Preview: Fulham

Any realistic hopes of making the play-offs were probably brought to an end on Wednesday night, in defeat to Nottingham Forest. With little but pride left to play for this season, the only interest remaining is what this Coventry City team may be capable of free from the burden of pressure.

A trip to a Fulham side who could seal promotion to the Premier League with a win (depending on Saturday’s results) is hardly an enticing prospect, even if the pressure is off. It will speak to the professionalism and commitment of this Coventry City side if they can at least give Fulham a competitive game here. However, with this the final game of a three-game week, it wouldn’t be surprising if the players and coaching staff took things a little easier than they otherwise would.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Moore; Rose, McFadzean, Hyam; Kane, Allen, Hamer, Bidwell; O'Hare; Waghorn, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

Wednesday night hinted at what Mark Robins may use the rest of the season to do, try out different tactics and hand minutes to some of the younger players around the first-team squad. Given the quality of the opposition in this game, it might not be a great idea to suddenly hand two or three youngsters their first league starts for the club but it is likely that any regulars that aren’t close to full fitness may get an afternoon off here.

At the back, Kyle McFadzean appears to be ready to come into selection consideration for this game, which could end this recent run of having to slot in non-centre-backs into the back three. Whether Mark Robins’ desire to manage the fitness of this squad may make him reticent to start McFadzean after he has only just returned from injury, remains to be seen. However, the physical threat that Aleksandar Mitrovic poses may make starting McFadzean in the heart of the defence the sensible decision.

The make up of the rest of the team may well depend on the fitness of Matt Godden, who missed Wednesday night’s game with an injury of unclear seriousness, as it may be difficult otherwise for Mark Robins to start the game with two strikers. It is possible, nonetheless, that either one or both of Martyn Waghorn or Fabio Tavares could come into the starting XI here purely for the sake of keeping things fresh, but the manager may be reticent to weaken his hand too severely by making such a call.

Last Time We Met

It was one of the highlights of the season when Fulham took the trip to the CBS Arena back in early October. Dominating the first-half, the Cottagers took the lead through a corner-kick that found its way in off Kyle McFadzean. With a clear gulf between the two sides apparent, it looked set to be a routine victory for the away side.

That was until some poor play in front of their own defence from Fulham saw Callum O’Hare play in Viktor Gyokeres to level the scores just as the second-half got underway. Soon after, Matt Godden won a penalty (which may be a big reason why Coventry City subsequently have had so few) that he converted to quickly turn the game on its head.

A clearly shell-shocked Fulham side had little answer to early season Coventry City, with Ian Maatsen adding further panache to an excellent team performance with a wonderfully-hit strike to make it 3-1. To cap off a wonderful afternoon, Matt Godden then picked out Viktor Gyokeres with an excellent cross-field pass, for the Swede to poke past the Fulham goalkeeper to make it a final score of 4-1.

The Opposition

The Manager – Marco Silva

Whether Marco Silva has done a genuinely good job at a ludicrously talented Fulham side will only become apparent next season, when the Cottagers look to do what they haven’t done in their past two attempts at Premier League football, stay in the division. There were some doubts against both Fulham and the Portuguese manager heading into the campaign, but a dominant season has cast those emphatically aside, for the time being.

Silva has achieved a good balance at Fulham, between attacking threat and defensive stability, between control and letting loose. Perhaps that is simply the consequence of having what may be the best Championship team ever assembled, but there are countless other sides that have dropped from the Premier League with talent in abundance and come nowhere close to the level Fulham have played at this season.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, Tosin, Ream, Robinson; Reed, Seri; Wilson, Carvalho, Kebano; Mitrovic.
Possible Line-Up

With 38 goals to his name, Aleksandar Mitrovic has dominated the Championship to an extent he hadn’t quite managed before. A powerful and charismatic presence in attack, Mitrovic can score goals at this level when handed the slightest of opportunities. Aided by an excellent creative force behind him, like Fulham, the real test of Mitrovic’s quality will come next season in the top-flight.

Behind Mitrovic, the line of Harry Wilson, Fabio Carvalho and Bobby DeCordova-Reid is impressive enough before it is factored in just who they are keeping out of the starting line-up. In Tom Cairney, Neeskens Kebano, Josh Onomah and Rodrigo Muniz, Fulham have creative, attacking players to rotate into the side or bring off the bench who would be the comfortably best players for most other teams in this division. Of those regular starters, Harry Wilson has further underlined his credentials this season as one of the best players outside the Premier League with consistent goals and assists from the wing, while youngster, Fabio Carvalho, is an exciting individual talent who looks set to join Liverpool this summer.

Further back, the duo of Harrison Reed and Jean Michael Seri play an important role in this Fulham team in supplying the enforcement and control to get those attacking players into the game. Harrison Reed’s energy levels are prodigious, but he combines that with quality in his use of the ball. Seri, once linked to Barcelona, is an excellent distributor of the ball from deep.

Another key element of Fulham’s play is the dynamism they possess from full-back, with two options on either side (Kenny Tete and Neco Williams on the right, and Joe Bryan and Antonee Robinson on the left) who cover a lot of ground on the flanks, can beat opposing defenders and also pick out a final ball. Their ability to stretch the play means that the front four can operate especially dangerously in narrow attacking areas.

At the back, the decision to restore Marek Rodak in goal after a ropey 12 games from Paulo Gazzaniga (who started in the previous meeting between the two sides) has helped stamp out some of the sloppy early results that Fulham picked up. In front of Rodak, Tosin Adarabioyo is a classy, composed operator at centre-back, doing a lot of work to cover for the slowing Tim Ream on the left of the central defensive duo.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Fulham are not only going to be motivated to win this in order to bring their return to the Premier League, at least, a step closer, but there is also a sense that they were rather put out by the nature of their defeat to Coventry City back in October, further fuelling their desire to make this a memorable game in front of their own fans. If the Sky Blues approach this game with the lackadaisical attitude of a team with little to play for, this could be quite a heavy defeat.

If there is to be success for Coventry City, it is likely to rest on two things, keeping Aleksandar Mitrovic quiet and posing a threat on the counter-attack. On the first, the possible return of Kyle McFadzean to the defence should help that effort, although, Mitrovic is of the quality to completely overpower his opponents if he is in the mood. On the second, it is vital that whoever starts in attack for the Sky Blues plays with the conviction that they will score if chances present themselves to them.

Of course, it may simply not matter what Coventry City do if Fulham play at close to their top level. With little riding on this game for the Sky Blues, it would be easy for this match to slip out of their control quite quickly with little reason to put much of an effort up in response.

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