Fulham’s return to competitive action at Craven Cottage comes with no shortage of intrigue. Marco Silva’s side have been far better than even the most ardent fans could have reasonably expected back in August. I don’t know about you but it is entirely possible that my pulse is still racing following the euphoria of three glorious goals in six second-half minutes that totally turned around our Friday night in Nottingham a fortnight ago. Perhaps that wild evening on the banks of the River Trent serves as a reminder that the Whites can still prosper even if Aleksandar Mitrovic doesn’t score. The Serbian striker, in the form of his life and fresh from bringing him a half century of international goals, didn’t find the net at the City Ground but he played the perfect pass that released Bobby Decordova-Reid into acres of space for the vital third goal. The hulking number nine’s eye for a defence-splitting remains underappreciated even now the talking heads are falling over themselves to talk about how wonderful he is.

The build up to this game against Newcastle has been predictably dominated by discussion of whether Mitrovic will be motivated to face his former employers. Silva scoffed at such a suggestion when it was put to him during yesterday’s press conference. The Smederevo-born striker has never needed any extra incentive to play football, but his time on Tyneside was largely spent under managers who either didn’t recognise his potential or failed to play his strengths. Mitrovic was close to leaving Fulham after Scott Parker mothballed him during our last depressing Premier League relegation, but he has been revitalised not just by Silva but the very Keegan-esque all-out attack approach that the Portuguese head coach has adopted. Mitrovic might fancy his chances of scoring a very first goal against his old club later on, but then he always backs his ability – and, why, would you?

The far more interesting angle ahead of this fixture comes when you consider the enforced absence of Joao Palhinha. Reece Parkinson, a Fulham fan, earnestly put forward the former Sporting Lisbon midfielder as the signing of the summer on MOTDx this week only to be treated as he if he taken a series of mind-altering substances and uttered the name of, say, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, instead by Jermaine Jenas. Nothing is more indicative of the poverty of modern punditry when Palhinha’s peerless performances are dismissed as a flash in the pan by a celebrity pundit, particularly one who played in central midfield. As Peter Rutzler detailed yesterday, the 28 year-old has been pivotal to allow Fulham to fully attack the Premier League – and the key question is how upset would Silva have been with his star man for collecting a fifth booking by celebrating his superb strike by vaulting the advertising hoardings and celebrating with the away fans? The passionate Palhinha has more picked up more cards than Clinton’s in his short time in England – and this booking was very avoidable.

It leaves Silva with a serious selection dilemma. The obvious replacement for his compatriot in central midfield would be Nathaniel Chalobah, a one-time England international who excited everyone when he was excelling on loan having progressed through the other SW6 academy. Chalobah looked a smart acquisition on deadline day last summer but has yet to convince in Fulham shirt, with many of his displays short of the bite and tempo that Silva’s side have delivered this term. Now 27, he will need to fulfil that undoubted potential soon – and where better to do so than in a prime time Premier League outing against new-money Newcastle?

Silva’s other option is to deploy Harrison Reed as the conventional number six many of us think he is and either ask Andreas Pereira, hitherto seen as a number ten by the Fulham faithful, or club captain Tom Cairney to drop deeper in central midfield. But Reed has now broken his goalscoring duck and pops up in interesting places to supplement Fulham’s attack. Eddie Howe’s Newcastle haven’t won in six league games since beating Forest on the opening weekend and this could be the bold move that fits with Silva’s gung-ho philosophy. Never before has a player become so critical to Fulham’s chances after seven games, but the Whites will warmly welcome Palhinha back when he returns from that pesky one-match ban.

The Fulham boss has shown his unpredictability in selection already. The absence of Antonee Robinson saw him shunt Tim Ream across to left back at Forest and accommodate Issa Diop at the heart of the defence. That successful experiment appears unlikely to continue with the rapid Robinson set to undergo a fitness test this morning and Layvin Kurzawa now ready in reserve. There has been some online talk of playing Diop as a midfield destroyer on account of his height, size and the comfort on the ball he exhibited against Forest but there isn’t the need to start putting square pegs in round holes at present.

Newcastle’s push for the marquee places in the Premier League having been bankrolled by the Saudi millions might look like it has stalled under Howe, but these projects – as they are now universally described in the footballing world – often have rocky starts. Howe, one of the best young managers in the country, has plenty of talent at his disposal and, should he be given the time, is capable of fashioning the Magpies into the sort of side that thrilled the country so gloriously in the nineties. He will be waiting to see whether Chris Wood and Allan Saint-Maximim can take any part at all today, but the return to fitness of both Callum Wilson – who has scored three in his last three top-flight appearances against Fulham – and the brilliant Bruno Guimaraes (back following a hamstring problem) serve as a significant boost. games with a hamstring injury.

Newcastle’s injury list remains lengthy. Swedish striker Alexander Isak hasn’t travelled to London after picking up a thigh complain, whilst Karl Darlow, Emil Krafth and Jonjo Shelvey are also missing. It is a time for understudies to shine and the Geordies do have a good recent record at the Cottage, having handed out two severe beatings to Parker teams coming to terms with relegation. This afternoon also offers Fulham fans the chance to welcome back to two former players. Matt Targett has looked at home in the top flight since leaving Southampton and not continuing his excellent link-up with Ryan Sessegnon post-Wembley 2018 still seems a mistake. Slavisa Jokanovic jettisoned Dan Burn because the tall centre back couldn’t play out from the back – something the Darlington born centre-back, now the Premier League’s tallest player, disputed. Burn, always a hard worker, went and proved himself winning promotion at Brighton and helping the Seagulls establish themselves in the top flight before moving home to Newcastle, where he’s quickly become a fans’ favourite. Both should get a warm reception on their return.

The Magpies might be a false position – and there is a sense that their performances haven’t been properly rewarded in the points column. Only Liverpool have beaten them in the league this season and that was courtesy of a Fabio Carvalho strike in the 98th minute. Howe will know that wins are essential and Newcastle would love to record three successive league wins Fulham for the first time. They will be tricky opponents regardless of the precise composition of their starting eleven and the Whites will need to channel some of the spirit of yesteryear to prosper. Think Louis Saha curling in a sensational strike at Putney End in 2001, Sylvain Legwinski and Lee Clark turning around Chris Coleman’s first game in the dug out, Damien Duff silencing the boo boys on a cold winter’s night or Clint Dempsey helping himself to a hat-trick as Fulham roared back from 2-0 down. All history is apparently bunk these days, so Silva’s side will seek to write a new chapter of their own this afternoon.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Chalobah, Reed; James, Decordova-Reid, Pereira; Mitrovic. Subs: Rodak, Mbabu, Kurzawa, Diop, Duffy, Cairney, Harris, Willian, Vinicius.