It’s been a good week for Fulham fans, whichever way you look at it. The 6-0 demolition of Burton last weekend was more than just three points, and I think you’d struggle to find a member of the Whites faithful who could pick any massive holes in last week’s performances.
Let’s not beat around it, Burton were poor, and Fulham didn’t need to be at their best to beat them; but the performance was assured and composed, and for the second time in two games, Marcus Bettinelli didn’t have a save to make.
Against Middlesbrough, this was due to Boro’s wasteful finishing, but the defence were superb on Saturday (albeit in the face of a dull, stunted threat from the visitors), once again marshalled superbly by a resurgent Tim Ream.
Ream provided potentially the standout moment of the game as well, in the build up to Fulham’s second goal. His deft drop of the shoulder on the edge of his own box to open the game up and set Fulham on their way up the pitch was the mark of a man in the form of his life, and brimming with confidence.
The entire basis of Slavisa’s system relies on the ability of the centre-halves to carry the ball with purpose and drive, and to take players out of the game in order to create overloads in the final third.
Whilst Tomas Kalas comes in for a lot of stick for driving forward and sometimes losing the ball, I’d be surprised if his carrying the ball forward was not a direct order from the top.
It’s Ream though, who is the ideal player right now for doing this, and that the resulting goal on Saturday came from a Fulham overload down the right is absolutely no surprise.
The connection between Rui Fonte and Piazon has been talked about at such length that I think that it needs no more discussion, but it surprises me not at all that two players who thrive in intricate, tight-space situations will thrive in two attacking positions, especially when a poacher-type goal threat occupies the other spearhead in a trident.
It’s true that many (myself included, hands up) were too quick to write off Aboubakar Kamara, and I’m delighted that he’s proved me wrong, but it’s Fonte that I’ve been championing through these barren months and I really would like to see him kick on now and to see the rest of the team trust him with leading the line.
Whilst his relationship with Piazon is obvious to all, we made it clear earlier in the season on the podcast that we felt Tom Cairney seemed reluctant to give the ball into Fonte’s feet. If Fulham are to strike into the teams around them, who will be tougher to break down, there needs to be a synergy between the teams 10 and 9.
To set up Fonte as the only leading man though, is to do a disservice to Kamara, who I am keen to not do a disservice to again. The Gunman, as he appears to have become affectionately known, is starting to make his presence felt; and his unconventional approach has become something of a lethal weapon in the camp, especially as an impact player.
It must be remembered that it’s far easier to be composed when 5-0 up and cruising than it is to be when you’re through one-on-one with the score at 0-0; but that should take nothing away from Kamara’s sublime chipped finish at the weekend.
His composure, touch, and reading of the offside trap have all come on leaps and bounds, and if he continues to improve at the rate he’s going, then soon we could have some player on our hands.
The other piece of good news which came through over the course of the week was Matt Targett’s loan deal. The entire fanbase has been crying out for a left-back that Slavisa will actually play for a long time, and whilst I still cling to the disintegrating strands of hope that Rafa Soares will come good for the club, I know how stubborn the gaffer is and I think we will see him return to his native Portugal before the window is out.
In Targett, Jokanovic has a player who knows this country and the way that the game works, is raised in an academy not unlike Fulham’s own, and who we know possesses the correct temperament for the Championship.
We also have a player who knows that he needs to prove himself if he is to force his way back into Southampton’s reckoning, which is a great thing for us—a Targett with something to prove is exactly what we need at this stage of the season, because any incoming player has to hit the ground running.
He has the potential though, and having a natural, left-footed left-back behind Sess should offer the team something different. It’ll be interesting to see how Slavisa lines the side up at Barnsley, and if he makes wholesale changes from a side that played so well last week.
It’s obviously been a tough week for our opponents, with the death of their chairman who was clearly a proper old-school football man who loved the club deeply.
I have no doubt that the commemorations will be heartfelt—and that we’ll respect them perfectly, as well we should. But there is no time for that sympathy to extend onto the pitch – this is three points that Fulham should be all over from the first whistle.