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Seri: ‘I want to pay Fulham back’

Jean-Michael Seri wants to repay Fulham for the faith they showed in him by leading the Whites back to the Premier League – and he hopes to prove a point to former manager Scott Parker tomorrow night.

Marco Silva’s side face Bournemouth in a clash of the Championship’s top two at Craven Cottage and the Ivorian playmaker is keen to display his talent after Parker denied him the opportunity of a second chance in a Fulham shirt. Seri was frustrated to be left out of Fulham’s 25-man Premier League squad after returning from loan last season, but is making up for lost time under new boss Marco Silva.

The former Nice midfielder told the Sun that it took a while for him to adjust to English football and that he was bitterly disappointed with his performances in his first season in London:

“I felt a lot of expectation when I joined. The Fulham fans had heard about me almost joining Barcelona so thought I would help them stay in the Premier League. Unfortunately things didn’t go as we all wanted. The club spent a lot of money for me and expected better from me. I didn’t give back something.. I must give the club something back for that investment so I’m glad to be doing so now.

When you first come to England, it can be difficult. We can see this with a lot of players who come from different countries because it’s very different here to other leagues. What I learned, reflecting on that season, is that you must have a winning mentality every day, not just on matchdays. If you have a game on Saturday, you can’t start preparing on Thursday. You must be preparing from Monday to the matchday.”

He also detailed his disappointment at being left out of Parker’s Premier League plans when he felt he would be able to contribute to Fulham’s fight to establish themselves in the top flight.

“I had a positive season in Turkey so it was frustrating to not play. I was thinking, ‘Why does the manager not realise that I can help the team?’ because I was in very good form and very confident. I had learned from my past experience in the Premier League. If he gave me one chance, I could’ve helped the team. It was a big frustration and not what I expected when I returned.

“I spoke to Scott Parker before we started the season and that conversation must remain private. But he decided what he had to decide and it was a difficult situation for me.”

Seri is relishing the opportunity to express himself under Silva after swiftly establishing himself as a key part of Fulham’s midfield.

“When the gaffer arrived, he said, ‘I want you to help us go up together into the Premier League.’ I knew Marco from when he was in Portugal and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I wanted to stay here and my family like London too. The Championship is actually better than a lot of the leagues in Europe.

“I’m here for the whole season. I want to celebrate when we get promoted. I want to enjoy this moment with the club. Fulham deserves it because they’ve spent a lot of money on me. They deserve to be in the Premier League for many years and I believe Marco is building something good. And I want to pay the club back.”

Up next: AFC Bournemouth (h)

The mouthwatering prospect of a meeting between the Championship’s top two, separated by just a single point, awaits at Craven Cottage on Friday night. Both Fulham and Bournemouth were threatening to build a sizeable advantage over the chasing pack until a couple of setbacks over the past week or so, but you would be hard pressed to find a bookmaker who wasn’t packing the pair to both be automatically promoted come May. The return of Scott Parker to SW6 offers this clash an extra edge – and should generate plenty of column inches in the morning papers – however much sides seek to downplay the significance of his presence in the visiting dugout.

Parker’s departure after an underwhelming return to the top flight wasn’t without rancour. The Fulham board were disappointed in the lacklustre way the club went down, especially after giving themselves a fighting chance of survival with back-to-back wins on Merseyside. The suspicion remains that Parker, an astute manager of his own media profile, was engineering his exit having isolated a number of key players and his plan to offload the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Tom Cairney as part of a radical reshaping of the playing squad ahead of another tilt at the Championship now looks laughable. Fulham might well consider themselves fortunate to have dodged that particular bullet – as well as Parker’s particularly sterile football.

Contrary to Parker’s rather curious assertion yesterday that little has changed at Craven Cottage after he decamped to the south coast, Marco Silva has introduced a much more adventurous style of play, reinvigorated Mitrovic and successfully reintegrated Jean Michael Seri. Fulham’s approach is now designed around attacking the opposition and giving creative players the platform to shine – rather than simply seeking to stay in matches. It is, of course, much easier to play this way in the Championship than in the pressure-cooker of the Premier League but few could argue that Parker’s Fulham sides stretched pragmatism to the extreme. Other than the mullering of Millwall at Craven Cottage, there were few flowing performances under his stewardship and the Whites underwhelmed when expected to be one of the leading contenders for automatic promotion in 2019/20.

That is not to say that Parker has not put together a strong Bournemouth side. They are well drilled, look after the ball impressively and difficult to beat. Marrying Lloyd Kelly’s promise with the experience of Gary Cahill makes for a miserly central defensive partnership and in, Phillip Billing, the Cherries have one of the division’s most complete midfielders. Jaidon Anthony’s emergence as a lively winger, who weighs in with crucial goals, has been one of the stories of the season alongside the goalscoring exploits of Dominic Solanke and the canny acquisition of the dangerous Ryan Christie. Make no mistake about it – Bournemouth will represent the toughest test of Fulham’s season to date.

Parker will have to navigate his way around a significant injury crisis as he prepares for this fixture. Bournemouth might be without as many as nine first-team players for the trip to the capital. Kelly, Cahill, Adam Smith, Robbie Brady, Jordan Zemura, Ben Pearson, Junior Stanislas and David Brooks all missed Saturday’s dramatic draw with Coventry City, in which Jefferson Lerma was sent off meaning the midfielder – who had lined in central defence – will be suspended tomorrow night. Parker cast doubt over whether any of his injured eight would be available tomorrow night, although there may be a degree of smoke and mirrors in operation when recalling how tightly he keeps his cards close to his chest.

Fulham’s own selection will once again be dictated by how well key members of the squad have recovered from the norovirus bug that badly disrupted Silva’s preparations for the draws against Derby and Preston. The Fulham head coach did suggest earlier today that Cairney will be available, having missed those two fixtures, although whether the playmaker will come straight back into the starting line-up remains to be seen. You’d feel that Fulham will need Harrison Reed’s tenacity from the outset in what is likely to be a high octane clash and it would be strange to drop Seri given both his form and the opportunity to prove a point to his former boss. That motivation will be uppermost in Mitrovic’s mind too – given how he and Parker clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye in the last twelve months.

Fulham have passed most of the tests put in front of Silva’s side this season. They easily dispatched West Brom at the end of October, sparking the Baggies poor run of form, and will need to perform at a similar level if they are not to surrender top spot. Parker will undoubtedly get a hot reception from a hostile home crowd, but the Whites can’t afford to take their eye off the ball. Retaining focus, possession and putting an impressive Bournemouth defence under pressure from the first whistle will be essential.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Seri; Kebano, Wilson, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Odoi, Hector, Cairney, Onomah, Decordova-Reid, Muniz.

Reed relishing Bournemouth battle

Harrison Reed can’t wait for Friday night when Fulham take on Bournemouth at Craven Cottage in a clash of the Championship’s top two.

The former Southampton midfielder insisted that Scott Parker had done a good job at Fulham and been a key part in bringing him to the club, but admits the fixture will have an extra edge. Reed told FFCTV this afternoon that he is almost fully recovered from the bug that had hit him hard over the last week or so. It is a measure of Reed’s commitment to the cause that he started both games despite feeling seriously under the weather:

“Getting there. It’s been a tough week – I think for the whole squad, to be honest. After the Barnsley game, a few players came down with it and it seemed to spread throughout the team. We had to try and do what we had to do last week and we came away with two points and the teams around us matched us, so we got away with it a little bit.

Reed admitted the squad were disappointed to drop points at Preston North End last weekend and reiterated that he felt the North End equaliser should have been ruled out:

“Yeah, it does. It was clear on the pitch to a few of the players, I didn’t quite see it. It was handball. A few of the boys tried to speak to the ref but he wasn’t open to changing his decision. Our performance in the second half wasn’t at our best. To come away with a point from a tough place to go, we’ll take and go into Friday.”

He is now fully focused on the tough task presented by the Cherries, who will be eager to reclaim top spot with a win on Friday.

“It’s set up to be a great game. It’s been us two at the top throughout the whole season. We’ve pulled away a little bit from third. We need to pull away from second now. We need to keep pushing, work hard this week and put in a good performance on Friday night. Night games are the best, especially at home. We seem to perform really well, the results always seem to be good. We can’t wait to get going. It’s going to be a special atmosphere. The fans this season have been top drawer. Every home and away game they’ve been heard and I expect the same on Friday night, with a little bit of extra edge.”

Reed also revealed how incoming Fulham head coach Marco Silva has reshaped his own role having replaced Parker during the summer.

“I’m a little bit more advanced. It’s something we spoke about earlier in the season when I was actually injured. We had a couple of meetings and he spoke to me about positions and how he sees me fitting in the team: it was slightly more advanced, more box-to-box role. It was something I was really happy to hear and its over to me to try and add more goals and assists at the other end of the pitch.”

Silva’s stylish side sets pulses racing

It’s been a while since I penned my thoughts, in fact, I’ve really not written for a long time. I won’t go into everything, but I think something you learn once you enter your 20s is life isn’t what you imagine as a child or teen. Sure, if you know what you want to do with your life and know the path to get there – it helps. As someone who left school not really knowing, each day can leave you feeling quite lost. Well finally I feel somewhat on track, with a new job and an actual career path. My work-life balance is the best it’s been and philosophically I’m happier, healthier and better. Though hurdles will continue to occur for someone like me, I’m the best place I’ve been to bat them away.

Anyway, onto Fulham. We’re coming to a key part of the season for Marco Silva’s side. Statistically, half of the sides that top the table on Boxing Day go on to win the Championship title. With no international break until March, this is a period where Europe’s most demanding division turns treacherous. The games come thick and thin with the build up to Christmas and that will test even the strongest of squads. Silva has so far coped with injury crises – Denis Odoi deputised for Kenny Tete admirably even if nobody would pretend that the Belgian veteran is as accomplished a right back as the Dutch international. No one foresaw Fabio Carvalho’s early importance coming but even with his injury, but Fulham have adjusted to his prolonged absence pretty healthily. The Domingos Quina experiment might have been quickly abandoned but Bobby Decordova-Reid has slotted into the number ten role nicely – only Harry Wilson has carved out more chances for the Whites this season. Even Tosin Adarabioyo’s suspension for that moment of madness against West Brom hasn’t unduly discomforted the defence, as Michael Hector filled in to good effect.

Confidence must be high at Craven Cottage after a run of six straight wins, during which Silva’s side have amassed 21 goals and conceded only one. The strength in depth that the Fulham head coach has at his disposal is demonstrated by the fact that the returning Cairney, Carvalho and Tete have started our most recent fixtures on the bench. Rodrigo Muniz appears to acclimatising nicely to English football – notching an impressive brace after coming on as a substitute against Blackburn – and the Brazilian forward has detailed that he is enjoying learning from the best number nine in the division. Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose own confidence has to be soaring following his winner in Lisbon, dragged a limp Scott Parker side to promotion two seasons back but he looks an entirely different animal these days. Mitrovic is playing with a smile on his face and looks like scoring with every shot at the moment. There’s certainly no irony in singing about him being on fire at the moment.

His moment of individual redemption against Portugal was richly deserved after the ignominy of that penalty shoot-out failure against Scotland that cost Serbia a spot at the European Championships. So extraordinary are his scoring exploits that Fulham look utterly transformed in attack and the threat they pose in the opposition penalty area stands in stark contrast to the side that surrendered their Premier League safety so meekly, with Parker not even considering Mitrovic as an option to score the goals that an imperilled Fulham side badly needed. Looking back, that appears a horrific misjudgement at best.

Fulham’s current squad contains a multitude of talents and could have been guided to promotion by a PE teacher – the players have shown that already. The key thing is that Marco Silva can be the man to stabilise Fulham as a Premier League outfit – that is why he took this job. The football has been exhilarating at times, largely dominant in possession but with vertical threat and ruthlessness to create chance after chance. This Fulham side has scored 13 more goals than their nearest ‘goals for’ challenger whilst staying solid at the back with the second best defence in terms of goals conceded. Silva’s side have scored one more goal at this stage of last season than Jean Tigana’s 2000-01 promotion team featuring Louis Saha (who scored 27 in the league for that season – whilst Aleksandar Mitrovic sits on 20 with 29 games left to play).

Fulham have three fixtures to play before Parker’s return to Craven Cottage with the league leaders Bournemouth on December 3rd, in what is arguably the first blockbuster battle of the promotion campaign. All three matches before the Cherries come to the capital appear winnable, although nothing can be certain in such an unpredictable lead. Fulham host the two sides occupying the last two spots in the Championship relegation zone, before heading to Deepdale to take on Frankie McAvoy’s Preston North End, who are also currently ensconced in the bottom half of the table.

Without looking too far in the future, you get the feeling that this run to the New Year will be vital in Fulham’s title ambitions (yes, you get a gong for finishing 2nd but to go up as champions should be the only goal). In this December period, Fulham will want to set the tone, much like they did post-Coventry and with lots of games with little break – the entire squad will have to match the intensity, form and difference of their position group. If Aleksandar Mitrovic gets a knock, Rodrigo Muniz has to become the ‘big dog’ and the same applies for all of those on the fringes. If you’re on the fringes now – the chances are you’ll be replaced in the Premier League so step up when it’s your turn. That’s the attitude of champions and champions is what Fulham have to be.

It should be fun and I’m already looking forward to that first Friday in December, when Parker comes back in front of the Sky cameras and under the flood lights. You can’t fail to have been enthralled by the way Silva has taken to the early stages of his task of securing an immediate return to the top flight and, given the way he has spoken about having unfinished business in the Premier League, he will be determined to establish Fulham as a force at English football’s top table. This is shaping up to be a season that Fulham fans will look back on with similar fondness to that of 2000/01, when Tigana’s team stormed to promotion with style and panache.

Another update – I’m looking at writing more but sometimes I lack the initial creative idea or I start writing and can’t get the right flow (this for example, I’m not sure is great) but if there’s any questions you want answered or anything studied or discussed, send me a message on Twitter (@frankieptaylor) or respond to my articles and I’ll note to see what I can do.

Ream ready for promotion push

Tim Ream insists there’s ‘no hangover’ from Fulham’s ‘awful’ relegation season as he targets an immediate return to the top flight.

The experienced American centre half, interviewed by Peter Rutzler in the Athletic this morning, pulls no punches in his assessment of Fulham’s failure to stay up.

“It was awful. There’s no getting around it. I’m honest. There were times when I just thought, ‘What are we doing?’ It was hard. It was difficult. It was unenjoyable. Listen, any time you are losing and you are not moving up the table, it’s unenjoyable. For me, it was doubly unenjoyable because you’re not playing, you feel like you’re not part of the team. You’re sitting on the bench, but you’re not really contributing.

“It’s a drag when you get a couple of results and you think we have a chance here and then you don’t take advantage. The guys who are playing, that wears on them. And the guys who aren’t playing, you’re thinking, ‘Man, these guys are struggling’. But at the same time, the whole team is mentally breaking down, because those are missed chances. You see it every year in every division. It’s tough to stay focused in the moment when you kind of think: ‘Where is this leading to?'”