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First team

Media View: Expert insight on Fulham

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to add another entry to their list of Craven Cottage memoirs when they lock horns with Championship leaders Fulham on Friday (7.45pm kick-off).

Cherries supporters have fond memories of the London venue, including sealing promotion in 1986/87, winning 5-1 on their way to lifting the Championship title in 2014/15 and triumphing 3-0 in one of their best displays in the Premier League in 2018/19.

Head coach Scott Parker and his backroom staff return to their former club with the Cherries currently one place and one point behind Marco Silva’s Cottagers.

The clash pits the best home record in the Championship against the best away record with Fulham having dropped just seven points at Craven Cottage and the Cherries defeated only once on their travels.

And while Fulham boast 21-goal Aleksandar Mitrovic in their ranks, Dominic Solanke’s tally of 16 for the season includes 15 in the league, the pair separated in first and third place by Blackburn’s Ben Brereton in the top scorers’ chart.

Ahead of the showdown, afcb.co.uk caught up with Peter Rutzler who follows the fortunes of Fulham for The Athletic having previously been their Cherries reporter.

FULHAM PROFILE

Ground: Craven Cottage

Nickname: The Cottagers

Head coach: Marco Silva (appointed July 2021)

Club captain: Tom Cairney

Current league position: First

Leading goalscorer 2021/22: Aleksandar Mitrovic (21 in the Championship)

Last game: Preston North End 1-1 Fulham (Championship)

afcb.co.uk: How would you sum up the season so far for Fulham?

PR: It’s been a strong season. The expectation after relegation was pretty clear from the hierarchy. They wanted to get straight back into the Premier League.

Marco Silva has come in and hit the ground running, not just in terms of results but also style of play. They have been exciting to watch and have scored a lot of goals. They have really showcased the quality they have in their squad.

They are where they want to be at this point and the cushion to the play-offs is very strong. I don’t think it could have gone any better, other than the odd defeat or two.

In general, it’s been a really good start to the season. 

afcb.co.uk: Has Marco Silva made any significant changes?

PR: Yes, he has. The clearest change has been in terms of style of play. It was difficult in the Premier League last season because they were a team trying to cling on amid so many different circumstances.

This season, Silva has brought some new ideas and he has a very clearly defined attacking philosophy which he sticks to. He plays a 4-3-3, playing on the front foot and is getting the best out of the players. The atmosphere at the club is very positive. 

afcb.co.uk: What sort of reception do you think Scott Parker and his backroom staff will get?

PR: The summer changes didn't go down particularly well at Fulham and it might be a little lukewarm. But they deserve a warm reception because of the work they did. When you think back to when Scott took over as caretaker in the Premier League, there was quite a negative atmosphere at the club.

They had gone through two different managers, they were relegated with a whimper and he was able to fundamentally change the atmosphere to get the club pointing in the right direction and got them promoted in very difficult circumstances with the pandemic.

They gave a good fight in the Premier League and were close to staying up. He spent time at the club as a player and a coach so he has strong connections with Fulham. There are so many positive stories about his time.

When you think back to some difficult years, particularly under Felix Magath when Scott was captain and he really held some of those young players together.

He was an important player over a relatively difficult past decade so you would like to think he will get a positive reception even if his departure didn’t go down too well.

afcb.co.uk: How do teams stop Aleksandar Mitrovic scoring?

PR: It’s very difficult!

He’s in extraordinary form really, form I don’t think anyone has seen from him before and most people probably didn’t expect from him.

Two years ago under Scott Parker, you could see that if he had a chance in front of goal, he would take it. This season, he has been relentless.

Every whiff of an opportunity he is sticking away, his all-round game seems to have improved, not just in terms of scoring with his head and both feet but also his link play and that makes him very difficult to marshal.

The problem with just focussing on Mitrovic is that Fulham have other threats as well. Harry Wilson has been a really strong addition on the right-hand side and is a goalscorer at this level.

On the left, Neeskens Kebano is in some of his best form since he signed five years ago.

If you can take out Mitrovic, you’ve got other threats to follow. But very few teams have been able to put the chains on him this season. He is proving a real handful and with Fulham creating a lot of chances, he’s thriving on that.

afcb.co.uk: Apart from Mitrovic, who is Fulham’s one to watch?

PR: Jean Michael Seri.

When Fulham are at their best, it’s with Seri in possession at the heart of the midfield.

He’s a brilliant playmaker who can spray the ball left, right, 50 yards or five yards – he doesn’t miss his mark. Fulham’s best attacking play normally starts with him or features him.

He is their midfield metronome, he makes things work and, as much as Bournemouth will need to watch the threat from the frontline, Seri is the one that you would probably want to stop to really break up the Fulham attack. 

afcb.co.uk: Give us a word on Harry Wilson?

PR: He’s done really well since he came in. He scored on his debut against Middlesbrough and has adapted quickly to what Marco Silva wants from him.

He is clearly proven at Championship level and seems to think a couple of seconds before everyone else. That has given him an edge.

Playing in this set-up has suited him quite a bit and Bournemouth will know all about him.

I think it’s been an important move to come from Liverpool on a permanent basis to step out of that connection and now show he can not only do it in the Championship but in the Premier League.

I think that applies to a lot of players in this Fulham team.

afcb.co.uk: Are any key players either suspended or injured against the Cherries?

PR: There was an illness which affected both games last week. Mitrovic missed one game and club captain Tom Cairney missed both.

Nathaniel Chalobah and Ivan Cavaleiro are both on the sidelines and are close to a return but I don’t know if they will be ready for Bournemouth.

afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?

PR: I think it’s going to be a really interesting game because Bournemouth have been so solid and very good at controlling matches and playing with a high intensity.

Fulham tend to up their game in those moments and can match that too. They have the potential to score a lot of goals.

But they have hit a rocky patch and so have Bournemouth. I think home advantage will see them through and Fulham will win 2-1 but it could easily be the other way around. 

You can follow Peter on Twitter – @peterrutzler

Officials: Tim Robinson (referee), Rob Smith (assistant), Andrew Fox (assistant), Joshua Smith (fourth official).

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