Fulham will mark their return to the Premier League with a home game against Crystal Palace in the London Derby on Saturday.
After a four-year hiatus, Fulham are back in the Premier League and will begin the 2018-19 season with an all-London clash against Crystal Palace at the Craven Cottage.
The Cottagers, led by manager Slavisa Jokanovic, earned promotion back to the English top-flight, through the Championship playoffs, where they edged out Aston Villa in the finals. Known for playing an attractive, attacking brand of football, the Londoners will be hoping to make an instant impact on their return to the big league.
Having secured their return, Fulham have made some very exciting acquisitions over the summer, including as many as five signings on the transfer deadline day. It will be interesting to see how the new signings settle in heading into the new season. With just one win six pre-season fixtures, Jokanovic will be keen on hitting the ground running this weekend.
Crystal Palace, on the other hand, battled hard to survive relegation last time out. Under the guidance of the vastly experienced Roy Hodgson, the Eagles will be hoping to avoid a similar fate once again and get their campaign off to a positive start with a win on Saturday.
Palace too have made some impressive additions over the summer, none more so than German starlet Max Meyer who joined on free. They also managed to hold on to their star player Wilfried Zaha, who was being chased by a number of clubs. Having won four and drawn one match during the pre-season, Palace will be hoping to translate that form into Saturday’s game.
Team News & Tactics
Jokanovic will have to make do without new signing Alfie Mawson for the game, with the former Swansea City man nursing a knee injury. Fellow centre-half Tim Ream is also sidelined. On-loan forward Luciano Vietto is unlikely to feature, after having arrived late on the deadline day along with midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. Defender Denis Odoi is suspended.
Fulham are likely to set out in a 4-3-3 formation against the Eagles. Summer signing Fabri should get the nod in goal, ahead of Spaniard Sergio Rico, who arrived on loan on the deadline day. Providing protection to him in the heart of the defence will be summer signings Calum Chambers and Maxime Le Marchand, with Ream and Odoi out.
Having lost Ryan Fredericks on a free transfer this summer, Cyrus Christie will be the first-choice right-back ahead of loanee Timothy Fosu-Mensah, another deadline day arrival. On the opposite side, former Bristol City man Joe Bryan should start after completing his transfer on Thursday.
The signing of Jean Michael Seri has been heralded as one of the biggest transfer coups of the summer. He should find a place in the midfield three for the Cottagers, along with club captain Tom Cairney, who will be the creator, and Kevin McDonald, who will play the defensive anchorman.
Andre Schurrle is another exciting addition to the ranks and he should feature out on the right-flank. The German didn’t have the best of times in the Premier League during his time with Chelsea, it will be interesting to see how his second stint in London pans out. On the opposite side, teenage sensation Ryan Sessegnon is a guaranteed starter for Fulham.
Spearheading the attack will be another summer signing, Aleksandar Mitrovic. The former Newcastle United man was exceptional during the second half of the last season while on loan at the Craven Cottage and will be hoping to have a similar impact heading into the new term.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Fabri; Christie, Chambers, Le Marchand, Bryan; Seri, McDonald, Cairney; Schurrle, Mitrovic, Sessegnon;
Max Meyer is unlikely to be involved due to lack of match fitness, having had just a week of pre-season training, while Jonny Williams and Connor Wicham are sidelined as well. Defender Scott Dann is the other injury concern for Hodgson for their trip to the Craven Cottage.
Jordan Ayew, who signed on loan from Swansea late on the deadline day, is unlikely to start as well, but may feature from the bench. Hodgson is expected to set his team out in a conventional 4-4-2 formation that worked well for him towards the end of the last season, against his former employers.
The goalkeeper’s spot has been a bit of a contentious one for the Eagles recently and they will be hoping that the summer arrival of Vicente Guaita will address that.
Youngster Aaron Wan-Bissaka seems to have nailed down the right-back slot for himself ahead of Joel Ward, while Patrick van Aanholt will start on the opposite side. The experienced centre-back duo of James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho will be the personnel picked to deal with the threat of Mitrovic through the middle.
Midfield mainstay Luka Milivojevic will provide the solidity and security in the middle, while new signing Cheikhou Kouyate will be expected to perform a more box-to-box role. Former Tottenham man Andros Townsend will look to provide the creativity and the attacking threat cutting inside from the right-flank, while Jeffrey Schlupp is likely to hug the touchline and hit in crosses from the opposite wing.
Star man Wilfried Zaha will partner up Christian Benteke at the top for the Eagles. The former will be given the license to roam and drag defenders along with him, while the latter will largely operate as a target man.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Guaita; Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, van Aanholt; Townsend, Milivojevic, Kouyate, Schlupp; Benteke, Zaha;
- This will be the fifth Premier League meeting between Fulham and Crystal Palace, with the Cottagers losing just the first of those games, 0-2 away in October 2004 (W2 D1).
- Fulham have the lowest win rate in Premier League London derby matches, winning 25 of their 118 so far (21%). Crystal Palace have the second lowest win rate in these games (19/86 – 22%).
- Fulham are unbeaten on the last 12 occasions they’ve started a league season at home (W8 D4), since a 1-2 loss against Tranmere in the third tier in 1989-90.
- Both of Crystal Palace’s opening day wins in the Premier League have come in away games (vs Everton in 1997-98 and Norwich in 2015-16).
- Crystal Palace won their last three Premier League games of 2017-18, scoring nine goals and conceding just one. They last won four in a row back in April 2017.
Player to watch
Jean Michael Seri (Fulham)
The Ivory Coast international’s arrival has generated a lot of excitement among the Fulham fans. And rightly so, considering that he was close to signing for Barcelona not very long ago and was wanted by a number of heavy-hitters across Europe. An athletic, box-to-box midfielder, the 26-year old is technically adept, can break play up in the middle and keep possession ticking over.
His presence in the side should make Fulham harder to break down, while it is also likely to help get the best out of captain Cairney, who will be afforded more freedom to dictate play in the final third. It will be interesting to watch what kind of impact Seri has on his Premier League bow.
Fulham 1-1 Crystal Palace
While there are plenty of reasons for the Fulham fanbase to be optimistic about heading into the new season, the fact that there are so many new faces coming into the team means, it will take some time for them to fully get going. And their pre-season form has hinted as much.
Palace, on the other hand, look a more settled unit, with their core group of players remaining intact and have shown good form in their pre-season friendlies as well. However, a lot will depend on how Zaha performs on the day, as he has the ability to turn the game on its head.
Fulham will come into the game with an attacking mindset, but Palace will be hard to break down and we at the Hard Tackle expect the match to end in a 1-1 stalemate at the Craven Cottage.