Setting the Standard


Image: Fulham FC

Marco Silva’s side have set the standard for how they will approach their return to the Premier League, and are winning the games that matter. Tough to beat for the established “big six”, having taken Liverpool to wire on the opening day to claim a point, doing the same at the emirates only to fall short in the dying moments and then giving Tottenham a scare when threatening a comeback in a 2-1 defeat. Against Brighton, Brentford and now Forest, Fulham have taken maximum points. Not settling for a draw when pegged back to 2-2 by west London rivals, and taking the game to an inform Seagulls typifies the desire shown by the likes of Harrison Reed and Joao Palhinha in The Cottagers engine room. Against Forest they came from behind for the first time, and secured what feels like a big win ahead of the international break. 

Tepid draws with Burnley, West Brom, Brighton and Southampton felt like missed opportunities the last time Fulham were in the top tier. The winning goal in this most recent fixture served as a symbol of what this team stands for. Not settling for the minimum, always striving for more. 2-1 up away from home, having been behind, could be seen as the opportune moment to shut up shop and look to hold on for a win, but not this team. Instead, a player not known for his attacking talents, a player who had never scored in a Fulham shirt before, burst into the penalty area to finish a move, and ultimately finish the opponents. It was the crescendo of an unstoppable six-minute spell in the East Midlands, that showed exactly what Reed can do when encouraged to play in the opposition half more. His goal at The City Ground was the culmination of an 18-month mission to prove he is more than just a ball winner.

At Goodison Park, on Valentines Day 2021, Scott Parker deployed Reed alongside Mario Lemina, giving the Southampton academy product license to get forward and impact play in the final third more than Fulham fans had been used to. It worked, as a rare shot from the edge of the box was palmed into the path of Josh Maja to secure an even rarer win for The Whites at Everton. Since then, Reed has switched between playing as traditional no.6 or a pressing no.8. His tireless nature, desire to win the ball and ability to spot danger make him adept at both out of possession, but in possession there have continued to be question marks over his contribution as an 8. No goals and just six assists doesn’t tell the entire story, but it does back up some of the claims that Reed was more suited to the disruptor role, screening his back-four.

When Marco Silva reintegrated Jean Michael Seri at the start of Fulham’s Championship winning campaign, Reed was asked to press in opposition territory. Despite recording just two assists, Reed’s relentlessness was a big factor in the way The Cottagers punished teams in transition. He also started to record more touches in the opposition penalty area than he had previously. Early last season, the midfielder admitted that was something he was trying to do more of, in a bid to add goal contributions to his game. He told The Athletic “I need to start chipping in with goals and assists but I’m sure if I keep getting in the right positions, they will come.”

Before Reed’s cathartic moment, Palhinha had given his side the lead. Silva has adapted to the Premier League and this was the first instance in which his side have recorded more possession than their opposition over 90 minutes, having averaged more than 60% last season. But what hasn’t changed, is that when his team launch an attack, they do so it’s intent, and intent that runs throughout the entire XI. Reed may be playing higher than he had before the Portuguese coach took ear at Craven Cottage, but he is still a defensively-minded player. Palhinha is certainly that, and his statistic show he is very good at that side of the game. No player has more successful pressures than him in across Europe’s top five leagues. In Nottingham, he won 100% of his tackles, had seven ball recoveries and won eight of his eleven duels. But he also recorded his second goal of the season.

The Whites have been reliant on Aleksandar Mitrovic for goals this season, and the Serbian has more than delivered. With the absence of Harry Wilson, the club will need others to step up, and with three goals, from three different scorers, none named Mitrovic, that is exactly what Fulham got at The City Ground. Mitrovic continues to contribute, indeed it was his clever through ball to Bobby Decordova-Reid that freed the winger to tee up Harrison Reed’s winner, but with three goals from, primarily defensive players Silva’s philosophy is in full effect. Defend from the front, attack as one.

After the break is a run of six games in which we can expect Silva to once again refuse to settle. Fulham are unlikely to win all of those games. In actuality, the odds are they will lose more than one of them. But the evidence suggests that none of them will be approached with any trepidation, especially those at Craven Cottage, where The Whites are unbeaten and look to play on the front foot regardless of the opposition. When Liverpool arrived to kick off the season, they found out first-hand that this Fulham side are not interested in taking a back seat.

Last season, international breaks brought mixed responses. Fulham’s form fluctuated between the blank domestic game-weeks, and it will be important that the upcoming cease in Premier League action does not cause the drop off in form that the first such break in Championship saw last season. Fulham returned to lose to Blackpool, and won only twice in six fixtures before the internationals went off to represent their respective nations again. A similar return from the next six matches would be both unexpected and disappointing. Silva will be eager for his team to continue to show the ruthlessness they displayed in their most recent outing when they face a group of opponents who, on paper, are not as formidable as those they have already matched.