Sports Mole previews Saturday’s Premier League clash between Fulham and Manchester City, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
The Citizens have a game in hand to play on Liverpool, who are two points better off but face a tricky test against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, meaning that this could be a pivotal matchday at the top.
Fulham may have given a below-par Liverpool a run for their money two weeks ago, but positives are few and far between for interim boss Scott Parker as he watches his side slide back into the second tier.
Parker also saw his side come close to earning a draw against Chelsea in their previous home match, also losing that one 2-1 after levelling things up at one point, though the near misses ultimately count for very little as Fulham are without a point in seven matches.
Going further back, it is 11 defeats in 12 matches in all competitions for the West London side, seeing them crash out of the FA Cup in embarrassing circumstances to Oldham Athletic and effectively extinguishing the flickering flame of hope they had of staying up.
Following successive home defeats to Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, Fulham have now lost 25 of their last 26 Premier League matches against big-six sides, drawing the other 2-2 at Old Trafford against Manchester United in February 2014.
Fulham have also conceded at least twice in each of their last 11 Premier League games, a record in the competition. The last top-flight side to concede more than once in more consecutive games were Newcastle United between May-October 1977 (14 games).
Parker’s men face dropping out of the Premier League with a whimper, then, as they find themselves 13 points adrift of Burnley in 17th place after playing the same number of matches.
Relegation will surely be confirmed in the coming weeks. For Parker, though, this is very much an extended job interview and he will be desperate to pull off a major shock to show why he is the right man to take charge of the club on a permanent basis.
Recent form in Premier League: LLLLLL
A visit from the defending champions, title favourites and undisputed form side in the land is not exactly what Fulham, bottom of the form table, would have hoped for this weekend.
City have brushed aside pretty much every side they have faced over the past three months, winning a truly incredible 19 of their last 20 matches since back-to-back defeats over Christmas.
Those losses to Crystal Palace and Leicester City gave Liverpool a major advantage in the title race, but City have since closed the gap and it is now in their hands as we enter the final straight.
Attention turned to the cup competitions before the international break, with the Citizens completing the job in their Champions League last-16 tie against Schalke 04 with a thumping 7-0 second-leg win, before scraping past Swansea City in controversial circumstances.
City now have an FA Cup semi-final against Brighton & Hove Albion to look forward to next month, as well as a Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur, so the quadruple is very much still on.
Guardiola admitted before the two-week break that he needed each of his players to return from international duty fully fit if they were to sustain their hopes of a clean sweep of silverware.
City have a maximum of 15 games left to play between now and the end of the season. Winning each of those will be an almighty ask but, on the basis of the last three months, you should not count against them doing exactly that to make this easily the most memorable campaign in their history.
Recent form in Premier League: WWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW
Guardiola has an injury crisis at the back as Nicolas Otamendi pulled out of Argentina’s squad through injury and is not expected to return this weekend, while Vincent Kompany is nursing a muscular problem and Stones is also a fitness doubt with a groin problem.
Aymeric Laporte is therefore the only fit and available centre-back, with makeshift defender Fernandinho also doubtful, so Guardiola may have to take a risk on Stones, who only returned to light training on Wednesday.
Fernandinho, De Bruyne and Benjamin Mendy also returned to training this week, but it remains to be seen which of those – if any – Guardiola takes a risk on ahead of a gruelling run of fixtures.
Sergio Aguero, benched for the trip to Swansea last time out, has been involved in six goals in his last four starts against Fulham in the Premier League and should get the nod here.
Parker listened to supporters during his first couple of games in charge by using Tom Cairney in his favoured attacking midfield position and restoring Ryan Sessegnon to the side, though he did rotate slightly for the defeat to Liverpool.
Sessegnon is pushing for a recall out wide for this one, with a 4-2-3-1 formation that would see Ryan Babel – on target against Liverpool – included on the opposite flank a strong possibility.
Since his debut for Fulham in January, Babel has been involved in more Premier League goals than any of his teammates (two goals, two assists).
Fulham possible starting lineup:
Rico; Fosu-Mensah, Chambers, Ream, Bryan; Anguissa, Serri; Babel, Cairney, Sessegnon; Mitrovic
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko; Bernardo, Gundogan, D.Silva; Sterling, Aguero, Sane
Head To Head
Fulham are winless in 13 games against Man City in all competitions, including each of the last seven encounters.
City have won six straight Premier League meetings with this weekend’s opponents, scoring 19 goals and conceding just three since a 2-2 draw in September 2011.
The Cottagers have lost seven consecutive top-flight matches against an opponent just once before, losing eight in a row against Man United between 2000 and 2009.
We say: Fulham 0-3 Manchester City
Chelsea and Liverpool have made hard work of beating Fulham at Craven Cottage over the past month, but Man City should have no problems on Saturday. The Citizens have not failed to score against the Londoners in all competitions since a 0-0 draw in March 2004, netting 51 goals in their 23 games since, suggesting that this should be a routine victory.