We’re back for some more Championship action this weekend and all eyes will be on the top of the table clash as Bournemouth visit Fulham, Benjamin Bloom has all you need to know, with odds from Betfair throughout.
Setting The Scene – Clash Of The Titans
Being the consummate Championship nerd, this game has been highlighted on my calendar for weeks, as we welcome that rare commodity of a first vs second top of the table clash. Fulham and Bournemouth have been motoring away at the head of the Championship pack, the two sides have opened up a seven point gap over third placed QPR, and both are comfortably above the two points per game standard that historically guarantees automatic promotion to the Premier League.
The really strange factor in this meeting is that we’ve actually seen a temporary slow down for both sides going into the game. Fulham had been on an imperious run of seven straight victories that saw them score a staggering 25 goals but have drawn their last two and only scored a single goal in the process. Bournemouth’s slow down, meanwhile, is far more tangible – since their undefeated run ended five games ago the Cherries have only scored five points and only won one of those five matches.
The good news for Fulham and Bournemouth is that their starts have been so strong they can both absorb some kind of temporary drop-off. In fact, worryingly for the rest of the division, if both sides pick up their groove we could have a slightly dull two-horse title race, which by definition means a lack of any kind of automatic promotion race. In terms of direction of travel, a win for either side would be a highly symbolic statement that probably anoints them as title favourites. Defeat is not catastrophic but does open up the possibility of a third, or maybe even fourth team, closing the gap and joining the automatic race.
One To Watch – Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham)
It’s a predictable choice, but sometimes things are straightforward and the truth is predictable. For the big game I’ve gone for the big player and there is no bigger player in the Championship this season than Aleksandar Mitrovic. With Mitrovic comes plenty of lowest common denominator analysis – the more goals he scores the more I hear suggestions of an ‘over-reliance’ and a strange obsession with his output at Premier League level. We all know the numbers, but they’re worth restating. In 2017/18 an on-loan Mitro shot Fulham to promotion with 12 goals in 15 starts; in 2019-20 another promotion was won and this time 26 goals in 40 starts; this season it’s an absurd 21 goals in 19 starts already. The big Serb at Championship level with Fulham has started 74 games and scored 59 goals.
I’ll address the criticism for what it’s worth – are Fulham over reliant on Mitrovic? I’m not sure I even accept the premise. Was Ferguson reliant on Cantona, Wenger reliant on Henry, Guardiola reliant on Messi, Paisley reliant on Dalglish? Of course they were, winning teams have reliable players, and I don’t see the crime in building around them. In terms of people picking holes in his Premier League goal output, firstly it’s not really relevant, secondly it feels a little churlish, and thirdly the 11 goals he registered playing for a relegated team in 2018/19 is only bettered in the past five seasons by Jermain Defoe, who hit 15 in the same circumstances for Sunderland. Doubters will doubt and haters will hate, but Mitrovic could be on his way to a record-breaking Championship season, and will anyone be surprised if he’s on the scoresheet on Friday.
One To Watch – Dominic Solanke (Bournemouth)
Aleksandar Mitrovic is not the only goal machine involved in this match up – Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke has a none too shabby 15 goals in 20 starts for the Cherries and is looking in the form of his life. Solanke has plenty in common with Mitrovic in terms of outside perception and also suffers from people obsessing with what he’s not and what he didn’t do, rather than what he is or what he did do.
Solanke is unfortunately forever linked with the large transfer fee paid for him by Bournemouth in January 2019. The reported fee for the then 21-year-old striker was £19million, this for a player who had at this point only scored a single Premier League goal. Solanke’s signing is now linked into a larger narrative surrounding Bournemouth’s relegation from the Premier League, Eddie Howe’s recruitment, and for some it defines him as a player.
Fortunately for Bournemouth and Solanke, simple narratives can be changed and his Championship form is doing a good job of re-writing the perception of him being an expensive flop. Last season Solanke scored 15 goals in a transitional season for Bournemouth as they reached the top six and lost in the play-off semi-final. This season he only needs one more goal to beat that total, and as a 24-year-old Englishman performing at the level he is, perhaps Bournemouth could cash in for a profit on what they paid in 2019. Sometimes a player just needs to find his groove, Solanke has found his at Championship level and another more successful crack at the Premier League may not be far away.
Key Battle – Parker’s Return
After Fulham lost to Burnley and were relegated from the Premier League back in May, Scott Parker gave a very revealing interview post match. Just this weekend Sky pundit Jimmy Floyd-Haisslebaink suggested that managers are sometimes a little emotionally led immediately post match, and on this occasion Parker certainly appeared so. The former England midfielder lamented, “As a football club we need to make good decisions and work out where we want to go.”
The subtext of what Parker was indirectly saying seemed to be that he had been unhappy with recruitment, a high number of loan players, and that next season would be almost a rebuild from scratch. Ultimately Parker was destined for the exit and left Fulham in the close season, he jumped to Bournemouth and Fulham brought in Marco Silva as his replacement. Friday night pits Parker against his former club for the first time and although the cliche says ‘it’s just another’ game, there’s a lot riding on this for the Bournemouth boss.
I must confess I wasn’t sure what to make of Parker’s switch to Bournemouth, but any doubts I had have so far been dismissed by Bournemouth’s excellent start to the season. The problem for Parker is that as mentioned earlier in the column, he’s currently in his worst run of form as Bournemouth manager, standards are high and context is king but the point still stands. When talking to Fulham fans their perception of Parker seems to be mixed, grateful for the promotion in 19/20 whilst acknowledging it was unconvincing at times, and a bit nonplussed with the limp nature of the ensuing Premier League relegation. Parker knows the club, the fans, and plenty of the Fulham players, he also knows what a statement a win at his old employer would make too.
Inside Insight – Fulham (@Russ_Goldman @CottageTalk)
This match is between the two top teams in the division and will be a measuring stick game for them both. However, it is also a comparison of styles as it is SilvaBall vs. ParkerBall. Lastly, it is personal for me and some supporters with Parker returning to Craven Cottage. The marriage between Parker and Fulham ended badly so you might hear some interesting songs on Friday Night. Bring on ParkerBall!
Inside Insight – Bournemouth (@KirkTovey @CherriesRedArmy)
This game probably comes at the wrong time for the Cherries with an injury-hit squad and winless in three, but we have to remain hopeful that the team can perform on the night. Being optimistic I would take a draw all day long and my prediction is 1-1.
Odds correct at the time of publication. 18+ Please Gamble Responsibly. Visit begambleaware.org
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