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Lydia’s Bristol City Takeaways

When Bristol City scored after just 6 minutes yesterday, that feeling of dread that we often get when facing the Robins at Craven Cottage was quick to enter my head. They were on a five game winning streak at the Cottage and games against them in the capital had quickly become ones to not look forward to. But yesterday we finally put those demons to bed with a, quite frankly, ridiculous first half display. What a performance from Marco Silva’s men. Both individually and as a team Fulham were head and shoulders above City and with Bournemouth losing earlier in the day to Luton Town, this result was possibly one of the most important of the season so far. With a game in hand still to come, Fulham are back at the top of the table and have a big chance to consolidate that position on Tuesday night against Birmingham.

There are so many positives to take from yesterday, and one or two negatives defensively, but I’ve picked out two things to look at from our performance yesterday and our season in general.

  1. Set piece goals galore –

Anyone who knows me will know that I love a good stat. Yesterday we scored another two goals from corners taking our tally for the season in the league so far to 13. It wasn’t long ago when Fulham rarely scored from a set piece, particularly corners, so to have 13 already this year shows a considerable change in our threat levels in that area. Now you could point out that we are scoring a heap load of goals this year, so it understandable that we are scoring more from set pieces because of that. By the law of averages, the more goals we score, the more that should be set pieces etc etc, so let’s look at the breakdown of how we are scoring our goals, rather than just the amount.

Our 13 goals from set pieces this season accounts for 20.3% of our goals. One whole fifth of our goals are from corners or free kicks. Last season our 4 set piece goals  accounted for 14.8%, the year before that it was 17.3%. Then if we go back to the year we went up under Slavisa Jokanovic in 2018, our 9 set piece goals that season only accounted for 11.3% of our goals that season. We already have 4 more this season in about half the games. This is important because it shows that where our goals are coming from this season is much more spread out than in previous seasons. When we went up under Slav we scored 79 goals and 75.9% came from open play. While this was great at the time, we were never going to be able to replicate anything like that in the Premier League. Set pieces are incredibly important for teams in any underdog position. We won’t get as many open play goals if we go up next season, so we have to be able to take advantage of any dead ball situation around the box. It’s great for this season, but I’d like to think that our ability to score from set pieces will help us if we are playing our football in the Premier League next season.

And one more thing that I noticed which I just found quite funny, was that during our two full seasons under Scott Parker we scored just 2 goals on the counter attack in the league. Hashtag Parkerball.

  • Arise, Sir Neeskens Kebano

There have been a multitude of players playing the best football of their careers this season at Fulham. Mitrovic has been sensational, Harry Wilson has already reached double figures for assists alongside his 8 goals so far and Marek Rodak has perhaps finally claimed that number one spot as his own. But I’m going to pick out Neeskens Kebano for some extra praise because this is surely the best he has ever been for us. Kebano has always been a bit of a fans favourite at Fulham since his signing back in 2016, but not necessarily for his ability. He was always fun to watch, but often wasn’t seen as someone who could really own that winger spot. And when he was loaned out under Parker last season, you could have been forgiven for thinking that his time at the club was coming to an end. But fast forward one year and Kebano is now undeniably one of the first names on the team sheet. I reckon that he has massively benefitted from playing under the guidance of Luis Boa Morte as he has improved his finishing as well as his all around play. This has been his most fruitful season at Fulham with his seven goals and five assists so far. His second goal yesterday was outrageous. Everything from the take down, the turning the defender to the finish was superb. He is playing with a lot of confidence as well and it’s just so brilliant to see. He always plays with a smile on his face, and I hope he ends his career with us. What a guy.

All in all, Fulham have been incredibly fun to watch this year but let’s not forget that we have another full half of the season to go. The Championship is generally the hardest league to call so let’s enjoy the moment, but not get too far ahead of ourselves. Roll on Birmingham.

#COYW

Fabulous Fulham

Well last night was satisfying, wasn’t it? A ridiculous goal-scoring performance from Fulham has sent our goal difference into overdrive and, coupled with Bournemouth’s first defeat of the season, means that the gap at the top is down to two points. The Marco Silva transformation of this Fulham side is breath-taking and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

We have known for a while that this team has the attacking talent to blow teams away. In truth, this talent has existed for a number of seasons, but wasn’t at all utilised under Scott Parker. Silva has most of the same ingredients, Harry Wilson and Rodrigo Muniz aside, but it’s what he has done with them that has made the difference. A number of our players are in the form of their lives. Mitro is obviously in that bracket with 19 – NINETEEN- goals after 16 games so far this season. That is simply outrageous. He also has five assists so has been involved in 24 goals for Fulham so far. That’s more than 18 whole teams have scored in this league which shows you just how well he is playing this season. You get the impression that Mitrovic feels that he has a point to prove after his isolation last year so watch out for our game against Parker’s Bournemouth in a months’ time.

But there are other players who seem to have raised their game under Silva. Neeskens Kebano has transformed himself and looks dangerous every match. Tim Ream has been exceptional, as has Tosin aside from his horror tackle on Saturday. While this team is scoring goals for fun, we shouldn’t forget that we also have the second best defensive record in the league with just 14 conceded. We haven’t conceded a goal since QPR pinched one back at Craven Cottage on the 16th October. That’s four clean sheets on the bounce for Marek Rodak, which leads me nicely to my next point. Silva, isn’t afraid of making a change when he needs to. Paulo Gazzaniga had looked ropey so Silva made the change and brought Rodak back. We conceded 13 in the 11 games with Gazza, but have only conceded once in the five since Rodak has been brought back in.

It was also nice to see the goals spread about a bit last night. Scoring seven with Mitro only getting one must have been disappointing for the big fella! His assist for Harry Wilson’s first goal last night was outstanding and shows once again that his all around play right now is sensational. Kebano chipped in with two very smart finishes, but the most popular goalscorer of the night was clearly our young Brazilian, Rodrigo Muniz. If you were there last night, you’ll have seen just how thrilled the whole team was for him. Patting him on the head, hugging him, having a dance with him – it was lovely to see. He is clearly loved in the dressing room and can surely be the perfect understudy to our big Serbian. I noticed after his first goal that he ran to Silva for an embrace before the game was restarted which was also nice to see. And while Mitro never likes coming off the pitch, he came straight over to him after the final whistle with his own congratulations. This is a happy squad right now, riding on the wave of Marco Silva.

We obviously have to try and keep our heads on. We have seen that this team is still capable of a wobble, but we should also allow ourselves to enjoy what we are getting to witness right now. This is the best I have seen us play in years, and I’m loving every minute of it. Roll on Peterborough.

#COYW

Tired Legs and New Faces

Well that was a bit poor, wasn’t it? Our unbeaten start to 2021/22 has come to an end, with Blackpool getting the better of us at Bloomfield Road. And in truth, they were well worth the win. They were organised, gave us very little time on the ball and arguably could have had another one or two as we were sloppy at the back. For all of the free-flowing football we have witnessed under Marco Silva this season, we have come back to earth with a bang thanks to a disjointed display.

Our start to this season has been the best in years. Top of the league and scoring goals, Fulham have been a pleasure to watch. But today we looked leggy and that will be down to a couple of things. Firstly, Silva demands a lot from his players. We press high up the pitch and we move the ball quickly when we have it. This isn’t the passive, slow football that the players perhaps had gotten used to under Parker. While this has been a breath of fresh air, it could also come at a cost. This is where the recovery of players is so important. Secondly, we have come off the back of an international break were a lot of our best players have been travelling the world playing up to three matches. Blackpool only have a handful of players in this situation so while we have the better quality in the squad, having two weeks on the training pitch will of course play in their favour more than our own.

For me today I thought that we should have had far more rotation in the starting line-up because of the international break. I thought Ream, Robinson and Mitrovic in particular today looked shattered and Blackpool absolutely took advantage of that. Considering Ream and Robinson got back so late from the USA duty, why not use Mawson and Bryan today? I absolutely love that the Championship has so many games, but we are now in a situation were we have another game midweek. In the Championship you absolutely have to rotate and I think Silva will need to learn this quickly.

We did however get to see a couple of our new boys in action today. Domingos Quina made his debut in for the injured Fabio Carvalho and we finally got to see Rodrigo Muniz in action albeit just for the last 10 minutes or so. Quina’s debut was a mixed bag. I thought he showed some lovely touches on the ball and can spin his man, but sometimes tried to be too fancy with flicks. What I saw today was a player who clearly has ability but maybe needs his teammates to get used to his game. We had a couple of occasions were he just didn’t look to be on the same wavelength as the players around him but I think that will come with time.

As for Muniz, I thought he looked a threat. He looks to get into the right places and clearly has the pace that Mitro lacks. It’s hard to judge based on a cameo appearance, but I reckon he is one to be excited about. Given that I feel that we should have rotated more today, I’d like to see him start on Wednesday night against Birmingham. Let’s see what he can do from the start.

It was a poor display today, but it was oh-so-Championship. We already knew we were in the world’s most unpredictable league, so let’s not have a meltdown. On to Wednesday night.

#COYW

Away Day Diaries – Huddersfield Town

What a day. I’m just back to the house after a trip to Huddersfield were Fulham showed the Championship that they mean business under Marco Silva. My last game was our trip to the Etihad in the FA Cup at the start of 2020, so it was nearly emotional watching the boys march onto the pitch before kick-off.

Last season was just so awful. I think it was worse because we had to watch from home, gaping into our TV screens at empty, soulless stadiums, knowing that there was nothing we could do to try and give our team something to feed off. Players like Mitrovic are built for crowd interaction, and already we can see a big improvement in his play. I’m not saying that we went down last year because of no crowds, I’m just saying that it might not have been quite so embarrassing. Last season was poor for so many reasons but now, under a new manager, we seem to have been given the kiss of life.

Being on the concourse, taking in the sights and sounds of live football is fantastic. Making your way to your seat, being surrounded by the people you haven’t seen in over 18 months was heart-warming. Watching Fulham be utterly ruthless away from home was exhilarating.

After two games in the Championship no one has a 100% record. It’s a sign that no team will find it easy, but if we play like we did today every week, we can expect big things from this team. Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Huddersfield were hopeless. That first goal was an absolute comedy show and we aren’t going to get many gifts like that throughout the season. But it was our response to moments of a Huddersfield fightback that has impressed me most today. Firstly, when they scored their goal, it would have been very Fulhamish to allow them to get on top. Even though we were dominating before that, a goal can be all it takes to swing the momentum but instead we went straight up the other end and restored our two goal lead. Lovely build up play, and clinical finishing from Fabio Carvalho who has looked brilliant in the handful of games he has played since the end of last season. Then, when Harry Wilson was given his marching orders, again we could have seen a Huddersfield fightback. Last season we would have seen some sort of defensive change at that point. Hold what you have and all that, which so often resulted in us surrendering points, but Silva clearly doesn’t have the same coaching book that Scott Parker had been working from. Changes were made, but Cavaleiro was brought on to stretch the game, something he did within seconds, chipping over the Huddersfield keeper for our fourth of the day. And he bagged the fifth as well with another composed finish that we didn’t see enough of last season.

An incredibly satisfying day were Silva’s Fulham lay down a marker. It was wonderful to witness and it feels amazing that football and the fans have finally been reunited.

#COYW

The First Five

The wait is finally nearly over. On Sunday our latest charge towards the Premier League begins with a home tie against Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough. And in true Championship fashion, our first month back in the second tier will see us play five league matches in the space of just 20 days before the first international break of the season.

So what can we achieve over those first matches? The target for the club is promotion so it’s important that we get off to a good start. Here is a brief look at the first five for Fulham.

8th August- Fulham v Middlesbrough

Last year’s finish- 10th

Manager- Neil Warnock

Let’s be honest, all Neil Warnock sides are tough to beat. Another well drilled and defensively sound team will be visiting from the North East but it’s a real opportunity for us to see how we fair against one of last season’s mid-table sides. The first match is always a bit of a mystery, isn’t it? It’s hard to judge how well any team done over preseason until we see them in action in a competitive fixture. But as we were a Premier League team last season, we will go into this as favourites. Boro don’t have an illustrious list of attacking options but be aware of Duncan Watmore who finished last season as top goal scorer. Marcus Tavernier is a solid Championship player who likes to chip in with a goal as well. We also might get to see former Fulham Academy player Djed Spence in action.

14th August – Huddersfield v Fulham

Last year’s finish- 20th

Manager- Carlos Corberan

This is a good chance for us to banish the memories of our last trip to Huddersfield back in 2018/19. I still have nightmares about it. It was on a miserable November Monday evening and we lost 1-0 thanks to an own goal. We were absolutely brutal that evening and my trip home on the train knowing that I was starting work at 6am the next morning meant that it was particularly grim. But three seasons on both clubs have been in very different places and really we should be targeting three points here. They do have a decent attacking threat with last seasons top scorer (8 goals) Josh Koroma alongside the likes of Jordan Rhodes, Fraizer Campbell and Danny Ward – all players who can score on their day.

17th August – Millwall v Fulham

Last year’s finish- 11th

Manager- Gary Rowett

Then we head to The Den for our first midweek game of the season. Millwall is never an easy place to go and pick up points and they will certainly be targeting an improvement on last season with an eye on the play-offs. Jed Wallace is the man to look out for in terms of goals, but there is some talk about a move for him so we will have to wait and see if he is still around by then. Former Fulham man Scott Malone chipped in with 5 goals last season and we know what he can do down the left. They have also brought in Arsenal youngster Daniel Ballard in defence. And as well as Malone, we also might get to see former Fulham men Shaun Hutchinson and Matt Smith in action.

21th August – Fulham v Hull City

Last year’s finish- 1st in League One

Manager- Grant McCann

Our first match against one of last seasons promoted teams is against Hull City. They will be hoping to keep the momentum going after finishing as League One champions. We’ll need to be aware of the attacking threat of Josh Magennis and Tom Eaves – anyone else having flashbacks of when he bagged a hattrick last time we faced Hull at the Cottage?

28th August – Fulham v Stoke City

Last year’s finish- 14th

Manager- Michael O’Neill

Our final match of August and last one before the first international break is at home to Stoke City. After being close to relegation two seasons ago, Stoke will be hoping to improve further under Michael O’Neill. From his time as Northern Ireland manager, O’Neill proved that he can get players united and playing above themselves. Nick Powell and Tyrese Campbell provided most of the goals last season. Defensively, expect a tight-knit back line giving very few chances away for free.

Let’s be honest, with a few days to go until kick-off it’s very hard to judge ourselves never mind other teams. What we do know, though, is that if we want to lift the mood around the Cottage after last seasons shambles, we’ll need a decent start. Having the fans back will be a boost. Players like Mitrovic in particular really thrives on the emotional that crowds can bring. Last season was terrible. This season can only be better, right?

#COYW