Sports Mole looks ahead to Saturday’s Premier League clash between Manchester City and Fulham, including team news, predicted lineups and a full match preview.
The nature of their record-breaking success in 2017-18 means that Manchester City will go into almost every league game this season as favourites to win, but there is cause for caution ahead of Fulham’s visit on Saturday.
City’s only dropped points from the opening four games of the campaign came against a free-spending promoted side who are not afraid to attack, and the Cottagers will be hopeful of producing a similarly spirited display to the one which earned Wolverhampton Wanderers a draw at Molineux last month.
That result is enough to leave last season’s runaway title winners in the unfamiliar position of fourth in the Premier League table, although it is worth noting that they also had 10 points at this stage last term – when they went on to accrue an unprecedented haul of 100.
City have already offered plenty of signs that they will be just as strong this time around too, cruising to victories over Chelsea in the Community Shield and away at Arsenal in their opening Premier League clash, before hammering Huddersfield Town 6-1 at the Etihad.
The 2-1 triumph over Newcastle United in their most recent outing was less convincing than their previous home game, but it did see them return to winning ways and register a seventh different player on the scoresheet from just four games this term – once again emphasising the attacking threat throughout the squad.
City have now lost just one of their last 33 Premier League home games – including 18 wins in their last 20, during which time they have scored a whopping 68 goals and conceded just 15.
There is no doubt that Guardiola’s side remain the team to beat in the top flight – despite the perfect starts of Liverpool, Chelsea and Watford – and with Fulham, Cardiff City and Brighton & Hove Albion in their next three league games, there is a chance for them to regain the momentum that was lost during the draw with Wolves.
The Champions League is another major target for the club this year, and Guardiola may just have one eye on their group opener against Lyon next week, but the fixture list in general looks very kind to them in September.
It is in October when the real tests will come – City face away games against Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Hoffenheim and Shakhtar Donetsk – and while Guardiola will be wary of looking too far ahead, that only increases the importance of avoiding any more slip-ups this month.
Recent Premier League form: WWDW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWDW
From the moment Tom Cairney slotted home the playoff final winner, Fulham have looked well prepared to succeed back at the top level, and so far there have been few signs to the contrary, despite starting with successive defeats.
The Cottagers invested heavily in the summer and those signings already look to be paying off, with Aleksandar Mitrovic, Andre Schurrle, Jean-Michael Seri and Luciano Vietto among those to have made significant contributions so far.
Indeed, the main gripe manager Slavisa Jokanovic will have at this stage of the season is that his side arguably deserve more points than the four they have amassed.
A point-per-game ratio would leave Fulham battling against relegation should it extend throughout the entire season, but on paper this looks like a squad capable of setting themselves loftier ambitions and, if they are to achieve those, then they cannot afford to make a habit out of blowing two-goal leads.
That is exactly what they did against Brighton & Hove Albion last time out, missing a golden chance to record back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since April 2014 following their entertaining 4-2 triumph over Burnley the previous week.
Entertainment has been the word of the season for Fulham so far; their four matches have seen a joint league-high 16 goals fly in at either end, and particular encouragement can be drawn from the fact that they have scored six times in their last two, while Man City have failed to keep a clean sheet in three games.
However, there is still plenty of work to be done at the other end too. Only West Ham United and Huddersfield Town have conceded more goals than Fulham so far this season, with the latter of those shipping more than half of theirs at the Etihad.
Ultimately Fulham’s fate this season should not be sealed by matches against the likes of Man City, but anything they can get from the Etihad would be a welcome bonus ahead of a run of league fixtures which sees them take on Watford – who at the time of writing have a 100% record – Everton and Arsenal immediately after the champions.
Recent Premier League form: LLWD
Recent form (all competitions): LLWWD
The big question mark for Man City surrounds the fitness of Raheem Sterling, who will undergo a late test after being forced to withdraw from England duty with a lower back problem.
Guardiola is unlikely to take any unnecessary risks with his team selection considering the fixture schedule will be getting a lot more crowded in the coming weeks, so the likes of Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan or the out-of-favour Leroy Sane could be preferred to Sterling.
The City boss must also decide whether to go for a back three – as he did against Huddersfield – or stick with the back four he deployed against Newcastle, which enabled him to play with wingers rather than wing-backs.
Fulham are expected to be without captain Cairney once again due to a foot injury of his own, while Neeskens Kebano is also sidelined for this match.
Tim Ream and Floyd Ayite are doubts, and Jokanovic could name an unchanged team to the one which drew with Brighton last time out, although the likes of Ryan Sessegnon, Joe Bryan and Cyrus Christie will be pushing for starts.
Fulham also boast the league’s joint-top scorer in Mitrovic, who will be looking to add to his tally of four goals in as many games so far this season.
Man City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Stones, Kompany, Laporte; Fernandinho; Walker, Gundogan, Silva, Mendy; Aguero, Jesus
Fulham possible starting lineup:
Bettinelli; Fosu-Mensah, Odoi, Mawson, Le Marchand; Zambo Anguissa, McDonald, Seri; Schurrle, Mitrovic, Vietto
Head To Head
Man City are unbeaten in their last 11 meetings with Fulham across all competitions, winning the past five in a row; another victory this weekend would make for their best-ever run against the Cottagers.
The most recent of those matches saw Man City run out 5-0 winners at the Etihad Stadium in March 2014, with Yaya Toure scoring a hat-trick and Fernandinho and Martin Demichelis also getting on the scoresheet.
Fulham’s last triumph in this fixture was a 3-1 win at the Etihad in April 2009 – one of only four victories for the Cottagers from 24 previous Premier League encounters.
We say: Man City 3-1 Fulham
Fulham may not be quite as gung-ho as they have been in other matches this season, but it is in their nature to attack. There are none better at attacking than Man City, though, so the hosts should win that battle relatively comfortably.