With Fulham’s next two games being a trip to Everton and a visit from Manchester City, new boss Rene Meulensteen will know only too well that, following their promising but ultimately fruitless performance against Spurs, the Cottagers really need something from the visit of Aston Villa or a miserable Christmas lies in store.
But Martin Jol’s successor will no doubt also appreciate that now is not a good time to be playing Paul Lambert’s men. Like Fulham (13/8 to win), who have picked up six of their ten points away from Craven Cottage, Villa (7/4) have been at their best on the road this season, a fact no better demonstrated than with their eye-catching 3-2 win at Southampton in midweek.
After weeks of trying to get Christian Benteke back into some form following his injury, Lambert opted to drop the big Belgian in favour of Czech striker Libor Kozak, ably supported by the endless pace of Gabby Agbonlahor and the midfield energy of a rejuvenated Fabian Delph. The plan worked a treat, with all three on the scoresheet in a humdinger of an encounter at St Mary’s. Kozak is 7/1 to cement his place in the side with another opening goal.
Villa have scored ten goals in seven away games and are a side set up to counter, and it’s therefore no coincidence that their most impressive wins of this choppy campaign – against Arsenal, Manchester City and Wednesday’s victory – have come against sides comfortable in possession who look to dictate the play.
Amazingly, Villa managed only 22% of possession on the south coast, while their other two away wins this season have also come in games where they’ve “lost” the possession stats.
So while it may be natural for Meulensteen to implore his players for a repeat of their performance against Spurs, in which they dominated for large parts of the game despite losing late on, any attempt to get at Villa from the first whistle could in fact prove the home side’s downfall.
Particularly given that their chief organiser Brede Hangeland is out and his central defensive partner Phillipe Senderos remains a doubt, Fulham will be further at risk of Villa’s killer counter punch.
With the third-leakiest defence in the league and without a clean sheet in eight games, combined with the visitors being sixth most potent side on the road, Christmas at the Cottage looks bleak indeed – Villa to win and over 2.5 goals to be scored can be backed at 19/4.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.