In relegations gone by, Fulham would have been the perfect opportunity for a struggling Aston Villa side to bounce back but this time is very different.
It’s such a good feeling walking away from a game knowing that the current team are competitive in the Premier League and capable of staying on the front foot for an entire 90 minutes of top flight football.
The Premier League table is quite extraordinary. Only 5 points separate 11th placed Crystal Palace and second bottom Leicester City, considering the Foxes have been heavily criticised for such a slow start to the campaign. Now more than ever it seems the Premier League has its big 6, with Newcastle likely to be in a league of their own behind them as they begin to transition from big and shit, to big and rich. It leaves every position from 8th to 20th up for grabs.
Despite a recent blip, Marco Silva is creating the perfect recipe to ensure Fulham remain near the top of this pack of 13 clubs fighting for Premier League status and there are 3 ingredients that have given us the edge on previous seasons; mentality, good transfer business and players improved, under the coaching staff.
Beating the teams around you is easier said than done because it feels like every other game is a six pointer at the moment. It’s necessary to be brave and attempt to win games, while also showing the discipline to not expose yourself. Despite a promising start to the season, the goals against column has been concerning, but last night was a promising sign that Silva is starting to find that balance, keeping a first clean sheet without sacrificing our desire to dominate as the home side.
Importantly, Joao Palhinha has found a way to be just as influential and aggressive without being booked every week, the win over Villa being his third game in a row without receiving a card. It will be a big boost for the team if he can avoid further suspensions throughout the season.
Having taken 11 points from 18 at home, a determination to press the opposition and put the ball in areas that cause the opposition problems has seen Craven Cottage become somewhat of a fortress. It would have been easy to sulk and gone into reverse after the West Ham controversy, especially after going a goal down so early in the big game vs Bournemouth last week. Instead the team showed a lot of character to keep going and take control of large parts of that game too, forcing errors and giving the referee decisions to make that would go in our favour. The foul from Lerma on Mitro last week, the handball and own goal last night, even the red card for Douglas Luiz some would say was bought by Mitro but it’s better to be streetwise than naive and at the moment, Fulham are showing they have a lot more know-how than people gave them credit for at the start of the season. That leadership comes from the top with Marco Silva.
The second ingredient is getting the new signings right. Not just ticking boxes on a computer screen, but bringing in people with the right attitude and personality to fit the club. Marco clearly has a big influence on the signings made, and those who have started most weeks have been pivotal to our success. There’s a fair argument to suggest that Palhinha is the best signing a newly promoted Fulham have made since Steed Malbranque 21 years ago and you can see how much it has up’d the level in midfield. Many worried how the signings of Pereira and Willian would work out but their attitudes have been very refreshing. Two players with bags of ability, who work just as hard as anyone in the team. There are no luxury players in this side and even Leno in goal has been very humble since joining from Arsenal. The new players are proving to be the difference between Fulham sitting in the top half after 11 games and not staring at the likelihood of another yo-yo season.
New signings and the right mentality can only get you so far. In order to bridge the gap you need to show faith in the players that got you there. The biggest compliment I can pay Marco Silva and his coaching team is the significant improvement to the players who sat somewhere in that enormous gap between the Premier League and the Championship. Tim Ream has been an ever present so far and despite individual preferences on who should comprise the centre back partnership, it’s fair to say that Ream has more than held his own so far.
Bobby Decordova-Reid understandably looked questionable at times while playing right-back against West Ham, yet you wouldn’t have known last night that it wasn’t his favoured position. Not only does this highlight his versatility, it also shows how quickly the players respond to the coaching and the Bobby Reid we signed from Cardiff is a completely different player to the one we have now.
The game management of Tom Cairney is the best I’ve seen for a long time. TC has often been questioned as a Premier League player, but there’s no doubt that his class stands out when he comes off the bench. It’s an unfortunate reality that we have to protect him from injuries and at this stage of his career, I think we are using Tom in the most effective way possible.
I could literally go through the whole team! Who would have thought Neekens could make the step up so convincingly? A few years ago he couldn’t even make the bench in the Championship. Harrison Reed is adapting to his new role and starting to contribute goals as well. I’m pleased to see Silva pushing Reedy to his limit because he’s a very good player who can be so much more than just a grafter. This could prove the difference for an eventual England call up.
Kenny Tete has been sorely missed but once again Antonee Robinson has been top drawer and is indispensable to the team at the moment. Again, Jedi is a player who has had his question marks since joining in 2020 but he looks at home competing in the top flight. Then there’s the small matter of our talisman who is in the form of his life and epitomises the contrast in coaching from the old regime to the new one.
It’s important not to get carried away as it’s still early days but the league table is a fair reflection of where we are at after 11 matches and we’ve already scored more goals at home than we did the last time we were here. Maybe that’s more of a reflection on the previous coach than it is for our efforts so far, nevertheless it makes the start to this season something to be very excited and grateful for.