Portugal – a learning experience for Parker’s Fulham

By returning to the 4-3-3 formation popularised in our last successful Championship seasons, Scott Parker’s Fulham already has signs of taking shape. With Bettinelli in goal, a back four of Cyrus Christie, Denis Odoi, Alfie Mawson and Joe Bryan, the return of Kevin McDonald, Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney as a midfield trio plus Aboubakar Kamara and Neeskens Kebano either side of Aleksander Mitrovic, the shape of the team was familiar to that from Slavisa Jokanovic’s promotion campaign.

Up against Champions’ League quarter finalists Porto last night, Fulham were strikingly more aggressive in their wing play and that was evident from the first couple of minutes. Neeskens Kebano, lively in his cameo against Burnley last week, burst past Argentina international Renzo Saravia and sent in a teasing cross that was just over Aleksandar Mitrovic, but would have fallen beautifully had someone taken a gamble beyond him. Getting the ball out wide is obviously a key Parker mantra, as evidenced by frequent switches of play that were often orchestrated by captain Tom Cairney.

Fulham seemed to be much quicker trying to get the ball to goal than in the Jokanovic era and that ties in with trying to feed the wingers with longer balls and force the opposition defence to shuffle from one side to the next. Porto, as expected, were excellently coached and their starting eleven contained the wily Pepe in central defence and two players in Alex Telles and Danilo Pereira who are of phenomenally high quality. Understandably against opponents of such calibre, Fulham did struggle to create much of note; their best chance of the 90 was Aboubakar Kamara’s eager running nicking the ball from Porto’s left back with only Ivan Marcano attempting to recover and the keeper to beat, Kamara dragged his shot wide of the far post. The vigorous press from the French forward was promising to see as he returns to the Fulham fold but the finish required a little more poise – the creation of that opportunity was all him and he deserves credit for that.

Defensively, there were a few worries. Off the ball we lined up in a 4-1-4-1 but we really saw why Kevin McDonald was seldom used in the Premier League. The midfield was easy to play through and the players in the back four will take criticism for that strangely. I love Kevin McDonald as a guy, and what he has done for the club, but you can not deny his lack of any athletic ability and he just appeared sluggish for the full duration of the game. For the Porto goal, it is him who loses possession for Porto to transition quickly creating a 4-v-4 against the Fulham defence. If I gave you two guesses on which Fulham non-defender was closest to our box by the moment Otavio’s bicycle kick hits the back of the net, I’d be fairly certain that wouldn’t guess correctly in Aboubakar Kamara. There was a Porto attack that finished in a Shoya Nakajima shot from just outside the area where McDonald is late to the tackle and the pass is beyond him before he’s dangled a leg out but Fulham’s two closest players to the defence? Neeskens Kebano and Aboubakar Kamara. You can sit there and talk about how we need to sign defenders but with the midfield defending that pedestrian and easy to play through, it’d be a waste of money either way.

It may sound like I’m going over the top, for a pre-season friendly in the middle of July against Champions League opposition but we need to learn from these games, need to evaluate because this could become evident come game time. Just watch the highlights on the club website and take note of every Porto attack – look where the midfield is, what chance does a back four have when they are so vulnerable so frequently? You defend as a team, but a lot of the time it looked like we were playing a 4-0-6.

All in all, it seemed a valuable trip to Portugal. From getting the players in shape in the sun to the team building activities like ‘quiz night’ and ‘golf night.’ Scott Parker said in his post-Porto interview that they sat the squad down at the start of the trip to talk about their mindset and ambitions for the coming season and Tony Khan has been open in saying he wants automatic promotion this year. We’ve had a good start to the summer with the contract extensions of both Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic plus attracting Ivan Cavaleiro to the club but there’s still work to be done on and off the pitch to make the aim for promotion a reality and this Porto fixture gave us an opportunity to assess where we are, what to expect on the football pitch and what needs to improve.

Fulham mull £8m move for O’Dowda

Fulham are holding discussions with Bristol City over a potential deal to bring winger Callum O’Dowda to Craven Cottage, according to a Sky Sports report this evening.

The Republic of Ireland international has so far refused to commit to a long-term future at Ashton Gate, with a contract offer on the table, and Fulham are interested in taking the 24 year-old to London as they prepare for the start of their Championship campaign next month. It is reported that there is a big difference between the two club’s valuations of the midfielder, with Fulham apparently unwilling to meet Bristol City’s £8m asking price.

O’Dowda, who has won 15 senior caps for Ireland, scored five goals in 35 appearances for Bristol City last season as Lee Johnson’s side narrowly missed out on the Championship play-off places. The winger, who rose through the ranks at his hometown club Oxford, has a year left on his current contract and has previously been linked to both Nottingham Forest and Leeds, although interest from those suitors has reportedly dimmed in recent weeks.

The Inside Scoop – Ivan Cavaleiro

The news of Ivan Cavaleiro’s arrival from Wolves was welcomed with both excitement and relief. We know only too well how difficult the Championship is as a league, so we needed to improve our squad before the season starts. With Ryan Sessegnon rumoured to be leaving and with question marks over players like Jean Michael Seri and Frank Zambo Anguissa we have a number of holes to fill. Cavaleiro is exactly the sort of player we need and should fit in nicely beside Mitrovic in the front line.

But instead of listening to me harp on about him, why don’t you read what a Wolves fan has to say. My friend and colleague Sylvie Devaney is a Wolves season ticket holder, so I decided to send a couple of question her way to help us get a picture of what we can expect from our new man.

What sort of player is Cavaleiro?

Cav mainly plays as a winger and works best linking up in a strong front three. He’s also capable of playing on either flank. Sadly, he didn’t get as much playing time for us in the Premier League as he did in the Championship (likely because Jota and Jimenez linked up so well and changes in formation), but he is a really strong attacking player and one of his greatest qualities is his pressing ability. Whether that’s always pressing for a goal or pressing the opposition to win the ball back, he works so hard.

What will you miss most about him?

A lot of things! It’s been kind of an odd two weeks for the club as Cav and Costa (both integral in our journey back to the Prem) joined Wolves around the same time and they’re both leaving around the same time too! If I had to pick just one thing, I’d say I’ll definitely miss his ability to have such a big impact off the bench, he was a great super sub for us last season and always a good option to have in the team. He has the ability to completely change games.

What’s your favourite Cav moment from his time at Wolves?

His first Premier League goal! It was at home against Southampton and Cav came on off the bench to make his league debut. He received the ball for his first ever touch in the Premier League and smashed it into the net! I think it was something like 90 seconds after he came on and it was such an amazing moment. It’s moments like that that show exactly what he’s capable of!

#COYW

Fulham sign Taylor-Crossdale

Fulham have signed Chelsea forward Martell Taylor-Crossdale on a free transfer after his contract at Stamford Bridge expired.

The 19 year-old moves to Craven Cottage after a prolific spell in the Chelsea youth team, for whom he won the golden ball in the 2016/2017 Under 18 Premier League. Taylor-Crossdale, who won the Toulon Tournament with England’s Under 18s in 2017, has fond memories of the Cottage having scored a hat-trick when Chelsea beat Fulham 6-0 in the FA Youth Cup quarter final.

Taylor-Crossdale, who had a second half cameo yesterday for Fulham’s Under 23s as they beat Southend United 4-1 at Motspur Park, told Fulham’s official website:

I’m ready to go here and show everyone what I can do. I felt coming here presented the perfect opportunity to push into the first team. I had a look at the pathway into the first team and I’m hopeful I can breakthrough to impress the manager. I’m a player who likes to run in-behind. I’m good in the box and know where the net is, I hope I can score lots of goals for Fulham.

Fulham academy director Huw Jennings added:

“We are delighted to secure the services of Martell. He has been a prolific goal scorer at youth level for Chelsea and joins us with the opportunity to develop his career at Fulham from this solid base.”

Taylor-Crossdale has signed a two-year contract with Fulham.

Cavaleiro joins Fulham on loan

Fulham have this afternoon confirmed that Wolves winger Ivan Cavaleiro has joined the Whites on a season-long loan deal. The Championship club will have the opportunity to make the loan move permanent at the end of the season.

The Portuguese winger, who starred when Wolves won promotion to the Premier League in 2017/2018, had seen his first-team opportunities limited at Molineux and Fulham moved quickly to secure the services of the 25 year-old, who has been one of the club’s long-term transfer targets. Cavaleiro, who has scored 19 goals in 106 appearances during three years with Wolves, previously helped Benfica win the Portuguese treble and reach the final of the Europa League in 2014.

After finalising his loan switch, Cavaleiro told Fulham’s official website:

“I’m really happy to be here and sign for Fulham. This is a big and respected club in England and through the rest of the world. Fulham has been involved in a European final, so it holds great pedigree. This is a good opportunity for me to grow as a player as well so I’m very happy to be here and I’m excited to be meeting everyone today.”

The new signing will fill a gap on the right winger that Fulham have sought to plug in recent years, although Cavaleiro can also play on the left and through the middle.

Fulham fall to Burnley defeat

A Chris Wood penalty condemned Fulham to their second pre-season defeat as the Whites were beaten by Burnley on the Algarve this evening.

The New Zealand striker notched the winning goal twenty minutes from time – beating Fabri from twelve yards – after a rash Cyrus Christie challenge on Ben Mee inside the box. Wood had the chance to put a more convincing gloss on the scoreline with time running out but he rattled the crossbar with a firm header from a corner.

A strong Burnley side that included former Fulham academy graduate Johann Berg Gudmundsson had the better of the early exchanges. Jay Rodriguez thought he had started his second stint with Sean Dyche’s side in the finest possible manner but his powerful header from Robbie Brady’s free-kick was ruled out for offside. Fulham operated mostly on the counter attack, but Mee had to be alert to deny rampaging left back Joe Bryan after the Whites’ most fluent passage of play.

American midfielder Luca da le Torre had Fulham’s other clear opening of note but Nick Pope made a smart save. Scott Parker opted to mark only three substitutes at half-time, saving most of his alterations for just after the hour mark as he sought to build up Fulham’s fitness levels, whilst Dyche made ten half-time changes.

Fulham fashioned the first opportunity of the second period with former England goalkeeper Joe Hart reacting quickly to keep out a low drive from Neeskens Kebano. The winger then whipped in a teasing cross for Fonte, who could only head harmlessly over the bar. In a tight contest, the Clarets gradually began to pose more of a threat with a blistering Jack Cork wide flying wide courtesy of a deflection.

Parker’s side finish their pre-season tour of Portugal with a tough test against Porto on Tuesday night.

BURNLEY (4-5-1): Pope (Hart 45); Bardsley (Lowton 45) Pieters (Dunne 45), Mee (Tarkowski 45), Long (Gibson 45); Westwood (Cork 45), Benson (Vydra 65), Hendrick (McNeill 45), Gudmundsson (Barnes 45), Brady (Lennon 45); Rodriguez (Wood 45).

GOAL: Wood (pen 70).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli (Fabri 63), S. Sessegnon (Christie 63), Bryan (Mundle-Smith 66) Mawson (Odoi 63), Le Marchand (Opoku 63); McDonald (O’Riley 45), de la Torre (Johansen 45), Cairney (Edun 63); Kebano (Francois 63), Kamara (Ayité 45), Fonte (Mitrovic 63).