A point a piece, one goal for and one goal against for both sides going into the second game of the season. Whilst it’s tough to make predictions at this stage in the season I’d like to think the early signs point to a Fulham win. Considering Derby’s late scramble to put a team together last weekend, Huddersfield (despite a slightly Covid ravaged squad) may be slightly disappointed to have only picked up a point and after their twentieth place finish last season, they have some work to do.
However, it won’t be plain sailing for Fulham at The John Smith’s Stadium as Huddersfield certainly have enough quality to cause some issues. They managed seventeen shots last weekend weekend, the third best of anyone in the division, although it’s hard to determine whether or not this was down to a poorly organised Derby defence. One player to watch out will be Sorba Thomas, the 22-year-old winger impressed on his Championship debut against Derby, winning man of the match and assisting Huddersfield’s leveller. Fulham will want to avoid conceding cheap free kicks and corners considering his dead ball ability. Another one to keep an eye on will be the one-time perennial Fulham transfer target Jordan Rhodes, who joined the Terriers this summer. Whilst the veteran might not be as potent as he once was, netting 7 times in 36 appearances for Sheffield Wednesday last season, he can definitely pose problems and has a strong scoring record against Fulham, finding the net three times in five league outings.
Our opening day result against Middlesbrough was a tough one to take. Fulham were 1-0 up with 70% possession around the 70-minute mark only for a lapse in concentration to lead to Boro’s first shot on target which found the bottom corner. Before Marc Bola’s intervention, Fulham had put together a convincing display, looking comfortable at the back and in control all over the park, the only thing missing was a second goal, which could easily have come with a little more incise passing in the final third. Considering Marco Silva has been with the side for little over a month it was incredibly pleasing to see some quick passing and progressive forward play which he has already instilled in the team and I would expect that to only get better from here. With Reed back to full training and likely to play a part, I’d expect us to make it tough for Huddersfield to get through our defence too often and if we can take the lead as we did last weekend, the signs are there that we have the ability to kick on and this time grab another goal or two especially if Mitrovic can regain some form which I’m confident he will do sooner rather than later.
Whilst this could be a tough game on the road, Fulham have a fine record against Huddersfield since 2014, winning seven out of ten matches and losing only once, towards the end of Slavisa Jokanovic’s reign. I believe we’ll have too much for Huddersfield again and if we grab the first goal I think we can see the game out this time, I’m going for a 2-0 win to Fulham. I wouldn’t make too many changes to the line-up that we saw last weekend but if Rodak is available once again then I’d like to see him start in goal (although I’m not convinced Silva will agree). It may seem harsh to drop Gazzaniga who in all honesty didn’t have a whole lot to do and certainly didn’t do anything too wrong (maybe he could have caught a couple of balls into the box instead of punching), but if Rodak can reproduce his 19/20 form then I see no reason why he shouldn’t be our starting keeper. I would also make a change at left back. There has been much debate about who should start between Bryan and Robinson and defensively I feel there is not a massive amount between them but I feel Bryan has more to offer in attack and could bring the best out of Mitrovic once again after assisting him six times in the 19/20 season. I also thought he looked very strong against Charlton when he came on and made a difference down the left-hand side.
Tomorrow afternoon marks Fulham’s final friendly ahead of the new Championship campaign. It is a special return to Craven Cottage for so many reasons and a first opportunity for the fans to get a look at how the side is shaping up under new boss Marco Silva. Charlton Athletic might not be the most glamorous opposition for the final dress rehearsal before the big kick off but they will provide a stern test of how Silva’s first few weeks at Motspur Park have panned out.
It is clear from observing Silva’s statements since succeeding Scott Parker then he is keen to implement a bold, attacking style on his new charges. That may take time to come to fruition as the squad transitions from Parker’s more pragmatic approach but it should be met positively by the Fulham faithful. Parker clearly works hard and might go on to become a great manager, but there’s no denying that his cautious mentality made for a drab watch for the majority of his tenure. Silva will certainly put excitement back on the agenda – perhaps for the first time since Slavisa Jokanovic was dismissed in November 2018.
The Portuguese head coach has an exciting blend of some newish faces from the last campaign – who many of us have yet to have the chance to see in person – younger players staking a claim for a first-team place, some returnees from loans elsewhere and a couple of new signings. It will be intriguing to see the balance of Silva’s starting line-up and whether some of the forgotten faces of yesteryear get a chance to shine. Fulham fans certainly haven’t seen the best of Jean-Michael Seri for example, who has hardly justified his reported £27m fee, and Silva has apparently been an admirer since the Ivorian international’s days with Pacos Ferreira in his native Portugal. Seri has gone significant game time in pre-season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be staying around for the heat of the Championship battle.
It will be intriguing to see how Fulham’s new arrivals are integrated. Silva said during his press conference that he sees Paulo Gazzaniga as providing competition for Marek Rodak, who was widely assumed to be likely to regain the number one jersey before the former Tottenham keeper’s arrival. Harry Wilson has clearly been signed for the first team – with considerable Championship pedigree – and if he can reprise the level of his devastating displays that helped take Derby County to play-off final a few years ago then he may prove an inspired acquisition.
A few of the club’s most promising youth prospects should be in line for a chance to sign as well. Jay Stansfield had a wonderful first season in the Fulham youth set-up after signing from Exeter, scoring goals for fun at under-18 level, demonstrating his maturity with the under-23s and even breaking into the first team squad briefly at the turn of the year. The teenager’s second season was horribly disrupted by a freak injury, but he has been back training with the senior squad and already got minutes under his belt so far this summer. We should see more of him against the Addicks, against whom he made his league debut last January.
Then there’s Fabio Carvalho, whose composed cameos at the tail end of last season had us all wondering why Parker had taken so long to promote him to senior duty. The attacking midfielder could easily step into the role of understudy for Tom Cairney – a position Fulham have struggled to fill in recent years – and might end up playing a good deal of Championship football given the ongoing concern over the captain’s troublesome knees. The cracking goal on his debut at Southampton shows he knows where the goal is and he troubled Manchester United a few days later showed that was far from a fluke. Everyone is eager to see what his next act will look like.
Australian midfielder Tyrese Francois, named the Fulham Supporters’ Trust Johnny Haynes’ trophy winner in 2019, was handed his debut by Parker on the final day of the season against Newcastle and has featured for Silva over the course of the summer. There’s a suggestion that he might get a loan spell away from Craven Cottage to gain further first-team experience this season, but he could get a chance to demonstrate his undoubted potential tomorrow first. If he does well, Silva might have something to ponder – especially as Fulham still look light in central midfield.
It will be brilliant to be back at the Cottage again and see some familiar faces. Enjoy it everyone – and stay safe!
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, Bryan, Mawson, Adarabioyo; Reed, Onomah; Wilson, Cavaleiro, Carvalho, Mitrovic.