What a season this has been so far. A win on Friday night at Birmingham cushions Leeds United’s play off standing going into Tuesday night’s difficult match at Fulham, and Fulham is rising themselves, having won 3-1 on Saturday afternoon against Preston North End. They find themselves in 7th, racing to make the final six, and should pose a significant challenge for Garry Monk’s Whites both on Tuesday and (potentially) in the table for the final two months of the season.
“Cottagers Confidential” is our SB Nation sister-site covering Fulham FC, and their Andrew Beck joined us again for seven questions about where the Cottagers sit today. He’s confident in his club, and I’m worried about them myself, but I wish him nothing but the best after about 10pm Tuesday night.
We’ve interviewed Andrew twice here with Leeds Against The World. The first time came in February of 2016 as we both languished in the bottom half of the table. The second time was back in August 2017, before Leeds had anything resembling a top six side, and before a 1-1 draw at Elland Road earned us our first point of the season.
So how does Andrew see Tuesday playing out? Let’s ask him. Meet Fulham FC again through the eyes of Andrew, and get ready for a week full of Leeds-Fulham coverage from us here at Through It All Together.
Leeds Against The World: Fulham FC
Hey Andrew, thanks for joining us yet again. Last time we did this Q&A, you were tied for first and we were... dreadful. We’ve turned it around, and you’ve stayed near the top... what’s been the best part of the 2016/17 season for the Cottagers?
The team has a really good offense, only three teams have scored more (and we have a game in hand on all of them). By expected goals, we're even better. That metric has Fulham as second best in the division. It's not just goal scoring though, the entire style of play is different and fun. Fulham can rack up possession, complete passes, and create chances against just about anyone, and they look good doing it. When they've had the ball, they are one of the best teams in the Championship to watch.
What’s kept you out of the top six?
Part of it is the defense. They're ranked 14th in defense by expected goals. However, even with that in mind, they are still the fourth best team by xG. A better defense would have them higher, but that's only part of it.
I'd say the bigger issue has been luck. Fulham have had horrible luck with penalties this year. Just finishing their penalties would probably have earned them five or six more points. One other thing keeping them out of the top six is the luck some of the teams above them have had. Leeds for example is only ranked 14th by xG. That they are overperforming isn't a big shock though, as they tend to play low scoring games (they are right near the bottom in total goals per game). Low scoring games are subject to more variance than high scoring games.
The biggest head scratcher though is Reading. They are ranked 21st by xG. Their goal differential is only +2. No one can really explain how they are doing things. They've been lucky by both traditional and advanced metrics. Remove their luck, and Fulham are in the top six.
You let Matt Smith go this winter, how did Fulham fare overall in the window?
This was a very weird window for Fulham. The Chris Martin saga really messed things up, but the club did manage to hold on to him, get deeper at the positions that were lacking depth (CDM and striker), and moved out a lot of players who weren't seeing the field.
They really could have used a new CB as Tomas Kalas has been injured a bit too often and while Tim Ream is great at playing the offensive game that Slavisa Jokanovic wants, his defending can be a bit suspect.
You can tell by the kind of squad Slavisa has built, what kind of players he wants around. Matt Smith just didn't fit technically with what Fulham are trying to do. After this window Fulham are at least two deep everywhere but CB.
Where do you think you’ll finish the season?
I'm still holding out hope for the top six. I think Reading is going to falter leaving the window open for either Fulham or Norwich to sneak in. Fulham has the advantage being 4 points ahead, with a game in hand, and a superior goal differential. I'd say the final playoff spot (barring a crazy run of form from Derby or Preston) probably comes from one of those three teams.
Give us a reason you’ll win:
The game is at Craven Cottage. Leeds doesn't have a great offense and has a pretty good defense. The defense is worse on the road and the offense struggles even more. Fulham have the most possession, the highest pass completion, the most shots, and the most shots in the penalty area when playing at home. To put that in perspective, the numbers Fulham have put up against all the other teams are equivalent to the numbers of all the other Championship teams when they host Rotherham.
Give us a reason you’ll lose:
By shots, you would think Fulham were much better than they are. Fulham concede fewer shots than Leeds both at home on the road. The issue is that Fulham are good to give up one or two big chances a game. If you finish your big chance, and maybe add in a flukey goal off a deflection you can absorb Fulham's pressure and not concede two of your own.
What’s your predicted result?
I think Fulham win this game 3-1 with the third goal on a late counter when you're pushing forward to get an equalizer.
Fair enough. Andrew believes in Fulham, we believe in Leeds, we’ll see if Garry Monk and the boys can take some points on the road on Tuesday night. I wouldn’t mind seeing Fulham squeak into 6th and let Reading drop out... Jaap Stam’s possession football can die in a dark hole for all I care.
But the Cottagers will need to get their points another night: I’m thinking Leeds has a 2-1 win in them. Thanks again to Andrew from “Cottagers Confidential” for helping us with the long overdue return of Leeds Against The World.
Stay tuned for our preview of the match tomorrow, and join us back here at Through It All Together on Tuesday for all our matchday coverage. Enjoy your Sunday, look forward to Tuesday from near the mountain top: we’re just seven points away from automatic promotion. MOT.