Head-To-Head

Thursday 21 November 2013 16:00

Fulham are back at Craven Cottage for the first time in three weeks when Swansea City visit the capital on Saturday afternoon (3pm).

It represents an opportunity for the Whites to get the season back on track, following three consecutive Barclays Premier League defeats by Southampton, Manchester United and Liverpool.

Team news will arrive during Martin Jol’s pre-match press conference on Friday, although Sascha Riether is a certain absentee as he sits out the second match of his three-game ban. Swansea will welcome goalkeeper Michel Vorm back to the fold after he missed their previous outing through suspension, but attacking duo Michu and Pablo Hernandez will both miss out.

The opposition

Having enjoyed a stellar second season in the Premier League last term, Swansea were rewarded with a UEFA Europa League berth, although many pundits have blamed that involvement for what is being perceived as a slow start to the new campaign.

The Swans have played 20 competitive matches already this season – six more than Fulham – and they have won the same amount of Premier League matches as the Whites (three). The fixture list wasn’t overly kind as they began with defeats by United and Tottenham Hotspur, but it appeared as though they were back on track when they took seven points from their subsequent games against West Bromwich Albion, Liverpool and Crystal Palace.

Consecutive defeats halted that progress but they then secured a morale boosting 4-0 win over troubled Sunderland before being held to a goalless draw at the Liberty Stadium by West Ham United. Their defeat by fierce rivals Cardiff City in their next outing will have been hard to take, but they almost responded in spectacular style when they fought back from two goals down to lead Stoke City 3-2, only for the referee to award the Potters a contentious penalty right at the death, which they duly converted.

Their Europa League adventure is well on track as they sit second in Group A behind Valencia by just a point, having won two and drawn two of their opening four matches. Their unbeaten record leaves them on the brink of qualification for the knock-out stages, with the pinnacle of their European tour coming at the Mestalla when they secured an excellent 3-0 win.

Last time out

Swansea City 0-3 Fulham 19.05.2013 

Fulham ripped the form book up on the final day of last season as they left Wales with a superb 3-0 win over Swansea.

The Whites had not won any of their previous seven matches – losing six – but began the game at the Liberty Stadium in positive fashion, with Bryan Ruiz spurning a glorious chance as early as the third minute when he fluffed his shot after beating a trio of Swansea defenders.

The home side responded with a Pablo Hernandez effort that flashed wide of the far post, and the Spaniard did likewise shortly after, having intercepted a loose pass from Philippe Senderos.

Almost immediately, though, Fulham went up the other end and opened the scoring with a slick team move. Emmanuel Frimpong played a neat one-two with Ruiz before hitting a first-time pass through to Alexander Kačaniklić who took one touch before hitting a shot across Vorm and into the corner of the net.

The lead was very nearly doubled just after the half-hour mark when a clever free-kick from Ruiz sent Kačaniklić clean through, but Vorm got just enough on his right-footed effort to tip the ball onto the post.

Michael Laudrup’s men emerged for the second half eager to find an equaliser early on, and Mark Schwarzer was drawn into action in the 52nd minute when he palmed Angel Rangel’s strike behind for a corner, before former Whites winger Wayne Routledge crashed an effort into the side-netting.

The Jacks continued to turn the screw and were presented with a one-on-one opportunity in the 60th minute but Hernandez’s shot was too close to Schwarzer who deflected the ball away to safety, and the Australian stopper came out on top in the next battle between the pair when he tipped a bending effort around the post two minutes later.

Leon Britton then tested the 40-year-old’s reflexes following the subsequent corner as the Swansea barrage continued, but it was Fulham who grabbed the crucial second goal in the 77th minute when Ruiz’s exquisite pass set Dimitar Berbatov on his way. The striker dummied a square ball to the parallel Kačaniklić to fool Vorm into committing, leaving him with a simple tap-in.

The goal really knocked the stuffing out of Swansea and Fulham almost had a third in stoppage time when Kačaniklić advanced 20 yards before bending an effort that beat Vorm but not the crossbar. But some gloss was added to the scoreline when substitute Urby Emanuelson passed into an empty net after Vorm could only parry Kačaniklić’s shot.

Players to watch

Wilfried Bony: Swansea’s record signing arrived in Wales with a big reputation having scored goals left, right and centre during his time in the Netherlands, and Wilfried Bony has settled quickly into his new surroundings, notching 10 times in his 18 appearances to date. A powerful frontman who holds the ball up well, Laudrup will especially rely on his presence up top in the absence of fellow goal-getter Michu.

Jonathan de Guzman: Now in his second loan spell at the club, the Villarreal man is a classy operator in the middle of the park and has become a popular man amongst the Swansea faithful. A Dutch international, Jonathan de Guzman is able to pick a pass but is also astute defensively, and scored what proved to be the winner in this fixture last season. He also grabbed two goals in their Capital One Cup Final success.

Wayne Routledge: Despite only being 28, Wayne Routledge is already something of a journeyman footballer, with Swansea the ninth club he’s played for. But it seems as though the Liberty Stadium is the place where he’s settled best, with the Jacks the lucky recipients of some of the best form of his career. Routledge also spent a year on loan at Craven Cottage from Tottenham Hotspur during the 2006/07 season.

Magic numbers

568 - Swansea have averaged a league-high 568 passes per game in the Premier League this season and have the second-best passing accuracy (86.3 per cent) behind Manchester City.

4 - Four of Fulham's Premier League goals this season have come from substitutes; including both of Darren Bent's strikes – no side have scored more by subs.

6 - The Whites have conceded a league-high six goals from corners this season.

67 - Fulham have attempted just 67 shots at goal (excluding blocked) in the Premier League this season; a league-low.

5 - Five of Swansea's 15 Premier League goals this season have come from set-piece situations – they only scored five in this manner in the whole of 2012/13.

10 - Wilfried Bony has scored 10 goals in 18 competitive appearances for Swansea this season, including three in his last two games.

8 - The eight goals that Swansea have scored in their last six Premier League games have all been netted in the second half.

3 - Swansea have won three of their previous four Premier League meetings with Fulham (L1).

1 - Fulham have scored exactly one goal in each of their last six Premier League games at Craven Cottage.