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Silva anticipates ‘tough’ Derby test

Marco Silva believes Fulham will receive a stern examination of their Championship promotion credentials when Derby County travel to Craven Cottage on Wednesday night.

The Rams head to London boosted by a brilliant win over Bournemouth on Sunday, especially having been handed a second significant points deduction for financial irregularities early in the week. The Fulham head coach told his pre-match press conference this afternoon that he won’t be taking Wayne Rooney’s side lightly.

“My words straight after Saturday’s match when I was asked about Derby, I started to congratulate them because the players and the staff have shown great character and a strong personality to deal with the situation. They are always a really tough team to beat, you can see in the number of defeats they’ve had until now. Even if they are in that position, they have already collected 21 points.

They have strong character and strong personality, and quality as well. And the staff as well, with the manager, it’s possible. For sure they will come here to match us, they come here to fight. Even if they look at the table and their position is not fair to them, they know their quality, they know why they are in that position, and they know the only way to get out of that position is by getting good results. It’s up to us to play at our best, to repeat the performance of last Saturday, or if we can improve because there’s always things to improve. That would be very good for us and make things very difficult for Derby, but it will be a tough game for us, I have no doubt about it.”

Silva admitted he faces difficult decisions about the exact composition of his starting line-up tomorrow night, with both Denis Odoi and Tosin Adarabioyo available again after suspension.

“It will not be an easy decision. Not just Hector, but Denis as well is coming back. It’s two not easy decisions. There’s always a strategy behind my decision, analysing what we want to do, and after I will take the decision that I believe is best for the club and for the starting eleven tomorrow. Whenever I make a decision it is thinking what is the best thing to do in the right moment?

“About Hector, I just have good words for him. We spoke about the things he should improve to be involved, because he was not involved in the squad list for a long period as the other three were in a better position than him. He had a long period out of the squad, but he worked hard and showed his quality to me. And the last three weeks I decided he should start, and he has been improving. I am seeing improvements from him. In the last game, his first ten minutes were not the best, he was a little bit anxious in some moments, but he grew during the game and had a good performance.”

Silva wants to spread the goals around

Perhaps it is a mark of Marco Silva’s seemingly ceaseless pursuit of excellence that he spent part of his press conference following Fulham’s fabulous flaying of Blackburn last night outlining why he has been disappointed that his centre backs have failed to get on the scoresheet this season.

Most of the column inches devoted to Fulham’s rich recent vein of form have focused on the goalscoring exploits of Aleksandar Mitrovic. That’s perfectly understandable given that the Serbian striker – virtually unplayable at this level and enjoying his football again having been frozen out by Scott Parker – has reached nineteen goals after just sixteen games. But, as Silva explained at Ewood Park last night, a key part of his tactical plan is to get all of his starting line-up finding the net.

That’s why he was so pleased with the variety of goals the Whites scored in last night’s Lancashire rout.

“It’s really important that we start to spread our goals from the other players. When you have a player like him that creates so many chances and we have a player with his capacity and his ability to score goals of course he’s important and he’ll keep being really important for this football club.

But I’m demanding from the others as well. My wingers normally score goals, and my midfielders as well, and they know that. Kebano, Rodrigo, Wilson, they know what I demand from them to take the right decisions, to attack, to score goals, to arrive in the right spots as well and they are offensive midfielders as well. Even our central defenders, they know how much I’m demanding from them, that we should start to score more goals from set pieces.”

Fulham’s proficiency from set plays has been one of the real plus points in this campaign. Mitrovic’s header from a fine Jean Michael Seri corner was their sixth from a set piece this season – the second best record in the division. Clearly, the next target is to see centre halves with the aerial ability of Tim Ream, Tosin Adarabioyo, Michael Hector and Alfie Mawson heading home.

Have Fulham found depth in defence?

On the eve of the new season, Marco Silva is carefully evaluating the squad he has been bequeathed down at Motspur Park. He has spoken this afternoon of his desire to strengthen his squad further still in advance of the opening fixture against Middlesbrough on Sunday, but there still plenty of imponderables as we try to second guess the Portuguese head coach’s preferred starting eleven. With so much of pre-season held behind closed doors, the fans are still in the dark as to Silva’s top pairings throughout the side – especially at centre back.

Every successful side has a strong spine and that usually starts from the heart of the defence. Fulham are currently blessed with a surfeit of centre backs and almost all of them have significant Championship experience. American Tim Ream now probably fits snugly into the stalwart category, having made 213 appearances for Fulham, and although the veteran didn’t have the best of times in the top flight, he shone in Slavisa Jokanovic’s promotion season and has never let the Whites down in the second tier. Ream has racked up 260 Championship appearances and knows what he takes to thrive in one of the most competitive divisions around.

Given how impressively he began life at Craven Cottage, the fact that Tosin Adarabioyo remains at Craven Cottage – with no Premier League side seeing fit to trigger his £10m release clause this summer – seems like a real bonus. Adarabioyo honed his raw talent in the Championship, making 63 appearances in strong loan spells with West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers, which fuelled his desire for first-team football. A physically strong defender with an eye for a pass, Adarabioyo’s level might have dipped in the final weeks of the season – with a couple of costly mistakes creeping in – but you would expect the Fulham back four to be built around his immense talent.

Michael Hector had an almost as encouraging opening to his Fulham career after making the short move from Stamford Bridge last summer – and enduring a lengthy wait to pull on the white shirt. He stepped into a shaky back line as if he’d been playing there for years, immediately providing solidity and a physical presence that Scott Parker’s side had been sorely missing. But the mystifying collapse that came after the Whites went up left the man cheekily dubbed ‘Virgil van Mike’ looking completely clueless. His shakiness in a possession mirrored that of a schoolboy rather than the confident defender that had bossed games at the lower level and he was twice caught alarmingly out of position at Leeds before that shocking display at Brentford. There is a clearly good player there – as evidenced by that remarkable saving tackle at Cardiff in the play-off semi-final – and if Hector, who has 173 Championship appearances to his name and is fresh from helping Jamaica reach the quarter finals of the Gold Cup, can recapture the form of his early weeks at Fulham then he might be able to force his way into Silva’s plans.

We’ve still not really seen enough of Terence Kongolo to make an accurate assessment of his ability. The Dutch defender made one magnificent tackle during an otherwise unforgettable FA Cup defeat at Manchester City and promptly injured himself as the Whites were clinging to a narrow lead at Blackburn. Bringing him back on a permanent basis was clearly predicated on his strong displays at Huddersfield, but keeping him fit will be Marco Silva’s biggest challenge. Kongolo has now resumed full training and, if he can show the pedigree that saw him shine for AK Almaar and become part of the Dutch squad that finished third in the 2014 World Cup, then you wouldn’t bet against him muscling his way back in.

The other injury prone centre back on the staff at Fulham is Alfie Mawson, whose £20m capture in the summer of 2018 looked like good business after his eye-catching displays with Swansea had lifted him to the cusp of an England call-up. We all know that Mawson never really got a run in the side and has endured horrendous luck with injuries, which only continued when he badly injured his knee shortly after being handed the captaincy during a strong start to his loan spell at Bristol City last season. Mawson’s ability has never been in doubt and the ball-playing centre half seems to have shed some timber in a bid to impress Silva but it will all rest upon whether he can remain consistently available for selection.

Beyond those four, Silva still has options should he need them. The versatile Denis Odoi will always have his own place in Fulham folklore for any number of reasons – that ridiculous backflick against Newcastle on debut, his majestic header against Derby and the dancing on the crossbar at Wembley after promotion had been secured against Aston Villa – but it is difficult to see the Belgian getting a great deal of game time, given that Fulham also have three right backs competing against him in his other favoured position. Maxime Le Marchand has also been linked with a move away this summer, with the Frenchman’s catchy song certainly exceeding his footballing ability. Jerome Opoku, who will turn 23 by the end of the season, is poised to move to Denmark on loan – which suggests he is unlikely to figure in Silva’s long-term plans.

The new boss could conceivably want to introduce his own centre half into the club, but it probably wouldn’t be the most effective use of scant FFP headroom at this point. Plenty of Championship managers would kill for the sort of depth Fulham currently possess at centre back – the key will now be moulding a partnership to withstand the rigours of England’s second tier. Silva has been characterised as an offensive manager, but he spoke this afternoon of how much he likes a clean sheet. Solid defences win championships – and Fulham appear well stocked in that department.

Decordova-Reid returns in Jamaica defeat

Bobby Decordova-Reid returned from his Covid-enforced lay-off but couldn’t inspire Jamaica to victory as they were beaten 1-0 by the United States in this morning’s Gold Cup quarter-final.

Decordova-Reid, who had missed the Reggae Boyz’s 2-1 victory against Guadeloupe last Friday and the 1-0 defeat against Costa Rica on Tuesday night, completed a period of isolation and returned two negative tests in order to feature from the start in Arlington but couldn’t repeat his heroics from the tournament’s opening game – when he scored a stunning goal to beat Suriname.

Jamaica battled bravely but were beaten by a late header from Matthew Hoppe. Fulham defender Michael Hector, used in a holding midfield role throughout these championships, was an used substitute. The Americans will face Qatar in Thursday’s semi-final whilst the Fulham pair will head back to London to join the tail end of Marco Silva’s pre-season preparations.

Hector helps Jamaica into Gold Cup quarter finals

Fulham’s Michael Hector helped Jamaica qualify for the quarter finals of the Gold Cup last night as they overcome Guadeloupe 2-1 to progress from Group C.

The Reggae Boyz required an 87th minute winner from Junior Flemmings to complete a come from behind victory in Orlando last night. An own goal from Amari’i Bell had given Guadeloupe a surprise early lead, but Cory Burke’s low drive quickly levelled matters.

Hector again lined up in a defensive midfield role for Jamaica and played over an hour before being substituted in favour of matchwinner Flemmings. Costa Rica’s victory over Suriname ensures that both they and Jamaica have qualified for the last eight ahead of their concluding Group C clash on Wednesday.

Bobby Decordova-Reid did not feature with rumours suggesting that he is the member of the Jamaican squad that has tested positive for coronavirus. The Jamaican Football Federation confirmed that a member of their squad has contracted coronavirus, but has not revealed the identity of the player.

Meanwhile, Hector has told the Jamaican Observer that there is a real confidence amongst the squad and that he has considered the possibility of going all the way in the tournament:

“It [winning the Gold Cup] would mean everything to me… it would be history and that’s the personal goal I have set myself, and that is not to say I have not set other goals with Jamaica. For me and my family, it would be a proud moment [to win the Gold Cup], and no one has ever done it, so why can’t we be the first? With the group of players we have, we fancy our chances to go very deep in the tournament. Obviously, in tournament football you can’t think too far ahead as you have got to take it game by game.”