The Joy of Fulham: They’re fun, fearless and so much better than you think

The win over Aston Villa in the middle of the week hinted at Fulham’s potential, and the win over Leeds felt an even more subtle announcement.

His 3-2 win at Elland Road on Sunday marked the first time Fulham have won consecutive Premier League matches since Scott Parker’s side did so in April 2019, and they have now tied their winning streak from the 2020-21 season.

Marco Silva’s side are seventh in the Premier League table and while there is little warning of playing in more than half of the league, there is confidence and consistency in their performance against Leeds. Qualifiers Goal from Marc Rocca and a late consolation goal from Cresencio Summerville kept the score in a respectable position for the hosts in a match neither side would like to describe as a potential six-pointer relegation. Such was the quality of Fulham’s performance, and their fans may begin to set their goals at the end of the season more ambitiously than “getting 18th”.

Things are getting serious for Fulham’s class in 2022-23: the strongest team in the Premier League has been formed under the ownership of Shahid Khan.

It is impressive how Silva led Fulham to the top half of the table using players deemed not good enough for such a task.

Harrison Reed, a fringe player at Southampton, now provides Fulham with energy and drive that give plenty of quick breaks. Reed’s positioning off the ball has improved since his final season in the Premier League and pairing him with Joao Balenha in a 4-2-3-1 system gives the rest of the squad a solid platform on which Silva builds many of his work.

Fulham like to play in a quick and direct counter-attack style, and both Reed and Paulinha are quick to raise their heads before playing the ball. Leeds started strong at Elland Road but had no idea what to do with the majority of their possession. With dwindling legs and levels of confidence in the home team, the Fulham double dominated the ball, turning the ball forward.

Among them was Andreas Pereira: a very bad character at Manchester United who now enjoys a role as one of Fulham’s attacking centres. The wasted counterattack in the 30th minute was the only smudge in the performance to have two passes.

Pereira had an odd career in midfield, where his high stamina and strong passing range saw coaches experience with him in defensive midfield, winger and as a box-to-box player. He is one of the many players who have benefited from the clarity and candor of Silva’s instructions. Now serving as No. 10, Pereira works within a group that works on his strengths and is asked to put in difficult running yards to cover up his weaknesses.

“(He’s) a key player for us too – on and off the ball,” Silva said when asked about his playmaker. “His first pressure is also unbelievable when the opponent is trying to build that attack.”

Fulham, Andreas Pereira

Brazil international Andreas Pereira is thriving once as a creative force at Fulham following his move to West London from Manchester United (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Pereira’s dead ball delivery has also become a valuable asset to the team who have now scored five set-piece goals from a predicted goal rating (xG) of 2.96. This Fulham squad is full of players who act as ‘added value’, strengthening those close to them.

The 34-year-old Willian was not expected to remain so effective at carrying the ball through tight fairways but took the fight to aggressive Jack Harrison and Luke Ayling. What space Leeds found behind the Brazilian was cut mostly by Antonee Robinson.

This isn’t Frankenstein’s monster squad in Fulham’s previous Premier League campaigns – instead, the opposition anticipating a yo-yo side of contradiction could find themselves on the receiving end of a fine counterattack. Silva know how they want to play from the first minute to the 90th minute, and when they concede a goal, they don’t collapse, but instead try to make their way onto the field with direct passes and set pieces. Bobby Decordova-Reed’s second-half goal, another header at the near post, was the kind of simple goal that happens when teams work hard and work for each other.”

Fulham’s efforts have been boosted by Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose nine goals in 11 matches so far in 2022-23 triple his goal tally in the 2020-21 season. The striker takes painkilling injections to manage a foot injury picked up while on international duty for Serbia, but finds a way to manage his limited movement and serve the needs of his team. Mitrovic knows how to do more with less: his movement for a header close to the post to equalize for Fulham in the 26th minute was perfect and after a heavy fall in the 36th, he found ways to reconfigure and remains a nuisance to Leeds’ attempts to build from behind.

Full-time, Silva explained that his striker chose not to substitute the first half following an ankle injury, playing through the pain barrier for the majority of the second half. Fulham’s reward came in the 84th minute when Mitrovic avoided the attention of two Leeds defenders with a corner flag before slipping into Harrison Reed, who went on to assist Willian in the visitors’ third goal.

Keeping Serbia match-fit is vital to Fulham’s season – Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City remain for Silva’s squad ahead of the World Cup. Few opposing defenders would enjoy a test of strength or aerial wits with the 28-year-old before then.

But that is the joy of Fulham at 2022-23, who are delivering items to be reckoned with every match week in a season marked by eccentricity and an unprecedented schedule.

Confidence is a key element of any Premier League season, and Fulham possess it in such large quantities that they can solve problems that outsiders consider beyond their means. If their latest win in the middle of the week hinted that Fulham would avoid a relegation, this weekend’s win points to a potential rally towards the middle of the table.

(Top image: Stu Forster/Getty Images)


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