There will be a clash of two extremes at Craven Cottage this weekend when entertaining, free-scoring Fulham host dour and predictable Sunderland on Sunday (4pm GMT, live on Sky Sports).
Fulham have made a good start to the season with four wins, four draws and three defeats yielding 16 points that sees them on course at least to match last season’s admirable ninth place Premier League finish.
Martin Jol’s men are the second highest scorers in the league, with 24 goals (2.18 per match, on average) to date, but have also conceded the third most (19). In combination, this leads to matches involving Fulham averaging 3.91 goals, behind just Southampton and Manchester United in the goals-per-match stakes.
Last weekend’s 3-3 draw away to Arsenal illustrated the strengths and weaknesses in the side’s makeup that cause their matches to be so high scoring.
Arsenal raced into a two goal lead. Poor marking and hesitant defending allowed them to score almost unchallenged. Fulham came back and at one point led 3-2 before twice failing to pick up Oliver Giroud in quick succession, the Frenchman making them pay on the second occasion to nod home the equaliser. They appear to lack concentration in defence, gifting space and often goals, to their opponents.
In attack, Dimitar Berbatov was resplendent, displaying deft control, nuanced movement and a keen eye for goal, scoring twice and providing the assist for the other. Bryan Ruiz was strong on the ball in his attacking midfield role and won the penalty from which Berbatov put Fulham 3-2 up. And the young Swedish winger Alexander Kacaniklic got on the scoresheet and showed flashes of talent, although his final ball was often wasteful.
The Cottagers have now been involved in four high scoring draws (two 2-2s and two 3-3s) in their last five matches, providing plenty of excitement without necessarily getting the points some of their superb attacking play has perhaps merited.
They do, though, have an excellent home record, winning three, drawing one and losing one (against reigning champions Manchester City). The wins included 5-0 and 3-0 victories over Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion respectively.
Fulham scored more goals in those two matches than Sunderland have all season, one of the more startling of the myriad of similar statistics that collectively express the misery of the Wearside club’s season to date.
The Black Cats are currently 16th in the league with just one win and seven goals to their credit so far this season. They have drawn on six occasions, which has been enough to at least preventing them falling into the relegation zone, and lost three times.
Manager Martin O’Neill, always an advocate of keeping things tight and playing on the counter attack, appears to have adopted an even more defensive approach this season. Four away draws – the joint-highest number in the league – is a commendable return, but there would have been few willing to admit taking enjoyment from the 0-0s at Arsenal and Stoke.
With Stephane Sessegnon failing to recreate last season’s inventive performances and wingers Adam Johnson and James McClean offering little of the incision O’Neill may have hoped for, the attacking and goal-scoring duties have fallen squarely on the shoulders on Steven Fletcher. He was a £12 million recruit from relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Fletcher has scored five times in nine starts to date, providing 71% of Sunderland’s goals. Until Adam Johnson scored in the 2-1 defeat against Everton last weekend, Fletcher was the only Sunderland player to score this season. The club’s other goal came courtesy of an own goal from Newcastle’s Demba Ba, who, much to the amusement of the supporters of Sunderland’s great rivals, finished October as the Black Cats’ top scorer.
O’Neill may, however, be without his primary offensive weapon for the trip to Fulham, with Fletcher struggling to overcome the calf injury he picked up in the defeat to Everton. If he does not recover in time his place is likely to be taken by one-time Fulham striker Louis Saha, undefeated in 11 previous encounters with his former employers.
Fulham v Sunderland Betting Tips Verdict
Sunderland have made a habit of defending stoutly to pick up points away from home so far this season and will most likely take a similarly defensive approach against Fulham on Sunday. The Cottagers, though, have enough quality in the final third to suggest they are capable of finding a way through the Sunderland blockade and picking up three points that would move them into top six contention.
- Bet on Fulham to win @ best odds of 3/4 with BetVictor or Paddy Power.
- Berbatov has five goals in his last six matches and looks well suited to this Fulham team. As Fulham’s main striker and penalty taker he is one of their most likely scorers and we would therefore suggest backing Dimitar Berbatov to score at anytime @ 5/4 with BetVictor, Stan James or Coral.