As we move closer to the big kick-off against Middlesbrough on Sunday, there are still some outstanding questions over who Marco Silva will select in his starting line-up. Many numbers pick themselves, but perhaps the most intriguing dilemma surrounds who will start at left back. Fulham are blessed two high-quality Championship options in this position with the American international Antonee Robinson and Wembley hero Joe Bryan battling it out for the start.
Robinson has plenty of Championship experience after making a £2m from Wigan Athletic last summer. It didn’t take him long to oust Bryan from Scott Parker’s preferred starting line-up and he didn’t look out of the place in the Premier League. His biggest asset is his rapidity, with his pace posing real problems for opposition defences as well as offering recovery speed to help him get back to defend against tricky wingers. He has also become a regular feature in the American international squad – with twelve senior caps – and made 94 appearances at this level for the Latics. While Robinson does have pace to burn, the one frustration has been a failure to add assists or goals to his game. His crossing was often found wanting last season, and in modern football, full backs are supposed to be attacking outlets as well.
That’s where Bryan holds a significant advantage. Not only did he seal Fulham’s place in the Premier League this time last year with a brilliant brace against Brentford this time last year, but he was a regular source of supply for Aleskandar Mitrovic. His reward for three goals and eight assists in 49 games was a contract extension and a place on the sidelines for much of the season – as he had to settle for just nineteen appearances in the whole campaign. He did score the equaliser at Old Trafford -heading home his old mate Bobby Decordova-Reid’s cross to earn a point at Manchester United – but it felt like a frustrating campaign for the former Bristol City full back. Bryan’s major drawback is his defensive positioning, which sees him regularly caught out of position.
Both men will start the season at Craven Cottage, despite a host of fevered speculation linking Robinson with a move away. Manchester City and Wolves were rumoured to be prepared £10m offers by the tabloids and Bordeaux fancied taking him on loan. No bids have materialised for the ex-Everton trainee, who you still feel has plenty of possible improvement in him. Silva likes adventurous full-backs to get forward and provide an extra attacking outlet. He’d have the perfect player if he could blend Bryan’s crossing ability with Robinson’s blistering pace, but it will be very interesting to see who Fulham’s new head coach starts the season with.