It speaks volumes about Fulham’s tremendous revival that the conversation around Craven Cottage has shifted entirely from a top-six finish to the automatic promotion places.
At this stage last season, the Whites were a point outside of the top-six, while they entered 2018’s international break in third position, a massive eight points clear of sixth spot.
The change comes on the back of a tremendous unbeaten run that began all the way in late December and shows no signs of stopping.
Last weekend’s draw against Queens Park Rangers marked Fulham’s 16th unbeaten match in a row, breaking the previous club record of 15 matches without a loss.
Although the Fulham players should justly be delighted with the accolades, the records will mean little to the club unless promotion is secured.
It seems certain that the Whites will at minimum make the play-offs, but is it too fanciful to dream of automatic promotion in SW6?
For Fulham’s part, they simply must keep their unbeaten run alive to stand any chance of grabbing second spot.
Their impressive spell has been admirably equalled by Cardiff City, who have engineered an 11-match unbeaten run while winning their last seven.
As a result, despite Fulham’s scorching-hot form, the gap to second has been relatively constant at around seven points.
The Whites’ run-in is comparatively favourable to that of the Bluebirds, and may offer a glimmer of hope for their second-place ambitions.
Fulham play Norwich City, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Reading, Brentford, Millwall, Sunderland, and Birmingham City in their last eight. Out of these eight clubs, three are in the bottom five, and none are occupy the top nine.
Cardiff, on the other hand, face a far tougher run of things in their last nine matches (Cardiff crucially has a game in hand over Fulham).
Winnable matches against Burton, Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Reading, and Hull are offset by grueling games versus the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa, Sheffield United, and Derby.
If Fulham can pull off the improbable and finish the season without another loss, then it would not only mark a stunning 2018 turn-around, but could provide ammunition for automatic promotion.
Seven points is a large gap to make up with only eight matches remaining, but Cardiff’s substantially harder schedule could allow Fulham to tighten the gap.
Second-place could be a long-shot for the Whites, but Fulham are right to dream of automatic promotion; last season’s play-off heartbreak is still fresh in the memory.
A late, frantic push for the top-two will provide the closing months of the season with fresh drama – nothing less than Premier League status is at stake.
Premier League Team of the Week II: Featuring Manchester City and Chelsea favourites
Who made The Boot Room’s Team of the Week for Game Week Two?
The Premier League action continued with a flurry in Game Week Two as Manchester City stole the headlines, reclaiming their spot at the top of the Premier League table with a 6-1 thumping of Huddersfield Town.
The weekend also saw wins for Chelsea, who made it two victories from two, and Leicester City, despite being reduced to 10-men, while Cardiff emerged from the early kick-off on Saturday with a point after a 96th minute penalty save to ensure a goalless draw.
Following the weekend’s fixtures, The Boot Room picks its six-a-side Team of the Week.
Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge claims his place between the sticks after his heroics against Newcastle United. After a string of first half saves to deny Rafa Benitez’s side, he then saved brilliantly from Kenedy’s penalty to ensure the Bluebirds secured a point. This is the second time in as many weeks that the Filipino ‘number 1’ has denied an opponent from the spot, following his success against Bournemouth‘s Callum Wilson in Game Week 1. Newcastle marked a well-deserved clean sheet for 28-year-old, who is quickly proving his worth to Neil Warnock’s promoted side.
In defence, Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy features after his influential display against Huddersfield. Not willing to allow his attacking teammates to claim all of the plaudits, the Frenchman’s marauding performance down the left flank proved a thorn in his opponent’s side from start to finish. So prolific was he, down the left hand side of the pitch, that he picked up two assists and could have had several more, such was his involvement in the final third. While this wasn’t a display of text book defending, his contribution cannot go unrecognised.
Under Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso has been required to play a more disciplined role than the Spaniard is typically used to. Nonetheless, while he is continuing to adapt to playing in a back four, and looking a little exposed defensively at times, his attacking instinct have shown no signs of letting up. The Spaniard showed good awareness to pick out Pedro for Chelsea’s opening goal against London rivals Arsenal, before showing composure to score the winner with the score tied at 2-2.
City’s David Silva has always been an absolute joy to watch and it was no different on Sunday. Making his 250th Premier League appearance – becoming the only the fourth Spaniard to reach said milestone – the 32-year-old ran the show from a central midfield position. Providing a match-best six key passes for his Manchester City teammates, Silva also had the chance to enjoy his own moment in front of goal, firing in a superb free-kick which beat the opposition ‘keeper at his far post.
Leicester City’s James Maddison looks as though he has played in the Premier League throughout his entire career. The 21-year-old, former Norwich City man has fitted seamlessly into Claude Puel’s side and already looks a player worthy of building a team around. In his favoured ‘number 10’ role he grabbed his first top flight goal against Wolves on Saturday, while weighing in with an all-action performance to ensure the 10-man Foxes didn’t let slip their two-goal lead.
City’s hat-trick hero, Argentine striker Sergio Aguero was a shoe-in for the Team of the Week after his display against the Terriers. The 30-year-old looks hungrier for goals than ever under Pep Guardiola and he repaid his manager’s decision to pair him alongside Gabriel Jesus with a clinical performance. City have only played three games this season and, already, Aguero has five goals to his name. After long-awaited knee surgery at the end of last season, he could be set for a remarkable, record-breaking season.
Fantasy Premier League: Five players to sign for matchweek two
There is plenty of names to swoop for ahead of the weekend’s fixtures.
Fantasy Premier League returned with a bang last weekend, with a number of high-scorers handing plenty of players a solid start to the new campaign.
Popular players Sadio Mane, Richarlison and Aaron Wan-Bissaka all rewarded those who selected them on the opening weekend, each earning 12+ points, while Watford duo Roberto Pereyra (5.2%) and Jose Holebas (5.1%) also caught the eye and secured huge points for the few that opted for the Hornets pair.
Ahead of matchweek two in the Premier League, we have searched the databases for five players you should definitely look to pick up to provide your team with a boost.
Bernardo Silva: Manchester City
The news of Kevin De Bruyne’s knee injury has sent shockwaves across FPL, with 16.8% of players still having the Belgium international in their squad. If you fall into that category, you should definitely look at dropping the midfielder.
Bernardo Silva is the most likely candidate to step up for the Citizens in De Bruyne’s absence and he enters this weekend’s clash with Huddersfield Town in decent form, scoring the second goal in last week’s 2-0 victory over Arsenal.
Huddersfield conceded 58 goals last season, more than relegated pair West Brom and Swansea City, so Silva can be expected to add to his eight-point haul against the Terriers – especially as he has scored five goals in his last seven starts.
Ryan Fraser: Bournemouth
Scorer of the opening goal for Bournemouth in last weekend’s victory over Cardiff City, Ryan Fraser brought home 11 points for the few managers who had the midfielder in their side – and just 2.3% of managers have the 24-year-old in their squad.
Costing £5.5m, Fraser is perhaps a more expensive option to other creative players at lower-end Premier League sides to consider but he certainly has the form to make his outlay worthwhile – as he has been directly involved in six goals in his last six matches at the Vitality Stadium (four goals, two assists).
Ben Mee: Burnley
While the rest of the Premier League prepares for their second match, Burnley are well into their stride as Europa League qualifiers mean that Sean Dyche’s side have already played five matches this season – and they are in superb form.
The Clarets have now registered three consecutive clean sheets across all competitions following Thursday night’s 1-0 victory over Istanbul Basaksehir, although extra time could have taken some wind out of Burnley’s sails.
Hosting Watford this weekend, Ben Mee and the Burnley defence will face a stern test but history favours the hosts – who have not lost to the Hornets at Turf Moor since 2004, securing three clean sheets in the last three meetings in Lancashire.
Roberto Pereyra: Watford
Selected by 5.2% of managers heading into matchweek two, many may believe that Roberto Pereyra’s 16 point haul last weekend was just a freak occurrence after the 2-0 win over Brighton but the stats suggest that is not the case.
Pereyra has now hit four goals in his last five Premier League games at Vicarage Road and now faces the challenge of transferring that form into away matches – and a game against a tired Burnley side who played 120 minutes in midweek is the ideal opportunity for him to shine.
Watford need to build upon last weekend’s win as they have a tough run of fixtures coming up against Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal, with Pereyra’s attacking flair potentially providing the key to breaking down a resilient Burnley defence.
Neil Etheridge: Cardiff City
In last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to Bournemouth, Neil Etheridge became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty on his Premier League debut since Allan McGregor in 2013 by denying Callum Wilson from the spot – earning six points in the process.
The Welsh side are back at home this weekend against a Newcastle United outfit who continue to suffer under the tyranny of Mike Ashley. Defeat last weekend against Spurs was not surprising but has raised the pressure for Rafael Benitez’s side.
28-year-old Etheridge is a good bet to pick up further points this weekend against a Magpies side that scored just 39 goals in 38 matches last term, the lowest tally of any top-ten side excluding Burnley.
One winner, one loser from Cardiff’s defeat to Bournemouth
The Bluebirds were left empty-handed in their Premier League return.
Life back in the Premier League did not go the way Cardiff City intended, as they fell to a 2-0 defeat against Bournemouth.
The Bluebirds are looking to improve significantly on their performance from the last time when they were in the top-flight, where they finished rock-bottom in 2013-14 and lost 22 of their 38 matches, but improvements are needed.
Neil Warnock’s side now have a week to prepare for their hosting of Newcastle next weekend and have plenty to talk about from the game. Here, we have identified one winner and one loser from the game.
Winner: Neil Etheridge
The first Filipino to play in the Premier League, Neil Etheridge also se-cured another notable stat as he became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty on his debut in the competition since Allan McGregor for Hull City against Chelsea in 2013.
Etheridge’s save to deny Callum Wilson from the spot was superb, getting down quickly to his left and providing a strong palm to scoop the effort away, but it also came in a crucial period of the match. Had that gone in, the result would have quickly got beyond the reach of his side.
Instead, Cardiff improved significantly in the second period and gave Bournemouth a real run for their money. Unfortunately, it was not to be today but Etheridge can hold his head high following the performance.
Loser: Bobby Reid
It may seem a bit harsh to pick out a new striker on his Premier League debut in a feature like this but Bobby Reid’s selection is more down to the disappointing support from those around him than the performance of the striker himself.
Reid, at times, looked bright and caused Bournemouth some problems. However, the forward who hit 17 in the league last season, and signed for the Bluebirds for a £10 million fee, was left feeding on scraps and never really had the opportunity to test Asmir Begovic between the sticks for the Cherries.
His relationship with the players around him should improve as the campaign progresses and Reid did enough to provide some optimism but there is clearly some work to do on the training ground.
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