Preview: Fulham

The Championship is a tough, brutal league and Wednesday encapsulated just that. Maybe only just slightly off in their intensity, the Sky Blues were punished by a ruthless Luton Town side in a five-goal defeat. Looking for a reaction, Coventry City face their toughest test of the campaign against a Fulham side packed with players that really should be playing the Premier League.

This game really couldn’t have come at a worse time. Needing a rest and a reset after such a massive defeat, Mark Robins and the players will have had just one day to prepare for Fulham. This is set to be a tall order that really will test just how indefatigable the Coventry Building Society Arena spirit is.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Moore; Hyam, McFadzean, Rose; Dabo, Allen, Sheaf, Maatsen; O'Hare; Gyokeres, Walker.
Possible Line-Up

Gustavo Hamer’s suspension for this game makes a tough challenge that bit harder. The midfielder is the glue that holds this team together and there simply isn’t a replacement for him in the side that can supply both the quality and character that he provides. Ben Sheaf may be the closest replacement, but it may be a big enough loss for Mark Robins to consider a change in shape.

Moving to a midfield trio could overcome the technical and emotional loss of Hamer, with Liam Kelly returning to provide a steadying presence in the centre of the park, freeing Ben Sheaf and Jamie Allen to focus on offering the quality in possession. However, that would likely necessitate taking Callum O’Hare out of the side, which is why the Sheaf-Hamer direct swap looks to be the decision Mark Robins will make.

Fankaty Dabo will surely return to the side at right wing-back following the end of his three-game suspension. Todd Kane has been far from terrible but he has done little to put forward a convincing case to be included ahead of one of the team’s most important players.

In defence, it would be more than justifiable to drop Jake Clarke-Salter after a terrible performance last time out against Luton Town. However, Mark Robins may want to hand the Chelsea loanee the opportunity to put things right here. Although, the Luton game may be a little too fresh in the memory for Clarke-Salter to be in the right head space for a reaction performance.

Up front, back-to-back 90 minutes for Martyn Waghorn may make it unlikely that he will start this game. Tyler Walker put in a good effort from the bench on Wednesday night and looks to be the prime candidate to come into the attack if the decision is made to hand Waghorn a rest.

Last Time We Met

Coventry City and Fulham have not met since in the league since 1968, although they contested a League Cup tie back in 1982. After drawing the first leg at Craven Cottage 2-2, thanks to two goals from Jim Melrose, Dave Sexton’s top-flight Coventry City drew the second leg at Highfield Road 0-0 to advance beyond their second-tier opposition on away goals. The Sky Blues were knocked out in the following round by Burnley.

No YouTube Highlights, but here is the programme from that game.

The Opposition

The Manager – Marco Silva

Infamous from his time at Watford where, just a few months into the job, he courted the attention of Everton, Marco Silva is looking to rebuild his managerial reputation at Fulham, following his subsequent struggles on Merseyside. A smart tactician and motivator who has won league titles in other jobs, it is only the Portuguese’s peripatetic nature that is why he isn’t currently managing at a higher level than the Championship.

Tasked with turning around an expensively assembled, yet, in flux, Fulham side, Marco Silva has gone about his business quietly and efficiently this season. Despite having to bring back a number of players who may have felt irked by being tossed aside in favour of loan players last season in the Premier League, Fulham under Silva are starting to click into gear, playing with the confidence, perhaps arrogance, of a team that knows it is too good for this division.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Odoi, Adarabioyo, Ream, Bryan; Reed, Seri; Cavaleiro, Decordova-Reid, Kebano; Mitrovic
Possible Line-Up

Fulham, the Championship and Aleksandar Mitrovic are three terms that are synonymous with one another. The burly Serbian striker came into his own during a loan spell at Craven Cottage in 2018 that kicked an ill-fated spell at Newcastle United into the dust. Mitrovic has won promotion twice and been relegated twice while at Fulham, scoring goals in the Championship for fun but struggling due to a seeming lack of mobility at Premier League level, Silva has looked to help Mitrovic develop his all-round game this season to good effect.

Along with Mitrovic, Fulham have a number of other attacking players that are, quite simply, too good for the Championship. Tall winger, Ivan Cavaleiro, is another double Championship promotion-winner – one of which came with Wolves – while former Liverpool youngster Harry Wilson is of the category of player who can win games on their own in this division through their individual ability. Similarly, forward, Bobby Decordova-Reid and skilful winger, Neeskens Kebano, are excellent players whose lights perhaps shine less brightly because of the talent they play alongside.

In midfield, Fulham have a former Barcelona target in Jean Michael Seri. The Ivorian playmaker had looked to be a coup when he signed in 2018, but struggled, was twice packed off on loan, before returning into the fold this season and demonstrating his quality. Alongside Seri, Nathaniel Chalobah and Harrison Reed are capable as enforcers, with the tall, skilful Josh Onomah a creative, box-to-box option.

At the back, Tosin Adarabioyo is a classy, dominant presence who can both dominate aerially and bring the ball out from the back smoothly. He is likely to be paired by the experienced American, Tim Ream, who offers further quality in possession. At full-back, Denis Odoi is a conservative, defensive option on the right, while Joe Bryan on the left is a very attack-minded one.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Fulham possess the kind of quality to render any kind of debate as to how to stop them completely moot. If Aleksandar Mitrovic can be kept shackled, one of their cavalcade of wide options or midfield players is capable of producing moments of brilliance out of nowhere, or vice versa. This is the kind of game that Coventry City could play really well in and have nothing to show for it due to individual magic on the part of Fulham.

Mitrovic in Fulham’s attack is in excellent form right now and should be Coventry City’s primary concern. He provides the kind of opponent that Kyle McFadzean should relish facing, but Mitrovic may prove to be too good both physically and technically to hope to keep out of the game.

A bigger concern may be Fulham’s threat in wide areas, particularly down their left with Joe Bryan bombing forward and the skilful Neeskens Kebano capable of dribbling past defenders for fun. In contrast to Wednesday night, it is going to be Dominic Hyam and Fankaty Dabo on the right for Coventry that will likely have to ready for a stern inspection of their credentials.

Fulham have been frustrated in two of their last three away games, where they ended up taking a few too many pot-shots from range and subsequently dropped points. For Coventry City, the task will be to limit the space Fulham can get in and around the penalty area, require them to work for their openings and look to threaten on the counter or via set-pieces.

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