Mark O’Haire looks at two Premier League games for the weekend, most especially West Ham’s visit to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham.
Fulham v West Ham
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini challenged his players to push for a top-six Premier League finish after seeing his come from behind to beat Crystal Palace at the London Stadium last weekend. Second-half goals from Robert Snodgrass, Javier Hernandez and Felipe Anderson made it three consecutive league wins for the first time in two years.
In the build-up to the Palace encounter, Pellegrini was at pains to point out the progress his side have made since their dismal start to the season.
Since kicking their campaign off with four successive defeats, West Ham have tabled W6-D3-L3, scoring three goals or more on six occasions.
Two of those three defeats came against Tottenham and Manchester City.
Pellegrini’s posse have lost only once in seven and appear to be displaying the signs of a team that have hit their stride after integrating nine summer signings. The balance and shape of the team is now established, allowing Anderson to flourish. A peripheral figure during the opening weeks, the Brazilian winger has become a key offensive player.
Spanish striker Lucas Perez, Snodgrass, Hernandez have also found form of late, handy considering Marko Arnautovic will be missing until the New Year. Perez is rated doubtful for Saturday having been withdrawn at half-time against Palace, although the fit-again Andy Carroll is pushing for a return and so the visitors aren’t short of firepower.
Only six clubs are posting a better Expected Goals from open play average per-game than West Ham’s 1.01 – highlighting their threat in the final third.
However, the Hammers have been far from watertight at the back, recording just two clean sheets and giving up 1.06 xG from open play per-game. With bulbous figures in both boxes, I’m keen to support goals.
Over 2.5 Goals has proven profitable in 10/16 (62%) of West Ham’s outings this term, including five of their most recent six.
Meanwhile, the visitors have seen both sides score on nine occasions with matches averaging 3.0 goals-per-game, which is almost bang-on their xG per-game figure of 2.99, adding further credence to a goal-filled game.
Fulham’s struggles have been well documented, and although Claudio Ranieri appears to have steadied the ship, last weekend’s 4-1 thumping at Manchester United was both convincing and concerning for Cottagers supporters. The opening half highlighted their defensive frailties and they’re still yet to keep their sheets clean since promotion.
Most worryingly, the Whites have now leaked at least three goals in seven of 16 encounters and Ranieri will have been alarmed by the ease at which his side were carved open for United’s first three goals. The hosts have allowed 66 shots in their four fixtures under the Italian’s watch and such generosity is likely to be punished at this level.
West Ham certainly appeal as 1.79 pokes off a scratch zero start here on the Asian Handicap line, but Fulham still possess enough ability up top to give their London rivals a decent test, and therefore a goals-based play is preferred with Over 2.75 Goals trading at 1.81.
Fulham’s matches are averaging 3.5 goals-per-game and 3.26 when viewing the xG numbers – 10/16 (62%) have produced at least three goals with seven (44%) registering Over 3.5 Goals. Five of seven visitors to Craven Cottage have struck at least twice, whilst the hosts themselves have fired only two blanks on home soil.
Crystal Palace v Leicester
Crystal Palace have picked up just 12 points after 16 Premier League games – only last season have they accumulated fewer (11) at this stage of a top-flight season and the Eagles issues are exacerbated on Saturday as they prepare to face Leicester without suspended pair James Tomkins and Wilfred Zaha.
Despite failing to score in his last 10 league games, Zaha is without doubt Palace’s most influential player and Roy Hodgson’s men have lost each of their last 14 fixtures when the Ivory Coast international hasn’t started since 2016/17.
With Christian Benteke still crocked, forward options are severely limited for the hosts.
Five (38%) of the Eagles’ 13 goals have arrived via penalties or attempts from shots outside the box and their 0.57 Expected Goals from open play average suggests there are major issues with creativity.
Indeed, only three Premier League clubs are posting a lower return and the Londoners have failed to notch in five of their seven Selhurst Park outings.
Meanwhile, Palace’s record without Tomkins is equally awful – nine defeats in 12 when he’s been absent, compared to 17 in 42 when he’s played – and with Scott Dann only now available for his first appearance in almost a year, the Eagles are also light in the centre-back department coming into the weekend.
Leicester’s loss to Spurs last weekend was their first in seven (W2-D4-L1) Premier League encounters and the Foxes come into this clash 10 points better off than Palace. Claude Puel’s ninth-placed side have W6-D4-L0 when taking on teams below them, picking up maximum points in three of five unbeaten trips to the bottom-eight.
City have welcomed back Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire to full training this midweek to bolster the ranks, whilst James Maddison continues to flourish in his playmaking role.
With the visitors only twice failing to score this season, grabbing a goal here should at least ensure a share of the spoils considering Palace’s attacking issues.
The Foxes can be backed with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line at 1.72 on Saturday, an appealing play considering their hosts have tabled only three triumphs in 2018/19 and only 14 (26%) in their past 54 Premier League fixtures since the start of last season.
- Fulham v West Ham – Over 2.75 Goals (1.81)
- West Ham +0.0 (1.79)
- Leicester +0.25 Asian Handicap (1.72)
On this week’s Football Podcast, Host Ali Maxwell is joined by Mark Stinchcombe and Mark O’Haire to look ahead to the weekend’s Premier League and La Liga action – taking in two games from each division: Fulham v West Ham, Crystal Palace v Leicester, Getafe v Real Sociedad & Espanyol v Real Betis.