Friday night’s Premier League offering comes from Craven Cottage this week, as European hopefuls Fulham welcome basement battlers Wolverhampton Wanderers to the capital.
The two sides were on the opposite ends of 1-0 scorelines last weekend, as the Cottagers edged past Brighton & Hove Albion, while Julen Lopetegui’s men went down to Bournemouth.
There was a time not too long ago when Wolves were threatening to upset the European apple cart while Fulham tried to end their reputation as a yo-yo team, but a couple of years is a long time in football, and Marco Silva’s crop are now the ones with continental football firmly in their sights.
Taking on fellow Europa League chasers Brighton at the Amex last weekend, Fulham somehow quelled the Seagulls onslaught – which saw Brighton have 21 shots on goal compared to just five for Silva’s men – but when it mattered most, substitute Manor Solomon made no mistake to clinch the unlikeliest of wins in the 88th minute.
Credit must also go to the impenetrable Bernd Leno and the rest of the Cottagers’ rearguard for their third win on the bounce across all competitions – one which sees the newly-promoted side incredibly sit sixth in the table and just four points off Tottenham Hotspur in the final Champions League spot.
Dreams of European nights will become a reality if Fulham continue performing in the same vein, although Brighton, Liverpool and Brentford are all just three points behind with games in hand, and Fulham will face the latter two teams either side of a clash with league leaders Arsenal during a fear-inducing March schedule.
Nevertheless, Silva’s side can always rely on their staunch backline to do the dirty work, with Fulham keeping clean sheets in each of their last three top-flight games, and their upcoming opponents are not exactly renowned for prolific final-third play.
Following the script of their season, Wolves left Bournemouth goalkeeper Neto relatively untroubled despite doing the majority of the attacking at Molineux, and Lopetegui’s strugglers would be made to pay for their profligacy in a chastening loss.
Back in the starting lineup with a bang, Bournemouth’s Marcus Tavernier struck the only goal of the game in the 49th minute for the Cherries, who brought Wolves crashing back down to earth following wins over Liverpool and Southampton for the West Midlands side.
By returning to losing ways, Wolves enter Friday’s game languishing in 15th in the table – three points clear of the drop zone – and their March schedule makes for grim reading too, as Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United lie in wait over the next few weeks.
Nevertheless, playing on rival turf has been a pleasant experience for Wolves in recent fixtures – losing just one of their last five away from home, and even that was against Manchester City – but Lopetegui’s side have kept just one clean sheet on their travels in a goalless draw at Bournemouth in October.
Wolves managed to hold Fulham to a 0-0 stalemate at Molineux in August, which made it five games without defeat for the West Midlands side against the Cottagers, who have incredibly not beaten their upcoming visitors in a league fixture since a 5-0 romping in March 2012.
Fulham came away from Brighton with all three points despite missing Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, and Silva has admitted that it will be difficult for the Serbian to take part here.
Despite being the most obvious replacement for Mitrovic, Carlos Vinicius started on the bench at the Amex before setting up fellow substitute Solomon, and the pair will surely come into contention for starts over Harry Wilson and makeshift striker Bobby Decordova-Reid.
A potential start for Solomon would be his first in the Premier League, and he could become the first Israeli player to score in three successive games in the tournament since Ronny Rosenthal in 1992. Neeskens Kebano (Achilles) and Tom Cairney (ankle) make up the rest of Fulham’s absentees for Friday’s game.
As for Wolves, ex-Fulham midfielder Mario Lemina is back from a one-game ban and ready to line up against his former club, but Sasa Kalajdzic, Hwang Hee-chan, Boubacar Traore and Chiquinho are all still missing.
Lemina may be a straight swap for Joao Moutinho in the middle, and Lopetegui also left Pedro Neto out of his squad for the loss to Bournemouth due to fitness reasons, but the injury-plagued Portuguese could return to bolster an ailing attack here.
Neither Adama Traore nor Pablo Sarabia performed too badly last weekend, so Matheus Cunha may be at the greatest risk of the axe as Daniel Podence, Raul Jimenez and Diego Costa press to return.
Fulham possible starting lineup:
Leno; Tete, Diop, Ream, Robinson; Reed, Palhinha; Solomon, Pereira, Willian; Vinicius
Wolverhampton Wanderers possible starting lineup:
Sa; Semedo, Kilman, Dawson, Bueno; Lemina, Neves, Nunes; Traore, Podence, Sarabia