Marco Silva might have been pleased with the way Fulham put Huddersfield to the sword at the weekend, but he sought to dampen down expectations ahead the trip to the New Dean during yesterday’s pre-match press conference. He was right to call the Championship a marathon – it remains one of Europe’s most competitive and unpredictable divisions – but also understandably wary of the meeting with Millwall. After all, the Lions delivered a damaging FA Cup defeat to the Portuguese coach when he was in charge of Everton and, arguably, his reign at Goodison Park never recovered from the way the Toffees surrendered a 2-1 lead in the final fifteen minutes.
It would be wise to remember that, however fluent Fulham were in west Yorkshire on Saturday, that Huddersfield were abject, hampered by a young goalkeeper who had a nightmare, and gave Silva’s side plenty of time to pick their passes – even when the Whites were reduced to ten men. There weren’t be anything close to that sort of comfort in south east London this evening. Millwall will be desperate to kickstart their season after two frustrating draws that hinted at a lack of a cutting edge up top and they certainly won’t be lacking any intensity in front of an intimidating home crowd.
Gary Rowett’s side made smart summer acquisitions and will still be ruing their failure to finish off Blackburn after the impressive Jed Wallace made a period of second half dominance pay on Saturday. The winger has scored in both of Millwall’s opening league fixtures and shutting him down will be crucial to Fulham’s chances of extending their own unbeaten start, with the home side’s fortunes dependent on getting team-mates in advanced positions to make the most of his silky skills as they did successfully in a beautifully crafted goal against Tony Mowbray’s side.
The hosts may rue the expected absence of former Fulham defender Shaun Hutchinson, who has been one of the Championship’s most consistent performers since leaving Craven Cottage on a free transfer. The former Motherwell defender will miss this reunion with a quad complaint, although Dan Ballard looks a ready-made replacement given how seamlessly he has slotted into the heart of Rowett’s defence since joining on loan from Arsenal. A revitalised Aleksandar Mitrovic, fresh from his freakish opener at Huddersfield, should be prepared for a proper physical battle.
This London derby should serve as an early barometer of whether Fulham can quickly reprise the sort of adventurous and free-flowing football that tore holes in the Terriers at will. Rowett’s sides are usually well-drilled and dogged, with Millwall’s fanatical fans – who could make a real difference now that supporters back inside stadiums – demanding every last drop of effort. As the new Fulham boss intimated yesterday, it will be a different sort of challenge and his side will need to be switched on from the very first whistle.
Silva’s main concerns will be over the fitness of his key performers. We have yet to see Harrison Reed in competitive action this season – the midfielder has been managing a persistent ankle problem and he is the only one on Fulham’s injury list with any chance of featuring against Millwall. It will be interesting to see whether Jean Michael Seri, impressive on a surprise start against Huddersfield, gets another opportunity in the engine room and if Andre-Frank Anguissa, who Silva sounded keen to keep yesterday, also features in the matchday squad. Bobby Decordova-Reid roamed from the left to devastating effect weekend and Ivan Cavaleiro did his chances of stepping up in place of the suspended Harry Wilson no harm with two terrific finishes after coming off the bench.
The biggest worry from Fulham’s opening two fixtures was how susceptible Silva’s side appear to be from set pieces. This is not a new problem – both his Everton and Watford sides seemed all sea at dead ball situations during his previous spells in English football – but Huddersfield could easily have exploited this vulnerability on more than the two occasions that they had the ball in Paulo Gazzaniga’s net on Saturday. The Argentine hasn’t exactly convinced in goal since being elevated above Marek Rodak and Millwall, who are one of the league’s set piece specialists, will be primed to test this weakness from the outset. We’ll learn a lot about Fulham’s promotion credentials this evening.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, Bryan, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Onomah; Cavaleiro, Decordova-Reid, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Robinson, Mawson, Francois, Seri, Kebano, Stansfield.