Slavisa Jokanovic wasn’t a happy man after the midweek EFL Cup exit but if you had asked the Fulham head coach which of this week’s two tussles with Bristol City he’d rather win, he would have plumped for this afternoon’s Championship encounter. That’s because memories of Fulham’s flawless start to their league campaign seem a little distant now after a number of nervy displays in recent weeks – and the team’s failure to break down some stubborn defences. It is still too early to set too much store by the Championship table, but an improvement is necessary to avoid the impression that Fulham’s energetic start was something of a false dawn.
To that end, Jokanovic will want his side to be on the front foot this afternoon – with a degree of adventure and intensity that has been missing in their past three league fixtures. Sides seemed to have worked out that they can allow Fulham the ball in front of them and, by shackling Tom Cairney out on the right flank, that the supply line to a lone forward will be pretty predictable. Concerted spells of possession don’t therefore translate in long periods of pressure and the frustration of an expectant home crowd grows. The sense that points are vital in this early stage of the season is also increased when you look at what appears a horrible run of fixtures in October and November.
The teamsheets will make interesting reading today because, although Fulham made eleven changes for the Cup defeat, Jokanovic will be mulling over how to react to a few sh0t-shy displays. That shouldn’t necessarily put Chris Martin’s place in jeopardy – three performances are not enough to condemn a man who has an outstanding record at this level, whatever the keyboard warriors may claim. It is probably a little too early for the Serbian to switch from his preferred 4-2-3-1 system, although any fruitless afternoon may make him think twice about whether it gives enough options to the lone striker. The formation is built around movement from the advanced midfield trio, which has been sorely lacking of late, but the return of Sone Aluko – passed fit yesterday afternoon – should give Fulham some much-needed speed and trickery in and around the box.
Jokanovic will have to make at least one change to his favoured defence with Tomas Kalas ruled out due to an injury picked up in midweek. That means Michael Madl will probably join Ragar Sigurdsson at the heart of the defence, which is a worry given that the Austrian was given the run around by Tammy Abraham when he came off the bench on Wednesday and the on-loan Chelsea striker, who has scored nine in eleven so far this season, is certain to start this afternoon. Kevin McDonald will probably partner skipper Scott Parker at the base of the Fulham midfield, but you feel such a formation is crying out for some drive from deep and Lasse Vigen Christensen – who provided a bit of dynamism before he was taken off in the Cup tie – might consider himself unfortunate not to be afforded greater game time.
Lee Johnson’s side will look a little different as well this afternoon and his charges will take heart both from Wednesday’s success and their late win at the Cottage last season. They have started this term impressively and will only be missing midfielder Korey Smith and could climb towards the play-off spots with a second win in four days in SW6. The Robins are hopeful that Joe Bryant and Hordur Magnusson will be fit enough to bolster their defence, with Taylor Moore standing by to build on his impressive debut, although the pair will face late fitness tests before a final decision is made about their participation.
As we saw on Wednesday, City are an accomplished and attractive side, unafraid to take the game to the opposition and more than willing to pass through midfield. Abraham will prove a constant threat, but there are plenty of other talents to watch out for. Johnson has urged his players to capitalise on any Fulham uncertainly by going in search of an early goal, but a fast start will also be what Jokanovic is looking for. It should another intriguing contest.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, Sessegnon, Madl, Sigurdssson; Parker, Christensen; Cairney, Kebano, Aluko; Martin. Subs: Bettinelli, Malone, Ream, McDonald, Jozabed, Piazon, Smith.