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Come Saturday lunchtime when Fulham walk out at Ashton Gate, it will have been nineteen days since Marco Silva’s side had played any football. In the middle of the most hectic period of the domestic football programme, the Whites have been robbed of the opportunity to put right their five-match winless run – which culminated in a wholly dispiriting defeat by Sheffield United – after a succession of covid-related postponements. That sense of unease has only been heightened by watching Bournemouth and Blackburn Rovers creep above them in the Championship table.

Fulham won’t even be able to climb back into the automatic promotion places in BS4 this weekend as their tussle with Nigel Pearson’s men comes in the third round of the FA Cup. What was considered an underwhelming draw when it came out of the hat in early December now serves as something of a distraction to the main business of Fulham’s season: securing an immediate return to the top flight. Even I, as someone who sees it as a serious failing that the club have consistently failed to put together any sort of Cup run in their recent history, can see the value in a bit of experimentation in the west country.

That the league programme swiftly serves another game at the Gate against the Robins the following weekend is one of the vagaries of what has suddenly become a packed – and, you sense, pivotal, January. Fulham might have games in hand, but in a league as unpredictable as English football’s second tier, points are the only currency that matters. Even squad rotation, which Silva has steadfastly refused to employ since he took over from Scott Parker, is fraught with danger – given that Fulham’s first choice footballers will have had almost three weeks kicking their heels.

So, the choice is probably a binary one: does Silva summon his regular starters and offer them the opportunity to tune up ahead of ahead of the resumption of the Championship campaign at Reading on Tuesday or should he treat the world’s oldest Cup competition as an afterthought and throw in several of his second string? Given that Fulham’s premier line-up had been flattering to deceive for a few weeks, it might well be worth going as close to full strength as the Whites can muster and hoping to generate both the momentum and the patterns of play that looked so devastating earlier in the season. On the other hand, by doing that you are squandering the only opportunity for a while to give game time to those who haven’t had a look in.

To chuck some names into what might otherwise be an abstract equation, does Tom Cairney come into Fulham’s first choice midfield on account of the largely listless showings in December? I’ve argued at length lately that the balance of the engine room hasn’t been right for a while – with the Seri-Reed axis effectively the wrong way round. Cairney breathed new life into Fulham when he returned, ahead of schedule, from his long injury exile in a deeper, playmaking role. He certainly has form for scoring spectacular goals at Ashton Gate. Or is Saturday a long-awaited opportunity for the fit again Nathaniel Chalobah to show his ball-winning credentials in the absence of Seri?

The dilemma is all the more pertinent when you consider that the Whites will face five games in fourteen days from Saturday onwards that will have a tangible impact on their season. Even before all the cancellations and coronavirus upheaval, Silva had hinted at the need to retain as much squad depth as possible heading into the January transfer window. Viewed from that perspective, the club’s decision to give short shrift to offers from Queens Park Rangers for Michael Hector and Alfie Mawson seems understandable. Maybe Terence Kongolo, now back in training at Motspur Park, could finally feature in a senior fixture again. if Fulham’s FFP position remains precarious as a result of their previous excesses in the transfer market, then a big squad could be just what it is needed to come through either this packed fixture programme or, worse, a covid outbreak of our own.

The easiest way to send out a statement to Bournemouth and a rejuvenated Blackburn would be to rediscover that winning feeling. If a Cup run feels like a distraction, victory at Bristol City will at least show the Whites have learnt some of the lessons from their insipid displays before Christmas. Relocating the verve of the early season Silva blueprint is the only objective now. The simple question is what combination of Fulham’s expensively-assembled squad can do that as quickly as possible.