As Marco Silva works through the various permutations to settle on his first-choice Fulham eleven, there’s a lot of discussion about the composition of his best side. It is clear that a successful Fulham side will need more consistent contributions from their wingers. Is the new man in charge going to be able to rejuvenate the careers of Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert or will there be new faces on the flanks come the end of the transfer window?
Both players have endured their ups and downs at Craven Cottage, but I feel there is much more to come from both of them. Silva’s penchant for pacey, counter-attacking football could work in favour of both Knockaert and Cavaleiro, who seemed shackled for much of the Scott Parker era, as well as Aleksandar Mitrovic. Silva has always liked a big target man to lead the line at his previous clubs, such as Troy Deeney with Watford, Cenk Tosun at Everton and Oumar Niasse during his time in charge of Hull City.
Fulham’s wingers seemed badly underused by both Parker’s system and their instructions over the past couple of years. You always felt playing them as inverted wingers neutered their effectiveness. Cavaleiro, is a pacey and explosive player, who needs space to run with the ball and quick build up play. Parker’s approach seemed ponderous and laboured – allowing defenders to be able to nullify the Portuguese winger. Knockaert loves to run with the ball, turn into space and try to spark something – those off-the-cuff characteristics never flourished in the previous manager’s very structured gameplan. Luis Boa Morte’s return to the club and the fact that Silva and Cavaleiro are also compatriots could build valuable trust and understanding.
Silva would also have other options at his disposal. Fulham can currently call upon Neeskens Kebano, Aboubakar Kamara and Bobby Decordova-Reid in the wide positions – and I am excited about the possible addition of Harry Wilson, especially as the Whites have been missing a deadly set-piece taker for some time. I’d consider Cavaleiro and Knockaert as the stand outs in their positions, with Reid – who topped the scoring charts last season – and possibly Kamara more as forwards in the Silva system. That only leaves Kebano and young Fabio Carvalho, with Sylvester Jasper currently on trial at Sheffield Wednesday, and I’d urge caution about the latter despite his stunning cameos at the tail end of our Premier League season. He’s clearly a bright young talent, but it may be asking too much for him to immediately become a mainstay in the Championship. Kebano could count himself unlucky not to have broken through into the first team, but we have seen from his performances towards the end of the 2019/20 season that he can definitely add another dimension to the Fulham attack.
There is also another looming question, especially in light of Fulham’s recent history, which is whether any of these players would be able to step up to the top flight should Silva succeed in taking the club back up? Knockaert has been a Premier League regular in the past and, in the right system, he might be able to rekindle that sort of form. The jury is probably still out on Cavaleiro. We only have a season of evidence in a Fulham shirt to go on – and most of that was with him being played out of position. The way Silva sets up against Middlesbrough on the opening day will give us an insight into what he wants to do and how he wants to play. Both Knockaert and Cavaleiro are hard workers who never stop running – and those are essential commodities if you are trying to build a successful Championship side.
Silva has been clear that he wants to make a fresh start and is currently in the process of evaluating the squad he has inherited. With a new man at the helm and a bona fide Fulham legend as his right hand man, there should be a fresh opportunity for everyone to impress. A new season with a new manager and a new, attractive and attacking style of play for the returning fans to enjoy at Craven Cottage. What’s not to like?