Spirit should be high in the Fulham camp as the Whites prepare to return to Championship action after the international break. Marco Silva’s side quickly set aside the disappointment of their limp second-half capitulation at Coventry to win six games in succession at the end of October and consolidate their hold on second place in the table – six points clear of West Brom – with a string of impressive performances. Fulham’s adventurous style has been coupled with defensive solidity as Marek Rodak’s return in goal has made the side much more miserly, with the Slovakian keeping five clean sheets in a row.
Struggling Barnsley made the decision to part ways with Markus Schopp at the start of November. The Tykes appointed Poya Asbaghi as their new boss on Wednesday, although the former Swedish under-21 head coach will not take charge of the team at Craven Cottage this weekend. Asbaghi, who guided IFK Gothenburg to the Swedish Cup in 2020, will have a watching brief alongside his number two Ferran Sibila in SW6 tomorrow, meaning that Jo Laumann will take charge for a final time, having previously led Barnsley to their only win of the campaign against Derby in his first game a few weeks ago.
Barnsley might be marooned in the Championship relegation zone but they have an excellent recent record against Fulham and don’t have to look too far for inspiration ahead of their trip to the capital. Former Fulham forward Cauley Woodrow, who has been wearing the captain’s armband for the Reds this term, starred in a 3-0 win over his old club in February 2020 – scoring twice as the Whites were completely outplayed. Barnsley have been handed a real boost in the build-up to this game with Carlton Morris successfully returning to training after missing three months with a serious knee injury. The target man may well line up alongside Woodrow on Saturday.
Homegrown midfielder Callum Styles is pushing for a return to the side, having come off the bench in the disappointing home defeat at the hands of Hull City two weeks ago, whilst Nigerian forward Victor Adeboyejo could also be recalled to the starting eleven. Barnsley will be looking to end the division’s second worst away record, having failed to win any of their eight league games on the road so far this season. Both Styles and Laumann, who confirmed during his press conference earlier this week that he will be part of Asbaghi’s backroom staff at Oakwell, believe that the unpredictability of the Championship gives them a chance of springing another surprise at Craven Cottage this weekend.
Fulham would do well to heed that warning, especially given how poorly they have adjusted to life after international breaks already this season. They looked leggy and lethargic in a dismal defeat at Blackpool when Silva opted to play Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson merely others after they both featured for the United States in World Cup qualifying. That experience might inform Silva’s selection tomorrow, with Robinson and Bobby Decordova-Reid involved in a Kingston qualifier on Wednesday morning. The Fulham boss has options in both positions, with Joe Bryan a well-established alternative at Championship level, and both Tom Cairney and Fabio Carvalho able to deputise in the number ten role and fully fit following injury concerns.
Kenny Tete will make his first start since August after Denis Odoi, who has deputised so impressively for the Dutch international at right back, picked up his fifth booking of the season at Peterborough. Michael Hector is expected to fill in for Tosin Adarabioyo, who serves the final game of his three match suspension following his sending off against West Bromwich Albion, at centre back and there may be the need to rest Jean Michael Seri after the Ivorian midfielder played a full part in two crucial World Cup qualifiers this week. Aleksandar Mitrovic, scorer of that stunning winner for Serbia in Lisbon, remains in blistering form – having scored twenty goals in seventeen Championship outings after heading the decisive goal against the Posh last time out.
It is only natural for minds to begin to wander towards the return of Scott Parker to the Cottage and the prospect of overhauling Bournemouth at the top of the table after such a fine recent run of form. But Silva has already seen how gloriously chaotic the Championship came by and, having spoken about the need to retain humility after the thrashing of Blackburn earlier in the month, will need to assure Fulham approach this fixture with the right attitude. Barnsley might be struggling, but their players now have a new boss to impress, and will regard this assignment as a real opportunity to prove their worth. It won’t be the walk in the park that many are anticipating.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, Bryan, Hector, Ream; Reed, Cairney; Wilson, Kebano, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Mawson, A. Robinson, Seri, Onomah, Decordova-Reid, Muniz.