Searching for a top-half finish in the Premier League, Fulham travel to the south coast to take on relegation-doomed Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
With three games remaining, the Saints find themselves eight points from safety, meaning they must defeat Fulham, Brighton and Liverpool to stand any chance of beating the drop, while also relying on results elsewhere to go their way.
Southampton’s relegation has seemed inevitable for quite some time, but Monday’s 4-3 defeat to Nottingham Forest all but confirmed that Ruben Selles’ men will be playing Championship football next season.
Not only have the Saints lost each of their last three matches, but they have also lost six of their previous seven. Worse still, the south coast side have failed to win any of their last 10 league outings, recording three draws and seven defeats.
While most relegation strugglers rely on their home results to keep them alive, Southampton have endured a torrid time at St. Mary’s this term. In fact, the Saints possess the worst home record in the Premier League, having won just two of their 17 home games this term.
Despite boasting standout players such as James Ward-Prowse and Romeo Lavia, Southampton look destined for the drop, with many of their key performers expected to leave the club in the summer.
By contrast, Fulham have adapted to the demands of the Premier League after gaining promotion last year, avoiding defeat in more than 50% of their matches to cement a spot in the top half of the table.
The Cottagers returned from the World Cup break in flying form, notching five consecutive wins while suffering two defeats in 14 games. Although they have taken a turn for the worse since then – losing eight of their last 11 outings – they remain in a strong position.
Marco Silva’s men thrashed Leicester City 5-3 last time out, thanks largely to braces from Willian and Tom Cairney. As a result, Fulham have now won three of their previous six matches, netting 11 goals along the way.
Of course, the Cottagers are missing the influence of suspended striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who bagged 11 goals in 21 league games before being handed a hefty ban for pushing a referee. But they are still a threat without their star man.
Unfortunately for Fulham, they will also be without injured duo Andreas Pereira and Tim Ream for the remainder of the campaign, while Layvin Kurzawa remains sidelined with a knee issue.
Southampton have multiple injury absentees of their own, with Romain Perraud, Mohamed Salisua, Tino Livramento, Juan Larios and Armel Bella-Kotchap all expected to miss Saturday’s showdown.
Although Southampton can take confidence from the fact that they have lost just one of their last five Premier League meetings with Fulham, the inevitability of relegation will make it difficult for the hosts to get motivated for the visit of the Cottagers.
Expert Insight: With the Saints seemingly dead and buried, Fulham look set to heap more misery on Selles and his players. Given that Southampton have lost nine of their previous 11 home league games, the Cottagers will view Saturday’s clash as an ideal opportunity to cement their place in the top half.