By Kieran Tibbert
Fulham’s start to the season has been seriously impressive, despite Saturday’s agonising defeat at Arsenal. This is the fifth strongest start to the top flight campaign in the club’s history (out of 28), with a return of five points from the first four fixtures – even after the first defeat at the Emirates. Marco Silva’s adventurous approach has been refreshing and the Portuguese coach has shown the ability to adapt against the elite, who will have most of the ball. An opening day thriller against Liverpool set pluses racing: the newcomers showed they wouldn’t be cannon fodder, with new signings making their mark, and Aleksandar Mitrovic giving Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk nightmares.
The Cottagers are much more defensively sound than during their last season amongst England’s elite. Tim Ream has been a revelation at the heart of the back four, with he and Tosin Adarabioyo outstanding as Silva’s side kept Wolves at bay on the hottest day of the year. Antonee Robinson has been brilliant at left back, which might worry England with a World Cup meeting with the United States on the horizon, keeping Mo Salah and Pedro Neto quiet in successive weeks. The dramatic derby win over Brentford brought a first league win of the season, where the Whites showed considerable character to set aside the loss of their 2-0 lead and triumph after Silva’s introduction of Tom Cairney and Kevin Mbabu, and Mitrovic’s magnificent header.
Fulham were understandably aggrieved to lose to Arsenal in the manner they did – and Silva’s comments over the Bank Holiday weekend underlined how heartened he was by both the team’s performance and their reaction after the defeat. The quick arrival of Brighton at the Cottage could be beneficial as it allows the Whites to try and get back to winning ways almost immediately. Graham Potter’s side, who served up two stalemates against Fulham in our 2020/21 season, will be a tough nut to crack. The Seagulls have kicked on from being promoted to the top flight under Chris Hughton, with Potter quietly carving out a reputation as one of the division’s leading coaches. In four seasons on the south coast, the former Ostersunds supremo has brought back breathtaking football to the AMEX, whilst getting the most of a squad of committed players.
Albion have successfully absorbed the loss of Marc Cucerella, remaining unbeaten in their firstfour matches, having conceded only once. Their defensive discipline was evident against Leeds at the weekend, maintaining the division’s best record. The excellent Pascal Gross has scored three times already this term and will be one to watch in Potter’s 3-4-2-1 formation, a system that flummoxed Fulham in the Championship last year. Pockets of space may open up between the centre halves for Mitrovic, but Brighton are progressive in possession and will be adventurous themselves in attack. Joao Palhinha’s harsh yellow card at the Emirates leaves him two bookings from a ban – with Nathaniel Chalobah, the Portuguese holding midfielder’s only understudy.
Silva’s frustration at the pace of Fulham’s signings appears to have been bubbling under for much of the summer, but the scarce resources on his bench perturbed the head coach as he lacked match changing alternatives at Arsenal. He doesn’t have the ability to change too much tonight – and with just two days’ rest – there may be a touch of fatigue amongst Fulham’s regular starters. Fulham have been much more direct to date this term, spreading the play and searching out Mitrovic earlier in their attacks, but Brighton’s midfield and forward-thinking wing backs will be alive to the opportunities available on the transition. This is every bit as tough as test as the Gunners were on Saturday, so a sold-out Craven Cottage will need to roar the Whites on from the off.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, A. Robionson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Palhinha, Reid; Kebano, Decordova-Reid, Pereira; Mitrovic. Subs: Rodak, Mbabu, Diop, Chalobah, Francois, Cairney, Harris, Stansfield, Ablade.