Fulham fans got their first viewing of Marco Silva’s Fulham on Saturday in the final pre-season friendly prior to the season opener at Middlesbrough. Having arrived at the Cottage full of anticipation, a traffic incident caused the Fulham bus to arrive late, there was a period to enjoy a £5 Carlsberg or two and admire the sheer size of the new and improved Riverside Stand. It was fun that the largest and heaviest rainfall came whilst in no-man’s land and walking through Bishop’s Park so with damp clothes, wet shoes and a sorry soul – we awaited the arrival of the Fulham coach as Charlton’s players strolled around the pitch.
I’m sure you’ll all see at the Middlesbrough game or some point across the season but the new stand is seriously sexy, it makes you dream of one day being able to do the same with the Putney and Hammersmith Ends. As usual, the keepers came out to warm up first with Paolo Gazzaniga’s presence was notable. He’s much bigger than I really remembered from his time at Tottenham and Southampton and compared to young Luca Ashby-Hammond, it looked rather like man and a boy. The warm up was interesting given what unfolded when the rest of the players emerged from the tunnel.
Whilst there were the typical movement related drills there was a period where the 10 outfielders split up into two sets of 5. The first five (Kenny Tete, Tosin, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson and Tyrese Francois) worked on moving the ball with Francois, the 21 year old academy product from Australia as the catalyst for a lot of the circulation between here and the back four. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa joined Anthony Knockaert, Fabio Carvalho, Neeskens Kebano and Aleksandar Mitrovic on shooting drills; the much welcome return of Luis Boa Morte around Craven Cottage laying off for the attacking players to take aim. The next notable drill was then Tim Ream and Tosin Adarabioyo playing passes wide to Kenny Tete and Antonee Robinson with the two full backs taking turns to deliver crosses into the box for a mix of three players – one moving to the front post, one to the back box and another around the penalty spot.
Whilst that may be inconsequential to many it was a preview of the patterns of play to keep an eye on through the season. That continued throughout the game, Anthony Knockaert and Neeskens Kebano constantly looked to dart behind with passes to be clipped through and whenever the ball was wide, the full backs would enthusiastically look to support forward play, more notably with Antonee Robinson and Neeskens Kebano than Anthony Knockaert and Kenny Tete, with Knockaert coming more central and looking like the French winger we all know and love. Vertical running off the ball was particular prominent and should be a key feature of Silva-ball as the opening goal came from a perfect through pass from Tyrese Francois to his fellow academy product Fabio Carvalho who perfectly timed his run to finish past Charlton’s Craig MacGillivray.
You could definitely see Fulham were working on some patterns of play and some aspects tactically yet to be perfected – perhaps understandably given how short Silva’s spell working with the squad has been. It still smacked of pre-season as both sets of players weren’t playing with the same intensity as they would do in a month’s time after a few league games under their belt. Paolo Gazzaniga didn’t have a save to make but showed his size and experience to claim crosses when they did come in. Tim Ream was imperious leaving Jayden Stockley and Conor Washington feeding on scraps.
But, Marco Silva’s black and white army is a go and as the intensity picks up and the weeks of training continue, we’ll see how the early glimpses translate into concrete performances when the Championship campaign begins shortly. This was an encouraging afternoon where you see how we can develop, especially considering the acquisition of Harry Wilson as an almost number ten off the right and Rodrigo Muniz, who Warnock described as being ‘a different option with energy and pace’. Running in behind can compliment Aleksandar Mitrovic or pose a different probem for defences and we’re yet to see how Harrison Reed, Tom Cairney, Bobby Decordova-Reid, Ivan Cavaleiro and perhaps Michael Hector slot into the Silva system.
All in all, it was great to have live football back. The commute over to Putney, the walk through Bishop’s Park, the people and community, the songs remembering Kevin McDonald and Tony Fisher alongside the usual banter directed at the opposition. It was wonderful to back at our historic home again – and the signs are good for a positive start to the season.