To say that the wheels have fallen off Fulham’s fabulous season recently might even be understating the Whites’ woeful winless recent run. Marco Silva’s men, without the Portuguese head coach on the sidelines as they also deal with the loss of Aleksandar Mitrovic, have been beaten in their last five outings in all competitions after losing only four of their previous sixteen league matches. The Cottagers’ head coach doggedly denied suggestions that his side have already checked out after moving onto 39 points last month during his pre-match conference, but insisted he would be looking for a reaction on his first return to Goodison Park since being binned by Everton in 2019.

The omens aren’t clever for an immediate return to form. Fulham did end a miserable streak of 22 straight defeats on the blue half of Merseyside when Josh Maja scored twice in quick succession in February 2021, but there were no long-suffering fans to see that victory. More pertinently, the Toffees are a team utterly transformed under the tutelage of Sean Dyche. They have taken twelve points from the former Burnley boss’s first ten league games after mustering fifteen in Frank Lampard’s last twenty matches. We should all take a moment to enjoy the fact that Todd Boehly has summoned one of football management’s biggest frauds back to Stamford Bridge to ensure the top flight table confirms once and for all what we’ve all known since 1879: there’s only one team in Fulham.

Dyche’s achievements at Turf Moor were too easily ridiculed as minimalist and primitive but the way he has quickly breathed new life into an Everton side that looked embarrassingly meek under his predecessor shows just why he has long been regarded as one of the country’s brightest coaching prospects. It is easy to forget he stunned an all-conquering Arsenal to get his Goodison Park tenure off to a terrific start, beat high-flying Brentford and pilfered late points against both Chelsea and Tottenham. The Toffees might still be on course for a historically poor goalscoring season, but Dyche does seem to have found the missing formula to help them find the net.

Abdoulaye Doucoure, who scored at Stamford Bridge before setting up Ellis Simms’ dramatic equaliser after also netting against Nottingham Forest, looks unrecognisable from the player Lampard managed. He isn’t alone. The new coach has altered the dynamic of the group and delivered the sort of upturn in results that desperate boardroom members desire when they axe a manager. Dyche has instructed his team to be more direct – they played more long passes under the new boss than any other Premier League outfit in the same time period – but he isn’t a dinosaur. Detractors may point to that as a sign of orthodoxy, but they reckon without some of Everton’s interplay in the final third, which is far less predictable than what the Everton fans had watched for most of this season.

All of this makes Fulham’s task all the trickier on Grand National weekend. Silva’s side haven’t hit their early season heights for a while now – and there are all sorts of suggestions as to why. The root cause is clearly that a small squad has overachieved dramatically but the run of games until the end of the campaign (exasperated by the Qatar World Cup) has taken its toll after the Manchester meltdown. A lack of Mitrovic is the major reason why the Whites seem so toothless – last Saturday’s loss against struggling West Ham was painful to sit through – and you wonder whether they could be a few changes this afternoon just to shake things up. It has to be worth a throw of the dice, given that there doesn’t appear to much else to lose.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, A. Robinson, Diop, Ream; Palhinha, Cairney; Willian, Solomon, Lukic; Vinicius. Subs: Rodak, Duffy, Adarabioyo, Cedric Soares, Reed, Decordova-Reid, Wilson, James, Harris.