In the reverse fixture, it finished 0-3 to Aston Villa at Craven Cottage. What is your reflection on the match?
I thought it was an interesting affair. With Fulham still finding their feet at the top level and Villa jubilant after their opening day victory, the pattern of play was to be found out when Villa took the lead after just four minutes. You could see at the time that Fulham looked shy on the ball and nervous when out of possession. The home team looked as though they were lacking a leader, a reassuring voice at the back in which was made evident as they conceded a second just ten minutes later. After the away team’s early spell of dominance, Fulham found their feet and controlled the possession, but failed to do anything with it and despite having more shots than Villa, they lacked a cutting edge.
With 41 points, being sat in 10th place and 10 games left to play, are you hoping a late run of form in the season will put you in contention for a Europa League place?
It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. With it looking more likely by the day that captain Jack Grealish will return for the remaining ten games, Villa stand a chance in any game with him on the pitch. After a sticky patch of late, the captain’s return could see a rejuvenated home side as it is almost a certainty that we will create an extra ten plus opportunities because of his presence.
Jack Grealish has been a big miss for Villa in recent weeks with his injury and some poor results, it’s lead to people saying how over-reliant Villa are on their captain. How would you react to this?
Yeah, it is a very good point. Before his injury, Dean Smith and fans alike were very quick to shut down such suggestions. However, having now played six games in his absence and only winning one; as much as Smith will continue to deny it, fans eyes seem to have certainly been opened to the apparent lack of attacking outlook and belief amongst the players without him.
Ollie Watkins came in with a lot of pressure after Villa paid a huge amount of money for a Championship striker. What do you think has been the reason behind his good form this season?
I believe his good form can be put down to many factors, with the most obvious one being his selfless nature. Regardless of if Villa are on top in proceedings or chasing the ball, his closing down and persistent nature makes sure to remind the team of the expected intensity. His ability to hold the ball up and bring players into play allows us to get players onto the ball and cause the opposition more than one problem.
Who has been the standout player for Aston Villa so far this season?
I think it is hard to look past Jack Grealish. Every season it seems impossible for the skipper to turn it up a gear in regard to his performances, but year on year he finds a way, as is evident in our recent performances without him. However, a significant amount of our points must be put down to goalkeeper, Emiliano Martínez. The Argentine has had such a massive impact on our defence in helping it transition from the worst in the league to one of the best in Europe within the space of just a season. His reassuring nature and reliability helps us go into games believing we can keep a clean sheet regardless of the opposition.
Who’s one Fulham player you feel can threaten Villa on Sunday?
Fulham have a large array of options capable of hurting any opposition. The front three of Josh Maja, Bobby Decordova-Reid, and Ademola Lookman are all quick, silky players who have a deadly finish on them. The midfield options of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Harrison Reed, and Anguissa have admirable passing vision. Lastly, credit must be given to Scott Parker for the way he has maintained your defensive situation; turning such a leaky outfit around to be so secure and compact is some feat. However, if I had to highlight one player, it would have to be Ademola Lookman.
When we spoke before the last game, you gave us predictions of Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal to finish in the top 4 and West Ham, Fulham and West Brom in the bottom 3. How do you react to those predictions from September?
Hahaha, seeing West Ham as a side to be in the bottom three has me questioning my football knowledge. What a season they have had! West Brom look just about too far adrift, whilst I have a sneaky feeling Fulham will manage to climb themselves out at the expense of Newcastle United. Looking towards the top four, Man City has blown away all other competition and Chelsea look revitalised under their new manager. Liverpool has a fight to regain an inch of form if they are to grasp the top four. Arsenal on the other hand, is in a battle just to finish in the top half!
Finally, how do you see the game panning out and what is your score prediction for the match?
I believe the game could be a very attacking affair, with the home side brimming with confidence as Jack Grealish is set to return, however, Scott Parker will be under no illusion as to how important three points could be away from home. I believe it could be an end-to-end match with many chances, but I am going to sit on the fence and say a 1-1.