After our encouraging start to season 2020-21, Villa fans are most likely split between heady optimism and Midlands-style weary cynicism before our game with Fulham this Monday.
Regardless where your mindset falls, matching Sheffield United for toughness whilst maintaining discipline and looking dangerous throughout was certainly a vast improvement on last seasons often lightweight efforts.
Our second string then looked imperious at times during our League Cup tie with Bristol City, suggesting Dean Smith’s work in building a culture of excellence at Villa Park is beginning to bear fruit. The performances of Davis and Traore in particular will have been noted by their opposite numbers in the first team.
That said, one look at our historical record against Fulham will make ardent Villains hold fire on the positivity. In 70 games, we have won 22, drew 23 and lost 25 times against our adversaries from plush Thames-side London.
It started well enough, with a 5-0 win in the FA Cup in 1905. The two sides didn’t meet again till 1936-37, with Fulham winning 3-0 at Villa Park and 3-2 at Craven Cottage.
Older fans of both clubs will recall 22 goals in three consecutive league games between September 1965 and November 1966. The scorelines were 6-3 (to Villa), 5-2 (to Fulham) and 5-1 (also to Fulham).
More recently, a 3-3 draw at the Cottage at Christmas 2005 featured a rare brace for Villa defender (and Blues fan) Liam Ridgewell. Of course, we all remember the play off final in 2018, and that’s enough about that.
Barring last minute injuries or positive COVID tests, the starting XI will probably be unchanged from the one who faced Sheffield United. Traore in particular should feature at some point against Fulham despite the recent heroics of Trezeguet on the right wing.
The substitution of Hourihane for Davis last Monday could also be repeated should we hold a narrow lead or find ourselves under pressure.
Our opponents have had a fairly busy transfer window, although have only spent a pragmatic £25m so far. Their most interesting purchase being right back and Ajax academy graduate Kenny Tete from Lyon, who featured in the French side’s run to the Champions League semis last season. Tete made his debut at Leeds, where he probably wondered what the hell he’d gotten into..
Only one new signing featured in the opening day defeat v Arsenal, suggesting Parker was willing to give his promotion heroes a chance. After the 3-0 defeat, four new boys started against Leeds, and target man Alexander Mitrović returned from injury.
The 4-3 scoreline highlighted how dangerous Fulham can be up front with their full compliment of strikers, though they remain defensively frail with an unsettled back four yet to prove themselves at the top table.
View Across the Dugout:
Now for our view across the dugout, we asked both Fulhamish (@FulhamishPod) and Fulham Focus (Fulham_Focus) some questions to gain their perspective ahead of Monday’s clash:
What have you made of Scott Parker’s pre-season signings?
We needed quality in the full back positions, which was added swiftly and without fuss in Kenny Tete and Antonee Robinson, as well as former Torino utility man Ola Aina, who we are yet to see.
It’s at CB where we really needed strengthening though, and imagine Parker is tearing his perfectly-coiffed hair out that we are in the last week of the window without adding to our central defensive corps.
The return of Andre Franck Zambo Anguissa is as good as any new signing, however, with his return from Villarreal a crucial element to the Whites’ survival bid.
Ex Villa loanee Josh Onomah featured in your 2019-20 promotion campaign. Villa fans opinions on him are mixed at best. How important is he to the Fulham squad?
Josh had a tricky start, where a lot of fans weren’t sure what Parker’s protege was bringing to the team, but he always had the backing of the manager. Over the course of the year, he became so crucial to the way that Fulham played, becoming the main ball progressor in the centre of the park and allowing the transition from the midfield to Mitrovic to really start to flourish as Fulham embarked on their second half of the season charge to the Premier League.
The goal against Cardiff and the final performance against Brentford were emblematic of a player who had become part of the heart and soul of this team. Where he fits in going forward is still somewhat up for debate given the quality now in midfield with the return of Anguissa and Seri, and Lemina’s arrival, but Josh will feature as part of that rotation and if he continues to improve under Parker, will be a key part of the squad as we progress.
Despite playing 3 games this week, Scott Parker played a strong team v Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup. What are your thoughts regarding this?
The fact that our game against you isn’t until the Monday, it gave us plenty of time to recover, so it was nice to see us taking the cup seriously which is rare for a club in our situation.
Plus, losing can become a habit but equally so can winning and that is something that we need to start doing ASAP in the league. We looked good in spells against Leeds and hopefully the victory over Sheffield Wednesday gives us more confidence.
It’s been a good way to get our new signings some game time and there were a couple of strong performances on Wednesday, particularly Antonee Robinson who we signed from Wigan. He’s got to be pushing for a start in the Premier League off the back of his two games in the Carabao Cup.
Do you think any other signings are possible before the window closes?
I’ve never known a window like this when it comes to Fulham transfer rumours. We have been linked with so many players since the playoff final and it’s often been the case that Villa are also interested in the same players which is frustrating!
We are desperate for a couple of centre backs and that has to be the priority. Other than that, we lack creativity in the final third and are too reliant on Aleksandar Mitrović up front. We could do with another option, ideally someone with pace and an eye for goal.
If I’m being greedy, I would like an attacking midfielder and a winger who can provide better service for Mitrović.
What are your realistic ambitions for the season?
The playoff winners always have less time to prepare for life in the Premier League and it was always going to be extra tough this season as the turnaround was so short.
If we can put up a fight and take it to the final day with a chance of survival, I think we’ve done better than most neutrals expect and with a bit of luck along the way, I think we are capable of doing that.
If we defend well, there’s a good chance of three points from this one. But Fulham have no injury concerns so Konsa and Mings will have to be vigilant against the aerial threat of Mitrovic, and we know Ivan Cavaleiro is a skilful (if not prolific) striker from his spell at Wolves.
In the centre, former Villa loanee Josh Onomah helped the Cottagers win promotion, but unless he’s undergone an ability transplant we shouldn’t get overrun in midfield.
The service to Watkins will be key too, as Trez and Jack should get some joy from Fulham’s still developing defensive line. An early goal and the game will be ours for the taking, but give Fulham encouragement and we could be in trouble.
We were woefully inconsistent last season, so now is the time to show we can truly cut it with the big boys. Monday night is a great opportunity to show we are not intent on simply battling relegation in 2020-21.