Fulham season preview: Can Marco Silva lead the Cottagers to more than a yo-yo existence?


Fulham will kick off the 2022/23 season playing in a different division to the one they ended the previous campaign in for the fifth consecutive year.

Under the guidance of Marco Silva, the west Londoners once again proved a cut above the competition in the Championship last term. They are now plotting to stay in the top flight for more than just a single season for the first time since their original spell in the Premier League that ended in 2014.

The bust or boom nature of Fulham’s recent history means that for many they will be an easy pick as relegation certainties 0nce again, but their success under Silva suggests they may well be made of sterner stuff this time around even if there are still many familiar names on the team sheet.

Aleksandar Mitrovic broke decades-old goal-scoring records to earn another crack at the top flight, and will surely be used more effectively than in the bit-part role he played in his last season at this level. The Serbian spearheads a strong-looking spine to the team that includes ever-improving central defender Tosin Adarabioyo and new signing Joao Palhinha in midfield. Harry Wilson will also be looking to establish himself in the Premier League once and for all after scoring 10 goals and assisting a further 20 in his first year at Craven Cottage.

The £18m spent on Palhinha has been the standout deal in terms of transfer business so far, and with Silva appearing increasingly agitated at a lack of incomings it could well be that Fulham’s hopes of top-flight survival stand or fall based on how they navigate the next few weeks.

Regardless, Fulham’s recent stints in the Premier League have hardly been uneventful. Supporters will just be hoping that they have more to shout about by the time that May comes around than in their last two campaigns at this level. With concerns over signings and ticket prices already rearing their head, off-field matters are threatening to derail hopes of making it third time lucky in terms of avoiding relegation.

Last Season

Although winning promotion from the Championship every other season is now an expectation rather than an ambition at Craven Cottage, never has it been achieved in the style Silva and his charges managed last term.

Whilst both Slavisa Jokanovic and Scott Parker required the play-offs and all of their associated drama in order to secure promotion, Fulham rarely looked like ending the season with anything other than automatic promotion in 2021/22.

In scoring 106 goals – an eye-watering 43 of them courtesy of talisman Mitrovic – Fulham romped to the second-tier title, overcoming the occasional hiccup by finding the net four times or more within the 90 minutes on 11 separate occasions.

Mitrovic was at times responsible for dragging his teammates to promotion under the management of both Jokanovic and Parker, and even though last season was his most prolific by a considerable margin, it does appear as though Silva’s tactical nous has lessened the burden on his shoulders. Wilson, Neeskens Kebano and Bobby Reid all finished the season with at least 15 goal contributions, as the Serbian forward proved to be an effective foil for others as well as a one-man wrecking ball when required.

At the other end, the 43 goals conceded by the Cottagers were the second-most of any Championship-winning side since 2015. Being able to come out on top in a goal-scoring shootout against Championship sides was rarely an issue but doing so against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham will be a different challenge entirely.

Summer Business

Fulham’s last two promotions saw them take vastly different approaches to strengthening their squad. In the summer of 2018, Jokanovic’s team was bolstered by the signing of 12 players for a combined outlay of around £100m. Contrastingly, Parker was largely forced to rely on loan additions after guiding the Cottagers to the Premier League in 2020.

Neither approach proved successful, with Fulham finishing 10 points shy of top-flight survival in 2018/19 and 11 points from safety in 2020/21. With a month still remaining of the current window, it is hard to be certain what level of backing Silva will have received come the start of autumn.

The departure of Fabio Carvalho to Liverpool, and to a lesser extent the expiration of Jean Michael Seri’s contract, means that the side that enthralled Craven Cottage so regularly in the Championship last season is no longer intact, increasing the emphasis on the need to be busy in the transfer market.

The midfield has been bolstered thanks to the arrivals of Portuguese international Palhinha, Israeli winger Manor Solomon and former Manchester United playmaker Andreas Pereira, and Swiss full-back Kevin Mbabu has been acquired from Wolfsburg to provide competition for Kenny Tete at right-back, but the former Everton and Hull City boss has not been shy in voicing concerns about the composition of his squad as things stand.

Despite the arrival of German goalkeeper Bernd Leno from Arsenal, Silva is still hoping to add further defensive options to the Fulham ranks as soon as possible.

Speaking after Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Villarreal in the final game of pre-season, Silva was particularly concerned about having only two options at centre-back in Adarabioyo and Tim Ream. Even though further business has been promised by Khan, getting deals done quickly will be paramount to survival hopes.

One to Watch

A lack of defensive reinforcements will have supporters sweating at the prospect of another season defined by calamities at the back, but new signing Palhinha should at least make Fulham less porous in the middle of the park.

Although some of the Cottagers’ previous costly additions in midfield have failed to impress in the top flight, Palhinha is statistically one of the most effective ball-winners in European football and could help to make the transition from dominating games in the Championship to being on the back foot in the Premier League a smoother one.

With a place in Portugal’s World Cup squad very much his to lose, the former Sporting man will be hoping to hit the ground running in the opening weeks of the season. The responsibility for scoring and creating goals will surely fall at the feet of others, meaning how difficult Fulham are to break down will be a better indication of Palhinha’s influence.

Fans’ Perspective – Fulham Fan TV

Twitter: @FulhamFanTV

“This season will be different to the last few in the Premier League. Fulham have a great core this season, with more quality then previous promotions. Having won the league early it’s given Marco Silva and the team more time to get ready for the season, which we didn’t have previously.

“For Fulham so far the transfer business has been slow but that’s normal for the club, as much as us fans would love signings earlier. We have made really good signings so far this window, especially with the Champions league quality goalkeeper in Leno. Add a centre-back or two into the mix and we have a solid side to compete this season.

“In the Championship last year, Mitrovic performed above what anyone could have expected. He played the role of a true predator in scoring 43 goals from just 92 shots on target. There is no doubt that he will deliver some good performances in this season, thus proving the doubters wrong. We think Mitro will surpass the double figure goal tally. He’s proven it under previous managers with a much lesser team.

“It will be a difficult campaign but one all fans will be looking forward to.”

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