Ahead of today’s bottom half clash with Fulham, we’ve been speaking to Jack Collins from @FulhamishPod, who’s given us a nice little insight into the side we’ll be coming up against come 3pm at St James’ Park today.
Without further adieu, here’s what he’s had to say – starting with his strong assessment of ex-Mag Aleksandar Mitrovic – a player he believes would be ‘world class’ with just a bit more pace:
“Simply put, Mitrovic is a very, very good player; and no matter how much he worked or didn’t work in systems, it’s nuts to rule his quality out. That said, I can understand the frustrations with him in terms of counter-attacking – if he had pace, he’d be World Class!
“He’s been so good for us that it’s hard to knock him – his goal ratio speaks for itself and he’s one of our few real leaders in the team, which means his worth soars.
“I’d love to see him get the ball delivered in more for him to attack, and I’m hoping that the return of Joe Bryan at left back will help to assuage that problem.
“Rafa has always stuck with the idea that he trusts players who suit his systems, and I respect that, but I do believe that if we stay up it will be Mitro that leads that, and I’m hoping your loss will continue to be our gain!”
This really does prove just how much Fulham must suit Aleksandar Mitrovic, as it’s fair to say no Newcastle fan could’ve said this about the striker just a year ago.
Jack then touched on Fulham’s defensive issues – which have no settled down despite Ranieri’s appointment – as well as picking out a few ‘ones to watch’ in their side ahead of today’s game:
“Defensive lapses remain common, despite Ranieri’s record, and the constant tinkering with the side (while he’s trying to figure out his best XI) seems to be affecting everyone negatively.
“Our defensive issues aren’t going anywhere, as evidenced by the way that West Ham were able to absolutely maraud through us at will last week at Craven Cottage. There’s so much change going on that it looks like a lot of the players are lost, and even last year’s player of the season, Tim Ream, looks a different player (in the worst way) since suffering a back injury at the start of the season. If Ranieri could have his best back four all fit and available, there would be cause for optimism, but the constant changes (some forced, some bewildering) can’t be good for creating a watertight unit.
“We’re weak through the middle and our mentality isn’t great – heads drop when we go a goal down, which is a danger when you’re at this end of the league. Ranieri needs to get them working for each other and fast, or things will continue going south.
“That said, we do possess talented players, especially going forward. Tom Cairney is still capable of running games from central midfield, and in the absence of Ryan Sessegnon, I expect one of Floyd Ayite or Neeskens Kebano to start – they’re different types of player but both are direct and look to get behind opposition backlines, which I think could be key to success for Fulham.
“Sergio Rico has been an absolute hero since coming into the side – his saves have kept score lines respectable and with a half-decent defence in front of him, I think he’d be challenging Dubravka for the ‘best keeper outside the top six’ mantle.
Finally, Jack picked out who he deemed to be the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ in this Newcastle side – picking Perez and Kenedy as two ‘mercurial playmakers’ he loves to watch, but seeing Dummett as a surprise weak link:
“On a footballing level, I think that Ayoze Perez and Kenedy, frustrating as they must no doubt be as mercurial playmakers, are game-changers and I love watching both of them when they’re in full flight.
“With our weakness in the air, especially from set pieces, I’m wary of pretty much all your centre-halves, Rondon and Diame – it’s a pretty petrifying quartet when you’re no good at defending dead balls!
“In terms of weaknesses, I’d be looking at your full backs as people to exploit, especially if asked to push forward in the 3-5-1-1 that’s been kicking around under Rafa. I remember Paul Dummett having a torrid time in the Championship against us both home and away, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t look to get the ball out wide and take him on to try and get the ball into Mitro in the middle.”
A great insight from Jack ahead of what promises to be a huge game for both sides today.
To see more of his thoughts before and after the game, check him out on Twitter at @FulhamishPod.