Statement received loud and crystal clear, Fulham are not here to screw around. Neil Harris’ high-flying Millwall were unbeaten before their trip across south-London on Wednesday night but deary, deary me, Scott Parker’s men pulled their cacks down and howled gloatingly at their *ahem* ‘pride’.
Was that more exhilarating than Slavisa Jokanovic’s class of 2017-18? Yes, and there is no debate. We’re only four games in and I don’t give a damn, that was a different gear, a whole other thickness of sauce. Dominant, fearless, cocksure, the Whites sliced and diced the Lions, reducing them to low fat kibble.
This prepares us nicely for Nottingham Forest on Saturday, a sterner test indeed, but a meeting at the Cottage where we can switch on the style and crank it up to eleven, almost like an after party at 4 in the morning with a stonking hangover. Well, we did just win a “London derby” at a canter, after all.
Fulham’s Formulated Football
Anyone saying Scott Parker can’t hack it at this level is a certified fraud and needs to sit down for a breather. Fulham, against an in-form Millwall, caressed the ball across the surface as though it was made of silk, and the calculated manner in which we monopolised virtually every second of the encounter was truly mesmeric. That feeble defeat on the opening day at Oakwell feels like it was last season’s problem.
From front to back, side to side, the Whites measured their harmonic approach and bushwhacked with ruthless consequences. Lengthy, considerate spells lulled the visitors into an entranced state of vulnerability, and as Tom Cairney and co. unhinged the visitors’ flimsy grip on proceedings, travelling backsides were braced for a frenzied paddling. For a squad with so many fresh faces, the collective understanding between each department is practically flawless.
Our fossilised DNA as a dynamic, enchanting footballing machine has seemingly been salvaged and the Championship best be ready for a vicious mauling. Millwall, to their credit, fought tooth and nail to stem our fluidity but we swept them into the Thames with a deluge of indomitable sequences. Now, I’m not usually one for stats (I’ll leave that to George Singer and the gang) but in the first half, we clasped 89% possession, at full-time, 85%. Millwall completed 173 passes throughout, Fulham accumulated 991. Nearly 1,000 passes. That’s stupefying. Los Negros y los Blancos – more catchy than FC Barcelona’s Blaugrana.
Consummate Cav’s Class
That dip of the shoulder’s accompanied by deafening klaxons for opposing ‘keepers and Bartosz Białkowski would have been left with a terrible ringing in his ears in the dressing room. Cav’ notched a consummate brace at the Poland international’s sorry expense and is soaring in a Fulham jersey, and I think we can all nod heads when I claim that he’s revelling in a class of his own in SW6.
Unlike his predecessors, the 25-year-old will graft inexhaustibly and he wasn’t afraid to throw his weight around, especially whilst barging Connor Mahoney and Mahlon Romeo into touch. Undeterred on the ball, Cav’ jinked his way through numerous obstacles and rotated the ball effectively, and once he’d moved possession, he’d scamper into a vacant pocket, acting as a constant outlet for his teammates to appropriate.
Cav’ floated across the breadth of the front three and camped on Millwall’s idle rearguard. Anticipating a penetrative through balls, the auxiliary marksman would spring into action, praying on the Dockers’ listless responsiveness. Wednesday evening’s outing comprised a vintage Cavaleiro performance, emulative of his enterprise at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Millwall simply couldn’t leash the animated Portuguese winger, and I imagine there’s not many fullbacks, if any, in the Championship that are equipped to cope with his virility in the final third. Long may his astonishing form continue.
Knockaert’s Deadly Custom
Wind him up, set him down and watch him go. Do not stray into Anthony Knockaert’s path if you’ve riled him, he’ll only shred your career to tatters. Cautioned for a slight outburst in the 25th minute, the Frenchman was meant to be walking a tightrope, but he was only just getting into his unwavering stride.
A customary wiggle of the hips combined with a swift step over amounted in countless explosive spurts into advantageous quadrants, leaving Murray Wallace dead in his tracks. Deploying a variety of enticing crosses into the 18-yard box, the 27-year-old promised opportunities to bulge the net, and as the season progresses, many a strike will be registered directly from his frequent supply line.
He’s was a ferocious handful, Millwall’s nemesis, and an expertly diverted header to double Fulham’s lead in the 32nd minute was wholly warranted. His temperament could hinder the Whites in future meetings, but if he can channel his energy proficiently without rubbing officials up the wrong way, he’ll run amok at this level. Yep, we have a terrifying front three and we have two AKs. One misfires, the other executes in site.
Supreme Sess’ Shines
In a team crammed with verified ballers, Steven Sessegnon slots right into place. They’ll be times when the Sess’ naivety’s unmasked this term, that’s a given for such a raw talent, but against the intense power of Jiri Skalak and Shane Ferguson, the 19-year-old conducted himself admirably yet again. Millwall could have gnawed the youngster to a fleshy pulp, but this pup has his own set of teeth and he ain’t bothered about nibbling back.
What we saw was an inexperienced novice excel where he had no right to do so. He’s fresh off the conveyor belt, impressionable, but he stood up to the challenge of another gruelling Championship test with two raised fingers. Charging in support of Cav’, hitting the byline to dig out crosses, overpowering fully grown men to prise possession, Sess’ was irrepressible.
Nothing seemed to faze him. Usually an aspiring professional of his age would snatch simple passes, bulk at physical disputes and tire mentally towards the latter stages, but Sess’ was exempt to all of those defects. Like his brother, he has an exalted reputation and his locker’s brimming with technique, determination and expectation. Ladies and gentlemen, we have found our rightful right-back and that is not a premature statement.
Ream Reinforces Routine
Fair enough, his first touch is still a little rusty, but I was hugely impressed with Tim Ream, our resident American general that’s certainly at home in the relative modesty of the Championship. Propping up Scotty’s spine, Ream effectively held Fulham’s core composition together. Where the 31-year-old ventured, Alfie Mawson followed in close contention and, subsequently, so did Sess’ and Joe Bryan.
Ream placed Tom Bradshaw in his pocket and kept him under quarantine for the duration. Nothing would breach Fulham’s back four, not under his command. Aerially, Ream was first to plant bonce to ball and on the deck, with a multitude of options to pick and choose from, the observant centre-half ensured that possession reached its intended destination without delay.
Millwall relied on aimless long balls and Ream sussed their predictability. Parker is adamant that playing out from the back is necessary and Ream was a convincing advocate to the club’s possession-based philosophy. Aware of responsibilities, the trusted enforcer wasted no time in administering the ball in a rational, routine manner. Ream’s patience was paramount as it enabled the Whites to construct intimidating sequences without compromise. Paolo Maldini, Carlos Puyol and Brede Hangeland give you their blessing, Tim.