The last time Fulham played in the Premier League, Cauley Woodrow was considered a future star, Scott Parker was playing instead of coaching, Shahid Kahn let his hair grow out a little longer and Slavisa Jokanovic was the manager of Hercules down in Spain’s Segunda Division B. Yeah, plenty has changed since then, yet Craven Cottage has mostly stayed the same, and apparently, so did the opposition Fulham previously played.
Crystal Palace were a worthy opponent to test out if the club are ready for the big time. Little did we know until yesterday that both Alfie Mawson and Tim Ream were out today due to injury. Along with that, Denis Odoi is in the first of a two-match suspension due to his red card in the playoff final. As a result, an entirely new backline and goalkeeper were introduced to Premier League football.
We’ll get back to them in a moment.
But to start, Fulham didn’t look out of place. Andre Schürrle and Aleksander Mitrovic looked lively. If anything, Mitro was fed a ton of quality passes which led to him taking seven individual shots by matchday’s end. Along with that, Ryan Sessegnon was able to get his try inside the box where he launched a cross into the box only to be muscled out by Palace’s defense to prevent solid accuracy. A goal may not have been scored, but before you know it, Fulham were seeing a 7-1 shot advantage within 30 minutes of the game.
However, the next play after that was a cross from Andros Townsend that was met with a towering header by Christian Benteke in the penalty area. His attempt may not have gone to goal with speed, but it was an awkward lob for Fabri to deal with which led to a frantic one-handed save followed by a clear off the line by Calum Chambers afterwards. Unfortunately, it felt like the one key moment that changed the game entirely.
Before you know it, Crystal Palace’s passes were significantly more direct and the attacking play of Wilfried Zaha, Patrick Van Aarnholt and even 20-year old Aaron Wan-Bissaka truly gave Fulham’s back line fits the rest of the match. The perfect example of how continuity of an established Premier League side breaking down a newcomer that is dealing with so much turnover in the squad should look no further than Palace’s first goal.
First, another bursting run by Zaha had him go past Kevin McDonald and set up a give-and-go play between Van Aarnholt and Jeffrey Schlupp. Before you know it, Van Aarnholdt caught McDonald and Chambers being at sixes and sevens in terms of marking a cutting Schlupp inside the box and all it took was a simple through ball and a shot to break down Fulham’s defense and get the scoreboard ticking. Palace could have added another goal just before the break but Van Aarnholt was called offside before putting his shot passed Fabri.
It may have been a 1-0 deficit and there was halftime to take a physical and mental breather, but it seemed like Fulham couldn’t get themselves out of the hangover. The entire second half featured more of Palace’s attacking players just keeping things simple and running through the midfield and backline. Schurrle might have drew a penalty in the 61st minute, but referee Mike Dean waved it off instantly.
In the 74th minute, a real breakdown between goalkeeper and center back occured as Fabri came off of his line so much, he might as well have been a good ten yards past the penalty area. It lead to a colission with him and Chambers that led to a very awkward clearance by the latter. Like the first goal, it was a job done by the defense, but it was an eary precursor for what’s to come.
With Joe Bryan hurt minutes later, Jokanovic was forced to make an important decision. Should he bring on Timothy Fosu-Mensah, another new addition, over to center back and move Maxime Le Marchand to left back to close off the game to jump start a Fulham comeback? Or does he chose an attacking player with the risk of weakening Ryan Sessegnon’s role on the team by moving him to defense solely because of his familiarity there?
For better or worse, Slav chose the latter by subbing Bryan with Luciano Vietto. In hindsight, the decision was proven incorrect, but it’s important to understand that the reasoning wasn’t entirely farfetched either. No matter what side of the argument you’re on, it led to another break by Palace that led to Wan-Bissaka going past a flat-footed Sessegnon and then feeding a cutting Zaha outside the box. Before you know it, Fabri once again came off his line which led to Zaha taking one more dribble before shooting towards a wide open net.
And just like that, it was game, set & match! But this was not without some solid performances by Vietto and Aboubakar Kamara coming off the bench. Jean-Michael Seri felt at home pinging passes from everywhere and Fulham’s attack did enough to generate a 15-10 shot advantage, but xG models like Understat will tell you that the better team won on the night.
I’m not too upset by the club’s performance and more players should return soon. This will clearly be a different side in the long run and there will be more matchdays that will determine Fulham’s fate. But if anything else, it’s good to see this club back in the Premier League and long may they stay there.