Referred to in the same bracket as Norwich City or Watford for the longest amount of time, Fulham had become known as a yo-yo club – flirting with the idea of Premier League stability before crashing down to familiar territory in the Championship. This time, however, things feel different.
Not really tasting top tier success since the hay-day of Roy Hodgson – the Clint Dempsey led Cottagers even getting to a Europa League final under the experienced English manager – this has been a long time coming for Fulham fans frustrated that they can never capitalise on fantastic seasons in the second tier and stay up.
Promotion from the second tier this time around did see Marco Silva’s Cottagers take the Championship by storm, Fulham clinching the title after a 7-0 win over promotion hopefuls Luton Town – their overall total over 46 matches amassing 106 goals, Aleksandar Mitrovic chipping in with a ridiculous and record-breaking 43 goals all on his own. Fulham just overwhelmed teams all season long, an attack of Bobby Decordova-Reid, Harry Wilson, Fabio Carvalho and the aforementioned Mitrovic too strong even for the sturdiest defence at the level.
Fulham’s quality at Championship level has never really been questioned – the Cottagers usually going down the route of the playoffs to secure promotion – but their quality in making that step-up to the promised land of the Premier League has always been under scrutiny.
Under managers such as Scott Parker, Fulham entered and then eventually exited the top flight in rapid fashion. Finishing in 18th spot under Parker during the 2020/21 season, the Cottagers lacked bite when making that transition up. The West London club only managed 27 goals all campaign, a worrying nine of those came at Craven Cottage – the Fulham fans in attendance most weeks bored stiff by Parker’s brand of football. Fast forward to the present, Marco Silva’s brand of football is far more adventurous. They aren’t there to simply make up the numbers and inevitably bow out of the top flight, Silva’s men want to compete and challenge the established Premier League set-up.
Marco Silva is hungry to succeed even more with the Cottagers too, the Portuguese manager losing some of his credibility as a manager arguably – an accidental journeyman, going from Watford to Hull and then to Goodison Park along the way with Everton before putting pen to paper to become Fulham head coach. He needs to stick around at a club and establish himself again, and with the trajectory Fulham are on, this could well be a perfect match between manager and club.
He hasn’t had it all his own way though, winning the Championship title saw a number of players depart Fulham either to pursue bigger and better opportunities or those who impressed in Fulham white during the famous title-winning season were only at the club short-term on loan. Fabio Carvalho, a huge component to Fulham’s devastating attack in the Championship, left for Liverpool as did the likes of Jean Michael Seri and Neco Williams among others. But, unlike some promoted teams who splash the cash without much thought put into it, Fulham’s transfer business in the summer was methodical.
Signings such as Andreas Pereira and Willian could be criticised on the surface, both have been at big clubs recently and failed to set the world alight, but they’ve been important to Fulham’s surprise success this season so far. Willian was even purchased on a free transfer, the one-time Chelsea star the subject of ridicule at Arsenal and back in his native Brazil with Corinthians. Now, he’s expressing himself on a football pitch without jeers aimed his way – even scoring the opener recently against his former employers and Fulham’s West London rivals Chelsea, the Whites winning 2-1 on the day.
Andreas Pereira has also contributed massively to Fulham’s current success in 6th spot, dreams of European football beginning to emerge. In 75 games for Manchester United, Pereira only managed to notch up five assists. In 54 games less, Pereira has already managed that same total for Marco Silva’s men – two of those assists coming in a big 3-2 away at Elland Road against relegation-threatened Leeds alongside Pereira crossing into the box against Chelsea for a man in white to head home at Craven Cottage. The midfield have stood out for Marco Silva’s plucky Cottagers, Fulham tapping into the Portuguese leagues to acquire Joao Palhinha who has slotted in effortlessly in central midfield so far this campaign alongside the likes of Harrison Reed or Tom Cairney.
Fulham started this season strongly, asserting themselves as a team not just resigned to another relegation scrap all season long. A 2-2 draw with Liverpool at a sun-soaked Craven Cottage kicked the season off, Aleksandar Mitrovic answering his critics from minute one of this contest – bullying the Liverpool defence all afternoon, leaping above a red shirt to head in his first of the afternoon before reliably dispatching a penalty for his second. Unfortunately, Mo Salah would equalise late on but the Cottagers didn’t just roll over for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.
Their first win of the season would come against Thomas Frank’s Brentford, a team that Fulham will have taken inspiration from – the Bees transitioning to Premier League life without any real difficulties, Ivan Toney and co solid in the top flight. Still, Fulham would win this one all the same – an action-packed contest finishing 3-2 in favour of Marco Silva’s men, a last minute Mitrovic goal sealing the three points. Fulham would only lose one of their first five matches, narrowly losing 2-1 to Arsenal with Mikel Arteta’s men needing a bit of late magic to win at The Emirates in August.
Their form to date has seen Marco Silva’s men gradually grow in confidence, winning four games on the spin including a convincing 3-0 away win at Crystal Palace and the aforementioned victory over their rivals by the Thames Chelsea to heap pressure on Graham Potter. A 1-0 loss away at Newcastle might well sting for Marco Silva – Aleksandar Mitrovic comically having his penalty ruled out for a double touch after initially slipping – but Eddie Howe’s men are flying high in the top four.
Fulham took the Magpies all the way, Issa Diop at the back formidable for most of the 90 minutes at St James’ Park. It was, however, decided by a different Alexander in the form of Swedish star Alexander Isak to nod home the decisive goal with the clock at 89 minutes.
Regardless, Fulham fans will be overjoyed at their season to date – hitting the ground running in contrast to their fellow promoted teams in Nottingham Forest and AFC Bournemouth. Unlike prior promoted Fulham teams, this side look comfortable and assured in the top flight. Under Marco Silva, they could well stabilise themselves as a Premier League outfit and dream of similar European nights managed under Roy Hodgson all the way back in 2010.