It’s been a while since I penned my thoughts, in fact, I’ve really not written for a long time. I won’t go into everything, but I think something you learn once you enter your 20s is life isn’t what you imagine as a child or teen. Sure, if you know what you want to do with your life and know the path to get there – it helps. As someone who left school not really knowing, each day can leave you feeling quite lost. Well finally I feel somewhat on track, with a new job and an actual career path. My work-life balance is the best it’s been and philosophically I’m happier, healthier and better. Though hurdles will continue to occur for someone like me, I’m the best place I’ve been to bat them away.
Anyway, onto Fulham. We’re coming to a key part of the season for Marco Silva’s side. Statistically, half of the sides that top the table on Boxing Day go on to win the Championship title. With no international break until March, this is a period where Europe’s most demanding division turns treacherous. The games come thick and thin with the build up to Christmas and that will test even the strongest of squads. Silva has so far coped with injury crises – Denis Odoi deputised for Kenny Tete admirably even if nobody would pretend that the Belgian veteran is as accomplished a right back as the Dutch international. No one foresaw Fabio Carvalho’s early importance coming but even with his injury, but Fulham have adjusted to his prolonged absence pretty healthily. The Domingos Quina experiment might have been quickly abandoned but Bobby Decordova-Reid has slotted into the number ten role nicely – only Harry Wilson has carved out more chances for the Whites this season. Even Tosin Adarabioyo’s suspension for that moment of madness against West Brom hasn’t unduly discomforted the defence, as Michael Hector filled in to good effect.
Confidence must be high at Craven Cottage after a run of six straight wins, during which Silva’s side have amassed 21 goals and conceded only one. The strength in depth that the Fulham head coach has at his disposal is demonstrated by the fact that the returning Cairney, Carvalho and Tete have started our most recent fixtures on the bench. Rodrigo Muniz appears to acclimatising nicely to English football – notching an impressive brace after coming on as a substitute against Blackburn – and the Brazilian forward has detailed that he is enjoying learning from the best number nine in the division. Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose own confidence has to be soaring following his winner in Lisbon, dragged a limp Scott Parker side to promotion two seasons back but he looks an entirely different animal these days. Mitrovic is playing with a smile on his face and looks like scoring with every shot at the moment. There’s certainly no irony in singing about him being on fire at the moment.
His moment of individual redemption against Portugal was richly deserved after the ignominy of that penalty shoot-out failure against Scotland that cost Serbia a spot at the European Championships. So extraordinary are his scoring exploits that Fulham look utterly transformed in attack and the threat they pose in the opposition penalty area stands in stark contrast to the side that surrendered their Premier League safety so meekly, with Parker not even considering Mitrovic as an option to score the goals that an imperilled Fulham side badly needed. Looking back, that appears a horrific misjudgement at best.
Fulham’s current squad contains a multitude of talents and could have been guided to promotion by a PE teacher – the players have shown that already. The key thing is that Marco Silva can be the man to stabilise Fulham as a Premier League outfit – that is why he took this job. The football has been exhilarating at times, largely dominant in possession but with vertical threat and ruthlessness to create chance after chance. This Fulham side has scored 13 more goals than their nearest ‘goals for’ challenger whilst staying solid at the back with the second best defence in terms of goals conceded. Silva’s side have scored one more goal at this stage of last season than Jean Tigana’s 2000-01 promotion team featuring Louis Saha (who scored 27 in the league for that season – whilst Aleksandar Mitrovic sits on 20 with 29 games left to play).
Fulham have three fixtures to play before Parker’s return to Craven Cottage with the league leaders Bournemouth on December 3rd, in what is arguably the first blockbuster battle of the promotion campaign. All three matches before the Cherries come to the capital appear winnable, although nothing can be certain in such an unpredictable lead. Fulham host the two sides occupying the last two spots in the Championship relegation zone, before heading to Deepdale to take on Frankie McAvoy’s Preston North End, who are also currently ensconced in the bottom half of the table.
Without looking too far in the future, you get the feeling that this run to the New Year will be vital in Fulham’s title ambitions (yes, you get a gong for finishing 2nd but to go up as champions should be the only goal). In this December period, Fulham will want to set the tone, much like they did post-Coventry and with lots of games with little break – the entire squad will have to match the intensity, form and difference of their position group. If Aleksandar Mitrovic gets a knock, Rodrigo Muniz has to become the ‘big dog’ and the same applies for all of those on the fringes. If you’re on the fringes now – the chances are you’ll be replaced in the Premier League so step up when it’s your turn. That’s the attitude of champions and champions is what Fulham have to be.
It should be fun and I’m already looking forward to that first Friday in December, when Parker comes back in front of the Sky cameras and under the flood lights. You can’t fail to have been enthralled by the way Silva has taken to the early stages of his task of securing an immediate return to the top flight and, given the way he has spoken about having unfinished business in the Premier League, he will be determined to establish Fulham as a force at English football’s top table. This is shaping up to be a season that Fulham fans will look back on with similar fondness to that of 2000/01, when Tigana’s team stormed to promotion with style and panache.
Another update – I’m looking at writing more but sometimes I lack the initial creative idea or I start writing and can’t get the right flow (this for example, I’m not sure is great) but if there’s any questions you want answered or anything studied or discussed, send me a message on Twitter (@frankieptaylor) or respond to my articles and I’ll note to see what I can do.