Whatever is ahead of us, I had definitely forgotten about. Football? What’s football? The Premier League? What’s that, even? I don’t really remember.
Somehow someway, it feels good nonetheless to have some actual, competitive, interesting, domestic, England top-flight level play coming our way, doesn’t it? And taking place in London, no less! Who would have guessed just two or three weeks ago...
The lads from recently-promoted Fulham are the ones hosting Newcastle United this weekend at their old-times ground of Craven Cottage. Gotta love a stadium hailing from a goddam cottage built in 1780 and turned into a sports venue in ancient 1896, don’t you?
Do you know what Newcastle fans are definitely not loving these days? Not winning a single game since the first one the Magpies played... nearly two months ago and against another promoted team for the 2022/23 season in Nottingham Forest.
Back then we were just entering August. The sun was up and burning light skins all over the world. Newcastle was starting a promising European-qualified campaign. And the best of the summer transfer window was yet to come! Alas, look at Newcastle now...
Seven games in the books and the lads clad in Black and White stripes have as many wins as international breaks have taken place between the start of the season and this weekend’s game. One, just in case. And even them, because nobody truly knows how things work in this world, Newcastle is sitting 10th and right in the middle of the Premier League table.
If we’re honest, things are getting a little bit embarrassing around St James Park. I’m sorry, but there is no way around it.
Yes, Newcastle was good to extract one point from their clashes against Manchester City and Liverpool. That single point could have easily been four, but this is Newcastle so I guess the football Gods did what they must. It could have been zero, too, and I don’t think the Geordie faithful would be that mad about that.
But earning four points in four draws against Bournemouth, Brighton, Crystal Palace, and Wolves is rather underwhelming for a team with hopes of making it to—at least—the UEFA Conference League last season by way of finishing seventh in the Premier League table.
Next in line, is Fulham. A promoted side like Nottingham Forest, but also a team that comes off destroying the Championship just a few months ago and which features one of the most in-form strikers in world football these days: Aleksandar Mitrovic. Rings a bell?
Ah, I guessed it would, because he definitely is that Mitrovic. The one who played for Newcastle three seasons a few years ago right after turning 20 bagging 14 goals in 65 matches for the Magpies. Again, 14 goals in 65 matches. This Mitrovic, though, has scored six goals this season already in just seven games, and, just in case, he is coming off a title-win campaign last year in which he scored fortythree-43-FORTY-ThReE bangers (to go with seven assists) for Fulham. Just saying.
While Fulham are definitely not the cream of the crop and their season has gone up and down like a rollercoaster, the truth is that the Cottagers are sixth to Newcastle’s 10th position in the league.
Their most recent run of results tells me that Fulham are, logically and reasonably following their pattern of W-L-W-L-W, going to lose this weekend against the Magpies. My heart and half-functioning brain, though, don’t seem to agree with that prediction.
Look at the games Fulham have played, and you will understand why. One point against Liverpool, a victory over Brighton, and another against Nott. Forest. That’s already better overall results against that same group of foes Newcastle have also faced. The losses against Arsenal and Tottenham might have hurt Fulham's total tally, but those other two Londoners are first and third in the table with 17+ points earned—no other team below them is past 13, just for context.
The list of arrivals is twice as large as the one showcasing the departed lads, but this is not a Nott-itis case. Far from it. Fulham didn’t build a brand new squad but rather built on what they had last year and went from there. They have strengthened some positions, they have focused on signing players at the peak of their respective careers, and they have landed a couple of players on a free—Willian (a free agent) and Daniel James (loaned from Leeds)—that fit them like a glove.
Put everything together, and even losing the likes of Zambo Anguissa (who only played 80 minutes in total last year) and Fabio Carvalho by more than €20m combined doesn’t really feel like a huge hit on the squad. I mean, judging by their start to the campaign Fulham could probably still be outside of the relegation places just fielding a goalkeeper and a one-legged Aleksandar Mitrovic.
That said, Newcastle will have a little advantage this weekend considering one of the main performers of the early season for the Cottagers, Joao Palhinha will miss the weekend’s action with a suspension.
That’s fun and all, but the Magpies are the ones landing the massive hit when it comes to injuries after seeing all of Bruno, Isak, Wilson, Wood, Saint-Maximin, and Shelvey missing time of late and still having nagging issues that might prevent some or even all of them from making it to the pitch this Saturday.
Cottagers and Magpies have faced each other a lot of times, but not so many of late with the Londoners playing second-level football last season.
With the exception of two losses at that level in the 2016/17 season, Newcastle has gotten the better of Fulham in all other recent matches between the two clubs. In fact, the two times United won they did by two or more goals also scoring in one of the two draws between both times since the start of the 2018/19 season.
Perhaps the head-to-head matchup tells you something. Perhaps it does not. One thing is clear, though, and it is that for the lack of skilled forwards in Newcastle’s currently available squad, there is an abundance of goals coming from just one single man in Fulham’s ranks: Mitrovic.
The Serbian Lad has scored six in seven games or 628 total minutes of play if you prefer. No matter how you look at it, the numbers are gaudy. Mitrovic ranks inside the 96th percentile in non-penalty goals per 90 minutes (0.72) and inside the 97th in total shots so far this season. He’s also inside the 80th percentile in both shot-creating actions and dribbles completed. He’s an otherworldly talent finally exploding in the English football top flight.
And he’s not alone. Mitro has been helped by a phenomenal facilitator in Kenny Tete, who leads Fulham with three assists in the early season. The Jamaican Boby Reid, who has started all games this season, is the third member of this trio of goals+assists leaders part of Fulham’s squad.
Daniel James has only appeared in two games (both as a substitute) for Fulham after getting loaned to the London side, but he’s coming off back-to-back starts with Wales in the international break and he should get a larger role as the season progresses, and most probably sooner rather than later.
Speaking to the media on Friday morning, Eddie Howe updated us all about the status of the Newcastle Infirmary. And it is not looking very good after the break.
“[Bruno] is physically fine and in the squad for tomorrow,” announced Howe. Not bad for a start, although the next statements to come out of his mouth were a little bit more worrying.
“We’re not overly concerned [Isak picked up] a long injury. With any muscle injury, there’s a period where you have to be careful,” said Howe of the Swedish international and most-expensive Magpie ever. Cross his name off for tomorrow, as you should ASM’s after Howe said that “a few situations are unclear going into the game—Allan’s is one of them.”
Wilson (“Callum has trained. He’s trained for around ten days with us now & is in a good place”) should be back available and starting up front, but that’s only because Wood (“he’s another player we’ll make a late decision on”) got banged up in the ribs and is doubtful for tomorrow’s game.
It’s just over a month of football before we pack our mental bags and move our attention all the way to Qatar. It’d be 15 games played by then. Here’s hoping Newcastle are at least at 20 points before getting into the WC break. Or else, it’s going to be a very long season ahead.
When and Where’s flowin’
- Date: Saturday, October 1st
- Kick-off: 15:00 BST / 10:00 EST / 8:00 PST
- Location: Craven Cottage, London (England)
- TV: Talksport 2 Radio UK (UK), Peacock (USA), fuboTV (Canada)
For all your international watching needs, check LiveSoccerTV.com.
How’s it goin’
Coming Home, Crystal Ball: Fulham 2-1 Newcastle
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Howay the Lads!