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PL Preview: Fulham vs. Watford

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  • Fulham has conceded at least 2 goals in its last 9 PL games
  • Watford has lost 8 straight PL matches in London
  • Fulham will become the 15th English team to reach 500 PL games

One team still sorting out the kinks, one team is off to a blistering start.

Fulham hopes to shore things up as the Whites host fourth-placed Watford at Craven Cottage Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com. The hosts have been porous defensively, with 12 goals allowed through the first five matches of the season, the most in the Premier League.

[ WATCH LIVE: Fulham vs. Watford live on NBCSports.com ]

Still, manager Slavisa Jokanovic has rebuffed calls to set the tactics up more defensively, instead calling on his team to be “more brave” as the season rolls on, pushing forward with the “offense is the best defense” mindset. Jokanovic, who coached Watford to promotion in 2015 but left before Premier League play after failing to agree to a new deal, has been praised for his steadfastness in his tactical style but also criticized for the early results.

Watford took time to find true stability in the Premier League without Jokanovic, finishing one place above relegation last season, but under Javi Gracia the Hornets have sprung to life over the past few weeks. Gracia is the one with stability now, having named the exact same starting lineup for every Premier League game so far, and Watford could become only the fifth English club ever to name the same starting lineup for the first six games of a Premier League season. Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley are both long-term absentees, while Nathaniel Chalobah is the only real question mark as he recovers from a serious knee injury, and he is likely to return to the squad, Gracia said.

The Fulham squad, on the other hand, is a mess. Captain Tom Cairney is out with an ankle injury, a massive miss for a team that focuses on possession and build-up. American defender Tim Ream is also out with a knee problem, back in training finally but still yet to debut this season after winning the club’s Player of the Season award last year. Without Ream, Jokanovic has struggled to find his best defensive partnership, with Denis Odoi plus new signings Calum Chambers, Maxim Le Marchand, and Alfie Mawson all showing weaknesses. The Whites are also without winger Neeskens Kebano who suffered an ankle injury in a Cup match against Exeter City in late August.

What they’re saying

Fulham manager Jokanovic on his team’s attacking mentality: “People are asking if we can be a little more pragmatic but, for me, being pragmatic is being brave. The brave choice for me is the best way to win the game. I think we are still not brave enough. Why would we be scared, why are we not braver and trusting in ourselves?”

Watford manager Gracia on bouncing back from first loss: “They do not need good results to know the performances have been good and, in this moment, the players are confident they will be able to keep their performance levels up. We will try to keep our style of play, maintain our mentality and be aggressive.”

Prediction

Watford started the season with a bang, but have not kept a clean sheet since the second match of the year. That could pose problems facing a team that loves to push forward, and there should be goals in this match. It will likely end in a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Preview: Man City vs. Fulham

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  • Fulham has conceded 9 goals so far this season, one off the most in the league
  • Man City has scored 16 goals in its last 5 home league matches
  • Man City has beaten Fulham by a combined 10-0 over last 3 league meetings at the Etihad

Manchester City will host a discount version of itself as they meet Fulham at the Etihad Saturday at 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com in a highly-anticipated clash of similar playing styles. It will be fascinating to see how this game progresses, as Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic insists the Whites will attempt to play their possession-based style even against the reigning Premier League champions.

Fulham led the Championship in possession the last two years under Slavisa Jokanovic before promotion, and this season they sit fourth in the Premier League in completed passes, above teams like Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal. Saturday’s meeting with City sees them match up against the side that sits second in the Premier League with 2,726 completed passes through four matches, 497 more than Fulham.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines for Week 5 ]

Manchester City has its full compliment of players aside from Kevin De Bruyne and Claudio Bravo who are out with long-term injuries. Raheem Sterling left the England over the weekend with a back injury, but Pep Guardiola says the 23-year-old is healthy enough to return to selection for City. Danilo is back in training as well, but may not have the match fitness to play this weekend.

The visitors will be without playmaking force Tom Cairney, a big loss for a team that requires a centralized creator in the attacking half. Also missing for the Cottagers is winger Neeskins Kebano, who is dealing with an ankle problem. Finally, American defender Tim Ream is still absent with a nagging thigh injury that is taking longer to heal than initially thought, still yet to debut this season.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on Fulham – “I’m really impressed. I had two weeks watching them. I saw three games. They have good players – [Jean Michael] Seri, and players in the front like [Aleksandar] Mitrovic. It’s not just long balls and channels, they want to make their own game. I’m pretty sure they’ll have a good season.”

Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic on Pep Guardiola – “No, I don’t use his style of football, I try use my style or use my players. He’s one of the most experienced and successful managers. He’s shown a similar style in different places, he’s shown it’s possible to play that way in different competitions. All the credit to him; he made really important steps in the game. But to copy people is not good. It’s not easy for us to match this level. We try to find our way, we try to adapt ourselves, we try to interpret what we have in our hands.”

Prediction

Fulham is going to take it to some teams, but in games like this, it’s hard to see them stepping up to the competition. These are the games they will struggle in – against teams similar to their style. The Fulham defense has been a work in progress in Ream’s absence, with new signings Maxim Le Marchand, Alfie Mawson, and Calum Chambers all still working to to settle into new roles. Manchester City should feast, and it could finish at an ugly 4-1.

Fulham captain Cairney out injured “a few weeks”

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Fulham will have to do without captain and playmaker Tom Cairney for some time, as manager Slavisa Jokanovic confirmed he suffered a foot injury recently.

“Tom Cairney is going to be unavailable for the Brighton game,” Jokanovic told the media during his pre-match press conference ahead of Fulham’s match on Saturday against Brighton & Hove Albion. “He has a foot injury and we still need to assess him but it is our expectation that he will be unavailable for a few weeks. We must assess him, he is going to be out for a few weeks. Yes, this is a big loss for us.”

The Scottish international was critical to the Whites’ promotion campaign last season, the heartbeat of the club’s possessional attack. However, he has had some injury problems over the past few years that have limited his production. Last season, he made 34 Championship appearances, but was limited early on due to a knee injury. He returned in November, although he took another month to truly find himself fully fit.

Jokanovic has a few options to replace Cairney in his absence. Two-way midfielder Stefan Johansen could take his place off the bench, or Andre Schurrle could move from the wing to the middle in an attacking role. A more fringe option could be young American midfielder Luca De La Torre, who has made recent waves out of the Fulham academy and saw significant time in preseason.

Fulham had a spectacular summer transfer window, becoming the first newly promoted English club to spend over $100 million. However, they have struggled to put a full-strength starting lineup on the field at the beginning of the year. American center-back Tim Ream, last year’s Fulham Player of the Season has yet to make an appearance this season with a nagging injury, while new signing Alife Mawson just returned to action in the midweek Carabao Cup win over Exeter City. They also lost winger Neeskins Kebano who suffered an ankle injury during the Exeter City win.

Three things learned: Aston Villa v. Fulham

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Fulham sealed promotion back to the Premier League on Saturday as the 10-man Cottagers beat Aston Villa 1-0 in the Championship playoff final at Wembley.

Tom Cairney‘s strike midway through the first half was enough to send Fulham back to the top-flight and leave Villa heartbroken.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a tense battle in the heat at Wembley.


FLUID FULHAM FIT FOR TOP-FLIGHT 

Since December Fulham’s fluid, attacking style of play saw them go on an incredible run of just one defeat in 24 games as they just missed out on automatic promotion with a defeat on the final day of the season.

The Cottagers’ silky play won them the playoff final as Slavisa Jokanovic’s men stuck to their playing philosophy with Tom Cairney pulling the strings in midfield, Aleksandar Mitrovic a handful up front and teenager Ryan Sessegnon floating about to cause havoc. They dropped deeper in the second half as Villa went at them but still had good chances and always looked dangerous on the break, even when they were down to 10-men after Denis Odoi picked up a second yellow card.

With their brave style of play, Fulham will add panache to the Premier League.

You can expect special things down by the banks of the River Thames at Craven Cottage as American owner Shahid Khan will no doubt splash the cash to take them to the next level after they dropped out of the big time in 2014. They will be desperate to solidify themselves back in the top-flight.

Fulhamerica is back and on that note U.S. men’s national team center back Tim Ream had himself a heck of a game at the heart of Fulham’s defense at Wembley to help seal the deal.


SESSEGNON SENSATIONAL

You can understand exactly why the biggest clubs in England have been chasing Sessegnon for many years.

The 18-year-old was the Player of the Season in the Championship and he was involved in the key moment in the final as the Fulham academy graduate has been the main reason they’re back in the Premier League.

Sessegnon finished the season as Fulham’s top goalscorer with 17 goals and there were many pushing for him to be included in England’s World Cup squad this summer. He has all of the talent available to flourish as a wide forward in the top-flight and after Matt Targett‘s arrival in January he has been pushed further forward from left back and has thrived.

There’s no doubt that Sessegnon is destined for big things but now he has the fairtyale end to a fairytale season for him at Fulham.


VILLA’S EXPERIENCED HEADS RATTLED

Villa’s experienced defense boasts Ahmed Elmohamady, John Terry, James Chester and Alan Hutton and in a massive game at Wembley they were rattled early on and Villa couldn’t quite drag themselves back into the game.

Steve Bruce‘s side had the second-best defensive record in the second-tier this season and they kept Fulham from opening them up for most of the first half but one lapse in concentration was exploited by Sessegnon and Cairney as Hutton stepped up, Terry was caught out and Villa conceded.

To be fair to Bruce’s side they dragged themselves back into the game impressively after a turgid first half display and were easily the better team after the break with Jack Grealish pulling the strings.

Grealish (who could well have been sent off) squandered two good chances either side of half time with a rising shot in the first half and then a header he should’ve done better with in the second, while the English playmaker also danced through Fulham’s defense before being denied by Marcus Bettinelli.

Villa have made significant progress this season under Bruce but you have to wonder if he and most of this Villa squad will be around next season, especially after a year of struggle off the pitch for Bruce as he lost both of his parents within a few months.

If Bruce sticks around then Villa will be one of the favorites for promotion next season.

Fulham returns to the Premier League

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The Premier League beckons once more for the Cottagers.

Fulham earned its way back into England’s first division on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa in the final of the Championship promotion playoff.

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The victory ensures Fulham’s place in the PL for the first time since the 2013/14 campaign.

The Cottagers took the lead on 23 minutes when Tom Cairney slotted past goalkeeper Sam Johnstone.

Cairney was set up wonderfully by Ryan Sessegnon, who delivered an inch-perfect through ball into the path of his teammate for the 1-0 lead.

Slaviša Jokanović’s side was reduced to 10 men in the 70th minute, after defender Denis Odoi picked up his second yellow card.

Stefan Johansen nearly doubled the Fulham lead with 23 minutes remaining in the match, after Sessegnon set up the Norwegian on the edge of the penalty area.

The Villans came out with more ferocity after halftime, and Jack Grealish was at the center of Villa’s attack.

The 22-year-old made a brilliant individual run into the Fulham penalty area on the hour mark, but his final shot was straight at goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli.

However, just minutes later Grealish was lucky to not be sent off when he came in late from behind on a challenge with Cairney.

Grealish and Co. nearly found an equalizer in the 50th minute when Grealish’s free header was sent over the Fulham goal.

Villa had its best chance of the opening stanza with five minutes to go from a set piece, but Grealish’s close-range shot was blasted well off target.

Robert Snodgrass‘ clever set piece chip did well to pick out Grealish, although the final product was severely lacking.

Fulham’s run back to the English top flight comes after a tremendous second half of the Championship season in 2017/18, which included a spell of 23 games unbeaten to close out the regular season.