The boys from Brazil gave Chelsea the blues on an unforgettable night at The Cottage, securing a first win for Fulham over their neighbours in 16 years. Perhaps more revealing of The Whites’ progress under Marco Silva in the 18 months since he took charge, is that the win gave The Cottagers a six point lead in the postcode league.
It is impossible to deny the influence of the Portuguese tactician on Fulham finally finding the solution to earning promotion and following up the feat with survival in the top tier. But as the season progresses, survival is becoming less of a target and more of a formality. The targets will likely shift to more ambitious goals, with the Cottagers sat a heady sixth halfway through their campaign. Silva has improved the players who greeted him on his first day at Motspur Park and added undeniable quality to supplement them. Of the XI that started against Chelsea, six were under contract before the Head Coach’s arrival, the other five have been recruited under his watch, and all look the part. The Brazilian trio that ultimately decided the result have all spoke of the role Silva played in their choice to play their football by The Thames. It represents a shift from promotions of previous seasons, that have seen an overhaul of playing staff. Silva has focussed on quality over quantity, and it has made all the difference.
Andreas Pereira continues to impress. An ever-present in starting lineups this season, he is the creative hub of the team, adding his fifth assist of the season with the cross that led to his countryman, Carlos Vinicius’ winner. Only three Premier League players have more and the same is true of “big chance” creation. Andreas carries the ball, passes the ball and wins the ball, ingredients that make him a pressing coaches dream. His £10m price gage looks a better deal with every game he plays, and the relationship he has struck up with Aleksandar Mitrovic, suspended for this monumental victory, has been a key contributor to the success the team are having. Is speaks of the quality throughout the team, that even without their talisman, Fulham were good value for their derby win.
Playing second-fiddle to the man that will likely go down as the clubs greatest goalscorer of the modern era is always going to be a difficult task. But if Vinicius can have more moments like he did on this night, he will immortalise himself in a different way to Mitrovic. His opportunities have been limited, and he has failed to convince for large periods, but in what was certainly his best performance in a White shirt, he added the decisive finish to all of his effort.
The third Brazilian musketeer was somewhat familiar with that lot down the road, having spent a significant period of his career on the The Kings Road. But his loyalties couldn’t be questioned on this night, and his quality has been evident since he first pulled on a white shirt. He may not be as quick as when he first appeared at The Cottage, terrorising fullbacks as part of a mesmerising Shaktar Donetsk side in the 2010 Europa League run, but all of the tricks are still present and where pace has diminished, know-how has been added to the armoury. There were questions when he arrived, following less than convincing spells at Arsenal and, more recently, Corinthians. But Willian is a player with European pedigree and winners medals aplenty.
The level of attacking talent Silva has brought to the club dwarfs that of recent top tier stints. Willian has won it all in England, the Premier League twice, and a Europa League title. While Ademola Lookman, for all his endeavour, has yet to add to the Under-20 World Cup he won nearly six years ago. Andreas spent ten years at Manchester United, under esteemed coaches such as Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and was first brought to England by none other than Sir Alex Ferguson. In contrast, Luciano Vietto has bounced around Spanish clubs on loan and still under the age of 30, is plying his trade in Saudi Arabia. Its no coincidence that this Fulham team looks equipped for a top half finish rather than a relegation.
At the other end of the pitch, quality is as high as the clubs first foray into the domestic elite, in 2001. After winning the Division One title, Jean Tigana sold Edwin van der Sar on trading Juventus for SW6, after the Dutch international fell down the pecking order after the arrival of Gigi Buffon. Fast forward 21 years, and German international Bernd Leno was similarly displaced at Arsenal by Aaron Ramsdale. Once again, there is a keeper with Champions League pedigree at Fulham and it is making a difference. Leno made nine saves against Chelsea, and with a final score of 2-1, where scoring was alternated, every save felt like a crucial moment. Mark Schwarzer will always be remembered as a great Fulham goalkeeper for his exploits during a run that saw The Whites record the highest ever finish, and storm to the final of the aforementioned Europa League, but in Leno, we are probably bearing witness to the best goalkeeper in these parts since the Flying Dutchman departed for Manchester United in 2005.
It is the quality that is telling, and with a coach who gets the best of his players, the sky feels the limit on Stevenage Road right now. Evolution over revolution has Fulham on the cusp of something very special, and for now at least, West London is White!