Marco Silva squeezed every last ounce out of the players available to him in the opening 5 games of the season. Unfortunate injuries to Harry Wilson and Manor Solomon left us extremely short of attacking depth and our positive start to the season could so easily have been a frustrating one.
The transfer window finally closed last Thursday, and the club were able to add 4 new names to the squad before the deadline, meaning we went into the Spurs game with undoubtedly our strongest bench of the season so far.
After being barely a day through the door, Dan James and Carlos Vinicius couldn’t have been expected to start, and they were joined on the bench by free transfer, Willian, who has been training with us for 2 weeks but still wasn’t signed with any urgency.
The only new arrival who failed to make the bench was Layvin Kurzawa, and with every possible position covered on the 9-man bench other than left back, it was inevitable that Antonee Robinson would be the one to roll his ankle and need replacing early in the first half. Kevin Mbabu was the obvious player to call upon to “do a job” for the team and it’s fair to say it wasn’t the greatest performance we’ve seen in a Fulham shirt. He shared a large portion of the blame for both Spurs goals, although I would argue there was quite a lot of ball watching from others, and for all of Spurs’ quality, the goals were quite soft ones to concede. It would be unfair to write Kevin off after one game and it was only 2 weeks ago he was making an invaluable contribution off the bench for Mitro’s Brentford winner; a goal that gave us our first win and the momentum to kick on after a missed opportunity at Wolves. Time will tell if Mbabu is up to the task but we’ve been so spoiled with the high levels Robinson and Tete have set this season, any mistake from the understudy is bound to create a sense of doubt.
The two Spurs goals were punishment for ball watching and that could be attributed to mental fatigue. Silva has depended on the same few players, who have run themselves into the ground and this felt like a game too far for a lot of them. Spurs were very good on the day, certainly the best we’ve played so far and their movement in attacking areas was very hard to keep track of. We had Leno to thank for keeping the score respectable and when Silva turned to TC, Willian and James, they did bring a new lease of life to the team.
The added options allowed Silva to attempt to influence the game from the bench noticeably earlier than in previous fixtures. Silva has shown a reluctance to turn to the substitutes before the 70th minute before the visit to North East London, but with new ammunition he asked James and Willian to help fire Fulham back into the game. While it was not fruitful on this occasion, in the coming weeks we should see the benefit of a fuller squad.
Back to our new German no.1 (/17). Whilst some may have been calling for Rodak to get his opportunity, there seems to be little argument that Bernd is a step up in quality. There’s a level of assuredness that you get from watching him that was missing from the young Slovakian. Of course, Marek would not have been happy to find himself back on the bench, especially after our last Premier League season, but I’d hope that he can spend the next year learning from Leno and push on with his development, even if his future ultimately lies away from the Cottage.
When the final whistle was blown we had fallen short against a very good side (one that looks like it might have the potential to not ‘do a Spurs’ this season…), but alongside Mitrovic scoring one of his best goals for the club purely through his own brilliance, it was certainly a promising sign seeing more quality and Premier League experience coming off the bench. Something that will compliment the team we have as well as provide even more service to Mitro as he continues to thrive and show what a monster of a centre forward he truly is.