Tomorrow afternoon marks Fulham’s final friendly ahead of the new Championship campaign. It is a special return to Craven Cottage for so many reasons and a first opportunity for the fans to get a look at how the side is shaping up under new boss Marco Silva. Charlton Athletic might not be the most glamorous opposition for the final dress rehearsal before the big kick off but they will provide a stern test of how Silva’s first few weeks at Motspur Park have panned out.
It is clear from observing Silva’s statements since succeeding Scott Parker then he is keen to implement a bold, attacking style on his new charges. That may take time to come to fruition as the squad transitions from Parker’s more pragmatic approach but it should be met positively by the Fulham faithful. Parker clearly works hard and might go on to become a great manager, but there’s no denying that his cautious mentality made for a drab watch for the majority of his tenure. Silva will certainly put excitement back on the agenda – perhaps for the first time since Slavisa Jokanovic was dismissed in November 2018.
The Portuguese head coach has an exciting blend of some newish faces from the last campaign – who many of us have yet to have the chance to see in person – younger players staking a claim for a first-team place, some returnees from loans elsewhere and a couple of new signings. It will be intriguing to see the balance of Silva’s starting line-up and whether some of the forgotten faces of yesteryear get a chance to shine. Fulham fans certainly haven’t seen the best of Jean-Michael Seri for example, who has hardly justified his reported £27m fee, and Silva has apparently been an admirer since the Ivorian international’s days with Pacos Ferreira in his native Portugal. Seri has gone significant game time in pre-season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be staying around for the heat of the Championship battle.
It will be intriguing to see how Fulham’s new arrivals are integrated. Silva said during his press conference that he sees Paulo Gazzaniga as providing competition for Marek Rodak, who was widely assumed to be likely to regain the number one jersey before the former Tottenham keeper’s arrival. Harry Wilson has clearly been signed for the first team – with considerable Championship pedigree – and if he can reprise the level of his devastating displays that helped take Derby County to play-off final a few years ago then he may prove an inspired acquisition.
A few of the club’s most promising youth prospects should be in line for a chance to sign as well. Jay Stansfield had a wonderful first season in the Fulham youth set-up after signing from Exeter, scoring goals for fun at under-18 level, demonstrating his maturity with the under-23s and even breaking into the first team squad briefly at the turn of the year. The teenager’s second season was horribly disrupted by a freak injury, but he has been back training with the senior squad and already got minutes under his belt so far this summer. We should see more of him against the Addicks, against whom he made his league debut last January.
Then there’s Fabio Carvalho, whose composed cameos at the tail end of last season had us all wondering why Parker had taken so long to promote him to senior duty. The attacking midfielder could easily step into the role of understudy for Tom Cairney – a position Fulham have struggled to fill in recent years – and might end up playing a good deal of Championship football given the ongoing concern over the captain’s troublesome knees. The cracking goal on his debut at Southampton shows he knows where the goal is and he troubled Manchester United a few days later showed that was far from a fluke. Everyone is eager to see what his next act will look like.
Australian midfielder Tyrese Francois, named the Fulham Supporters’ Trust Johnny Haynes’ trophy winner in 2019, was handed his debut by Parker on the final day of the season against Newcastle and has featured for Silva over the course of the summer. There’s a suggestion that he might get a loan spell away from Craven Cottage to gain further first-team experience this season, but he could get a chance to demonstrate his undoubted potential tomorrow first. If he does well, Silva might have something to ponder – especially as Fulham still look light in central midfield.
It will be brilliant to be back at the Cottage again and see some familiar faces. Enjoy it everyone – and stay safe!
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, Bryan, Mawson, Adarabioyo; Reed, Onomah; Wilson, Cavaleiro, Carvalho, Mitrovic.