As Marco Silva has already mentioned this week, being at Craven Cottage for his first game in charge of Fulham is exactly what he would have chosen had he been allowed to operate the fixture computer himself. Middlesbrough, managed by the wily Neil Warnock, represent an immediate test of Fulham’s Championship credentials and will be eager to spring a surprise on the opening weekend. Silva clearly respects Warnock, who has a hell of a promotion record from this division, even if his Everton side beat the Cardiff team that the now-Boro boss was in charge, twice in the 2018/2019 campaign.
New surroundings for Silva add to the intrigue. While we have a good idea of what style of football he will favour there are still plenty of question left to be answered about the personnel. We got a glimpse of what the Silva era might delivery in last weekend’s friendly victory over Charlton. I felt there were some tangible tactical tweaks from the ponderous Parker period with snappier and swifter forward passing leading to vertical attacking designed to put the opposition on the back foot. Fabio Carvalho came to the fore again – and after an outstanding start to his Fulham career, you could easily see him flourishing under Silva. The emergence of Carvalho and Tyrese Francois makes me question if the Whites really do need another midfielder at this point.
Tim Ream wore the captain’s armband and defended diligently against Charlton’s – he was my man of the match on that basis. The American appears to be part of Silva’s preferred central defensive partnership, although there’s clearly still a question mark over who lines up in goal. Marek Rodak is expected to be fit for the visit of Middlesbrough, but that doesn’t mean that Paulo Gazzaniga won’t grab hold of the first team’s goalkeeping jersey. The Argentine acquitted himself excellently when he stepped in for Hugo Lloris at Spurs and I doubt he has come to the Cottage to just sit on the bench. The only serious injury doubts surround Harrison Reed, with club captain Tom Cairney and Terence Kongolo out for a few weeks yet.
Middlesbrough will be a tough nut to crack. They have had an excellent pre-season, winning four out of fives games, and Warnock has switched systems over the summer. Boro previously lined up in a 4-2-3-1 but have adopted a back three in recent times and it is expected that this is the approach Warnock will favour on Sunday lunchtime. His sides are often physical and combative and are designed to pinch possession and get on the front foot.
Warnock can call upon some excellent crosses of a ball to feed his forwards and those deliveries come in handy at set pieces, should Fulham foolishly concede fouls in dangerous area. The Whites should watch one for the intelligent movement of Ducan Watmore, who could be a focal point – especially if the visitors decide to operate on the counter attack. If Boro are determined and diligent, it could be a very long day.
Middlesbrough will be determined and persistent, with Warnock’s high-octane blend of passion and tactical acumen, and will have a carefully constructed game plan designed to quell some of Silva’s attacking intent. It won’t be easy but I’m backing the Whites get off to a solid start – with a two-goal victory.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Tete, Robinson, Ream, Adarabioyo; Anugissa, Seri; Wilson, Kebano, Carvalho; Mitrovic.