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The Big Match Tactical View: Fulham v Sunderland

John Arne Riise battles with Stephane Sessegnon last season

Sunderland haven't scored in half of their six away games
Lay ‘Yes’ in ‘Both sides to score’ at 1.875/6.

Michael Cox previews free-scoring Fulham's contest against shot-shy Sunderland.

Fulham v Sunderland, Sunday 4:00, Sky Sports 1.

Match Odds: Fulham 1.758/11, Sunderland 5.59/2, The Draw 4.03/1

This is a clash between two completely opposing sides - Fulham have scored the second-most goals in the league, Sunderland have scored the fewest. 

Want more statistics illustrating the difference? Fulham have the third-highest number of shots on target in the game, Sunderland have recorded the fewest.

How about their strategies for corresponding fixtures? Well, when Fulham went to Arsenal, they drew 3-3, when Sunderland travelled to the Emirates, it was a 0-0 draw.  

All of this, quite obviously, points to the fact that Fulham are a more positive, attacking side than Sunderland - and a more accomplished unit too. Fulham are 1.758/11 to triumph here, which is roughly what you'd expect - but after their fortunate draw at home to Everton and a narrow win at Craven Cottage over a poor Aston Villa side, I'm not willing to back them at odds-on, even against a Sunderland side struggling for creativity. Four draws in their last five matches suggests Fulham could drop points again.

After all, last weekend Sunderland finally showed signs of life. Away at Everton, in a fixture they have a dreadful record in, they took the lead and for the first time this season, someone other than Steven Fletcher scored. Adam Johnson's well-taken goal was eventually irrelevant as Everton came from behind to win, but it's a promising first step.

Sunderland's problem is that their build-up play is too predictable. Lacking creativity in central positions, they always spread the play wide to James McClean and Adam Johnson, and though both are highly-rated by virtue of being left-footed wingers who can beat an opponent, their crossing statistics this season are dreadful. 

With Stephane Sessegnon more of a powerful dribbler than a goalscoring or a provider, and Fletcher thriving off crosses, so much of Sunderland's play depends on whether the wide duo can whip the ball into the box, and therefore the key clashes in this game will be the wingers against John Arne Riise and Sascha Reither. If the similarly-named Fulham full-back duo have good games, Fulham will win the match comfortably.

Dimitar Berbatov is often cited as Fulham's star man, but Bryan Ruiz was excellent in the 3-3 draw last week at Arsenal, floating between the lines and giving Mikel Arteta a difficult time in the holding midfield role. Sunderland must keep it tight between the lines - neither of the centre-backs want to be drawn out of the back.

I think this could turn into a tight, scrappy match. Sunderland will defend deep and then look to break through the two wide players, while I'm not entirely convinced Fulham are good enough in the centre of midfield to break down a solid defence. The departure of Danny Murphy has robbed them of genuine guile in that zone, while Mousa Dembele's directness hasn't been replaced either.

Chris Baird, Mahamadou Diarra and Steve Sidwell are all reliable performers, but are careful rather than penetrative with their distribution. Ruiz and Berbatov are significantly more creative than Sunderland's equivalents, of course, but they need to receive the ball in dangerous positions, which could be a problem against a narrow, compact unit.

Therefore, I quite fancy Under 2.5 goals at odds-against, around 2.111/10, although I concede this is certainly a risk - while seven of Sunderland's ten matches have seen under 2.5, only one of Fulham's eleven matches have. But I can't see this being open, and for different reasons I think both could struggle to clear-cut create chances.

However, it's also notable that Sunderland have failed to score in three of their six away games - and I think a much better bet, if you agree there'll be few goals, is laying 'Yes' in 'Both sides to score' at 1.875/6.

Recommended bet:
Lay 'Yes' in 'Both sides to score' at 1.875/6.

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