looking ragged at the Etihad. Harry Kane will, of course, lead the line, with Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski in support, and Richarlison waiting for his chance on the bench again.
Fulham will probably feel that they have nothing to lose in this match and might go for another shock with all their means. If so, Spurs won’t find it easy to hold them off for the whole game, but Kane and Co. should also find a way to hit the back of Leno’s net. Even though Spurs are considered mild favourites to win this game, it won’t be easy with Craven Cottage particularly fired up this season. Any outcome is possible.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 4/6