Fulham’s remarkable season continued with their 2-1 win over Chelsea, with the Cottagers now 4/7 to record their first top-half finish in the Premier League since 2012.
There are also 156 punters cheering the Cottagers on having backed them at 15/1 with a 50-point start in the Season Handicap market, which they currently lead ahead of Bournemouth, Brentford and Nottingham Forest.
Season Handicap Top Five
|Nottingham Forest (+51)||17||68|
The win saw them overtake Liverpool in sixth, though the Reds – as well as eighth-placed Brighton – have games in hand to go back in front of the Cottagers.
It was easy to look at the pattern of Fulham’s last five league finishes – promoted, relegated, promoted, relegated, promoted – and expect that pattern to continue this season, but last season suggested this was a very different Fulham outfit.
Yes, it was ‘only’ the Championship, but Fulham ripped through the division. They often looked like a top-half Premier League side in waiting.
But for their tepid end to the season – which still included a 7-0 thrashing of Luton – Fulham could have broken all kinds of Championship records.
The last 11 games saw Fulham average 1.3 points per game, compared to the 2.2 they were averaging prior.
Across the campaign, they scored four goals four times, five goals twice, six goals twice, and seven goals three times.
The loss of Fabio Carvalho threatened to be a huge blow, but the additions of Joao Palhinha and Andreas Pereira have been inspired.
The Portuguese in particular has been tremendous in the middle of the park for Fulham. No player in the Premier League has attempted more than 60 tackles, with the exception of Palhinha, who’s on 84. No player in the Premier League has won more than 36 tackles, with the exception of Palhinha, who’s on 47. No player in the Premier League has more than 81 combined tackles and interceptions, with the exception of Palhinha, who’s on 104.
The only real area of concern for Fulham fans may be the underlying numbers behind their form.
Their xGD is -6.2, worse than bottom side Southampton (-5.5), and they’re the biggest over-performers in the league, with their xGD 10.2 worse than their actual goal difference, ahead of Arsenal (8.7 worse) and Newcastle (8 worse).
On the flip side, if Fulham are to record a top-half finish – or better – they’ll likely finish the season over-performing their xG, much like West Ham did in 2022 and 2021, and Leicester did in 2021 and 2020.
They will also have one eye on the EFL Cup, hoping that either Manchester United or Newcastle can win the cup, already securing a European place via the league, granting an extra European place to a team finishing sixth or seventh.
The odds are still stacked against Fulham finishing in the top six, with the Cottagers 20/1, competing with the current top four, as well as Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea, as well as fellow high-flyers Brighton and Brentford.
But the win over Chelsea – something they’ve not done since 2006 – must give Marco Silva’s men belief that they can maintain their form throughout the season. While Fulham have impressed all season, they have struggled against the traditional ‘big six’, picking up one point from five games prior to Thursday night’s win, though they do face a tough run between now and the start of February, with Newcastle (a), Tottenham (h) and Chelsea (a) their next three.
Another positive for Silva was that the win over Chelsea was the first time Fulham have won a game without Aleksandar Mitrovic this season, with Carlos Vinicius proving a more than capable deputy.
The Brazilian led the line brilliantly, proving a constant headache for Chelsea’s defenders, and getting his reward with the winner.
Meanwhile for Chelsea, things go from bad to worse. The Blues started the second half with renewed vigour as Kalidou Koulibaly levelled from close range shortly after the break, but debutant Joao Felix, who had been Chelsea’s liveliest player, was shown a straight red for a studs-up, knee-high challenge on Kenny Tete inside the hour.
There were positive signs for Graham Potter, however, with Kai Havertz and Lewis Hall having big chances in the opening moments and Felix looking like he’d be able to provide the spark Chelsea have lacked. Ultimately though it was an evening of huge frustration, with the Blues unable to take either of the early chances, and Felix now facing a three-match ban.
On top of that, Kepa Arrizzabalaga, who had been excellent following Potter’s arrival, looked more like the Arrizzabalaga of old, being caught in no man’s land for Carlos Vinicius’s winner, as Chelsea drift to 10/1 for the top four.