Pre-season losses against Cambridge United and Burnley aside, Scott Parker’s men have spent the last week-and-a-half or so sunning it up in Albufeira, Portugal, in preparation for their eagerly-awaited clash with Liga Nos superpower FC Porto.
Sure, the Whites fell to a 1-0 defeat against the Clarets in the Algarve, but this is the game that everyone had their eyes fixed upon. A strong line-up was fielded with a few forgotten faces in the mix, and though it wasn’t a barnstorming showing by any means, the positives equally stacked up alongside the negatives.
Fulham limited Porto to a solitary strike and could have landed substantial blows of their own. Sérgio Conceição’s set-up – a Champions League mainstay, lest we forget – is bejewelled with brow-raising talents and starlets that are destined to grace the elite stage of the modern game. Although Scotty P’s reassembled collective, jabbed to the final whistle, were jaded, outwitted, but most importantly, resolute. They have European competitions to endure, we have away days in Huddersfield. Bring it on!
Believe in Betts
Marcus Bettinelli, during our successful promotion campaign in the Championship, was an unsung hero and his services between the sticks will be vital to Parker’s camp next season. Believe in Betts and we will conquer yet again.
Cast out of the Whites’ Premier League starting XI by Sergio Rico in the 2018-19 season, Betts returned to the first-team proper against FC Porto, and until he was replaced by Marek Rodak in the 67th minute, the 27-year-old stopper conducted himself tremendously.
Charging off his line to thwart danger, lobbing himself head first into flailing boots, plummeting to the deck to deflect venomous goal-bound efforts, Bettinelli commanded his 18-yard box supremely. Otavio’s acrobatic strike will not taint his outing, but we’ll dissect that pivotal moment later. Without question, England’s 4th-choice ‘keeper is our No.1 heading into the imminent schedule.
Keep Grafting, Kebano
By all accounts, Fulham’s warm weather training camp in Albufeira has shunted the entire camp to their limits, and it was noticeable that the majority were suffering as a result of Parker’s rigorous regime. Not Neeskens Kebano, though.
Defiant and intent, the versatile attacker roamed the left flank with a vitalised spring in his step. Initiating combinations between Aleksandar Mitrovic and Tom Cairney amongst others, Kebano proved to be a sharp distributor in possession, and once the 27-year-old committed his man after shimmying into advantageous quadrants, he flashed inviting balls into the penalty area. Simplistic channel play it its finest.
Following last season’s vapid exploits along the touchlines, how refreshing was it to witness a vastly skilled professional actually express himself? On the pitch, ideally, but once half-time arose, the flamboyant DR Congo international got involved with Fulham’s travelling faithful, amplifying his regard as an endeared fan favourite with jocular crowd surfing shenanigans. Top form, lads!
Frail, Flaky Foundations
We’re not expecting miracles, but Tuesday night’s defeat proved that our defensive line is still shakier than a whippet in heavy snowfall. Remaining composed whilst straining to deny Portugal’s most potent outfit takes a hefty amount of steel and determination, but our vulnerabilities outweighed our resolve far too regularly.
As the ball cannoned across the span of our back four, Denis Odoi, Alfie Mawson and co. couldn’t competently harness possession in their favour, with innocuous phases being swiped at in a frantic manner. Unable to hold an effective shape, Azuis e Brancos carved through systematically and our rearguard was consistently caught on its heels.
We did tighten up somewhat after the interval, but before the break in particular, the hangover of last season’s dismal defensive discipline lingered. Mawson’s destined to be our leader at the back, although herding an erratic gaggle of cats is a thankless task, so over the coming weeks before Championship football rocks up, Stuart Gray and his coaching staff will have to consult the basics once more, if they’re to relinquish Fulham’s permeable tendencies.
Kamara’s Eventful Return
Returning from exile having terrorised bewildered defences in the Turkish Super Lig for Yeni Malatyaspor, Aboubakar Kamara’s hour-long inclusion comprised peril, abnormal instances of brute strength and, customarily, squandered chances in front of the target. Ah, yes, the wayward prince is home at last.
Shoya Nakajima will need therapy after his mismatched meetings with AK47. The pint-sized Japan international carried possession marvellously until the Whites’ bamboozling Frenchman pounded him into the turf like a tent peg at Glastonbury. Each time AK breached Nakajima’s proximity, GBH charges were being drafted. Kind of like egging on the bonehead at school to slam dunk the year 7 dweeb into the industrial bins behind the canteen, no?
Moments after the break, Kamara was presented with a prime opportunity to restore parity. Galloping into a fatal position, the 24-year-old striker steadied himself, nominated a corner, and snatched at the ball in a typically haphazard manner. With the goal at his mercy, he’d dragged it wide and the Whites’ most clear-cut opportunity was duly wasted. Oh, how we’ve missed you, Kamara.
Cavaleiro, Future Hero?
Introduced to life in a Fulham jersey at half-time for Kebano, Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee Ivan Cavaleiro lit up proceedings with surging escapades, intelligent sequences and flashes of unparalleled superiority. As if we didn’t already know it, Cav’ is a tireless live wire.
Nuno Esperito Santo’s bred a tenacious warrior in the 25-year-old and we’ll certainly reap the beneficial rewards of his revered programme at Molineux. Based in SW6 for the year, in a system that’s desperate to return to the Premier League, Cavaleiro will shine on a weekly basis.
Cavaleiro, ultimately, will offer the Whites a driven dimension in wider reaches, an assertive impulse that’ll blast fullbacks into oblivion. We’ve all seen first-hand what the Portuguese winger’s capable of, but with a new lease of life down by the river, he could take the Championship by storm, and there’s nothing I, you or Steve in Barnsley can do about that, other than gaze on in awe.