Last season, Fulham were the side to finish in a mid-table position while opponents Aston Villa were fighting for survival. This time around, the tables have been reversed and the home side approach this clash sat in 19th spot while Villa are in a comfortable 10th.
Fulham’s poor start to the campaign cost Martin Jol his job last week and it remains to be seen how his replacement, Rene Meulensteen, fares in his new role. The former Manchester United coach has forged a brilliant reputation over the years, but having tasted little managerial experience it’ll be interesting to see how he copes. Unfortunately, his first test ended in tears with Fulham throwing away a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 to Tottenham. That defeat means that they have now lost seven games in a row although with three points separating them from 17th position, they could still claw themselves out of the bottom three with the right result this weekend.
Aston Villa in contrast have enjoyed a fine start to the campaign and they approach the fixture in completely opposite form to their opponents. Paul Lambert’s side have now put together a five game unbeaten run and having edged past high-flying Southampton in their most recent game, it’s clear that confidence amongst the Villains must be high. In fact, their away form in general has been very promising over the last few months and the club have just lost one game on the road throughout the campaign. Such a record actually means they hold the third best away record in the division and should they net another win on Sunday, they’ll even leapfrog Manchester United and venture into the top half.
As for team news, Fulham approach the clash with two absentees at the opposite end of the field. At the back, Brede Hangeland won’t be featuring following his back surgery, while up front Darren Bent is not eligible to make an appearance due to the terms of his loan agreement. Aston Villa also come into the game with a couple of problems, although both of them occur in defence. Ron Vlaar and Antonio Luna are both penned in for late fitness tests, with respective calf and groin issues hindering the duo.
All of the form suggests that Aston Villa should be clear favourites for the game, with the visitors holding some sterling away form which should see them threaten most sides in the league this year. However, we think the “new manager syndrome” could play a big part in the outcome of this and with Rene Meulensteen looking to make his mark on Fulham, we have a feeling that the Cottagers will begin his home era with a hard fought 1-1 draw.