Fulham are looking to make it three wins in a row in the Barclays Premier League for the first time since March 2012 when they face Southampton at St Mary’s on Saturday (5.30pm).
The Whites may have to do so without two key players, though, as Captain Brede Hangeland and playmaker Bryan Ruiz are both injury doubts. Hangeland was withdrawn at half-time of Monday’s 4-1 win over Crystal Palace and Manager Martin Jol revealed he is not expected to feature at St Mary’s due to an issue with a sciatic nerve. Ruiz had a problem with his back against the Eagles and was given an injection after the game – the Costa Rican is due to have a test on Friday to gauge his fitness.
Southampton’s only injury doubt is that of former Fulham midfielder Steven Davis after he picked up a knock in training, while they are expected to welcome Gaston Ramirez back into the fold after the Uruguay international missed last week’s draw away to Manchester United.
The Saints have taken the new season by storm, winning plaudits for combining an organised style of play with brave high-pressing tactics. They currently sit sixth in the table, just one point off the UEFA Champions League places, with a mean defence that is bettered only by AS Roma. With a mere three league goals shipped so far, it’s just the Serie A leaders (with one goal conceded) who can boast a tighter backline than the Saints throughout Europe’s top leagues.
Southampton’s squad has been boosted by several big-money signings in the summer, notably the acquisition of Italy international Dani Osvaldo who moved from the Stadio Olimpico to the South Coast for a reported £15m fee. Victor Wanyama swapped Scotland for England as he arrived from Celtic in a £12m deal, while Croatian defender Dejan Lovren has impressed since his £8.5m switch from Lyon.
Southampton began the campaign with a last-gasp victory at The Hawthorns when Rickie Lambert’s stoppage-time penalty secured a 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, and they required another late goal to salvage a point in their home match with Sunderland a week later. Defeat by Norwich City and a draw with West Ham United in their next two matches followed but since that stalemate with the Hammers they’ve been in dazzling form.
After leaving Merseyside with three points from their match with high-flying Liverpool – inflicting a first defeat of the season on the Reds in the process – they secured consecutive 2-0 wins at St Mary’s over Crystal Palace and then Swansea City. Another late goal in their most recent outing earned them a memorable draw at Old Trafford which also ensured they remained four points above Manchester United in the table.
A late Lambert penalty denied Fulham all three points after Dimitar Berbatov had handed his side an eighth-minute lead in last season’s Boxing Day encounter.
Steve Sidwell flashed an effort just wide with three minutes on the clock after Hugo Rodallega had won possession in the Saints’ half, but it wasn’t long before Fulham did take the lead. Great link-up play down the right between Sascha Riether and Ashkan Dejagah ended with the former playing in a dangerous low cross that goalkeeper Kelvin Davis could only palm into the path of Berbatov who just about kept his balance to stab the ball home from six yards.
The Bulgarian then got a header all wrong just after the quarter-hour mark when he connected with Alexander Kačaniklić’s cross, with Jack Cork stinging Mark Schwarzer’s palms shortly after.
Saints started the second half brightly and Jason Puncheon went close when he drilled an effort wide two minutes in, while Dejagah did likewise at the other end following a missed interception by Luke Shaw. The Iran international went much closer with a strike midway through the second period, but still wasn’t able to trouble Davis with a powerful effort from a tight angle.
A Lambert volley then whistled over the bar, but Southampton drew level after Chris Baird handled from a corner with time running out. Lambert dispatched the penalty kick with power, leaving Schwarzer with little chance of keeping it out despite getting a hand to the shot.
Saints pushed for a winner and Schwarzer needed to be on hand to claim Gaston Ramirez’s driven effort at the second attempt, although the Whites twice went close to snatching the three points. Sidwell was unfortunate to see his well executed volley fly just wide of the post in stoppage time, before Hangeland nodded agonisingly past the woodwork from John Arne Riise’s free-kick.
Dani Osvaldo: A very gifted Argentina-born footballer who has a decent scoring record for Italy’s national side, Dani Osvaldo is Southampton’s record signing following his move from Roma in the summer. Capable of scoring spectacular goals, the striker has spent the majority of his career in Italy but also enjoyed a productive spell in Spain with Espanyol where he was managed by current Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino.
Dejan Lovren: Southampton pulled off something of a coup when they managed to bring 21-cap Croatia international Dejan Lovren to St Mary’s. Aged just 24, the centre-back reads the game very well and has been a vital factor in Saints’ new found defensive resilience. Not without his threat further up the pitch either, as Liverpool and Manchester United have both found out to their peril this season.
Adam Lallana: An industrious midfielder who has now racked up more than 230 appearances for the club since graduating from their academy, Lallana is a popular man at St Mary’s and now captains the side. Hard working and keen to get from box-to-box, he looks to make things happen for his team, as well as doing his upmost to quell opposition attacks. He was called up to the England squad in September 2012 but is yet to be capped.
3 - Southampton have netted three goals in the final five minutes of Premier League games this season, more than any other side.
6 - There have been just six goals scored in the four Premier League games at St Mary's this season.
3 - Southampton have kept three successive clean sheets at St Mary's in the Premier League; the same number that they had kept in their previous 24 games there in the competition.
6 - Only six sides in the history of the Premier League have conceded fewer goals from their opening eight games of a season than the Saints have this term (3).
1 - The Saints have lost only one of their last 10 Premier League matches (W4 D5 L1).
15 - Southampton's 15-point tally from their opening eight games is their best return in a top-flight season since 1983/84 (17 points). They ended that season in second place behind Liverpool.
7 - Fulham are unbeaten in their last seven meetings with Southampton, although five have ended as a draw.
3 - Southampton have the tightest defence in the Premier League so far in 2013/14; conceding only three goals in their eight games.