Fulham have made a swift return to the Premier League after claiming the Championship title in style.
The free-scoring Cottagers recorded 27 wins and racked up a whopping 106 goals, breaking a host of records along the way.
They join runners-up Bournemouth and play-off winners Nottingham Forest in the top-flight next season.
Our three-part look at Fulham will feature an in-depth examination of their defence and attack but we begin with a closer look at the man in the dugout, Marco Silva.
To help us with our research, we spoke to Fulham fan and co-host of the excellent Always Cheating podcast, Brandon Kelley.
WHAT IS SILVA’S BACKGROUND?
After hanging up his playing boots in 2011, he was handed the reins at Estoril, promptly masterminding the team’s promotion into the Primeira Liga as second-tier champions. Competing with the likes of Porto, Benfica and Sporting was always going to be a big ask, but his second season was another overwhelming success, as Estoril confounded all expectations by finishing fifth and qualifying for Europe for the first time in the club’s history. The following season, Silva then managed to go one better, leading his team to fourth-place in the Primeira Liga.
Those achievements secured a move to Sporting, when he joined as their head coach in the summer of 2014. Silva spent only one season at the Portuguese giants but made an impact, with a third-place finish securing Champions League football, while they also won the Portuguese equivalent of the FA Cup, the Taca de Portugal, their first piece of silverware since 2008.
After a season with Olympiacos in Greece in which he won the Super League, finishing a massive 35 points clear at the top of the table in the process, Silva was once more on the move, this time to England.
Silva’s first job in the Premier League was a tricky one, with Hull City sitting rock-bottom after 20 matches when he was appointed. An upturn in results followed – including a long unbeaten run at home – but they were eventually relegated with one match to spare, with Silva opting to leave his position shortly after.
A few days later, Watford announced Silva as Walter Mazzarri’s replacement at Vicarage Road. And he hit the ground running again, with the Hornets losing just one of their opening eight Premier League matches – form which had them sitting fourth in the standings. However, Silva wasn’t at Watford for long, departing in January 2018, but left the club in a reasonably healthy position in the Premier League.
His time out of work was brief, with long-time admirers Everton hiring him ahead of the new campaign. Silva’s first season in charge at Goodison Park saw him lead the club to eighth place, narrowly missing out on European qualification, but they parted ways midway through the following campaign, with the Toffees struggling to recover from the departure of Idrissa Gueye and stuck in the bottom three.
A lengthy break from football followed, before Silva returned to take charge of Fulham in the summer of 2021 following their relegation from the Premier League. And he led the Cottagers straight back to the top flight at the first time of asking, with his free-scoring side netting 106 goals on their way to the Championship title.
MARCO SILVA – CAREER PERFORMANCE (LEAGUE ONLY)
|Club||Season||Division||Games||Won||Drawn||Lost||Points per match|
|Hull City||16/17||Premier League||18||6||3||9||1.17|
|Olympiacos||15/16||Super League 1||30||28||1||1||2.83|
|Sporting CP||14/15||Liga Portugal||34||22||10||2||2.24|
|Estoril Praia||13/14||Liga Portugal||30||15||9||6||1.80|
|Estoril Praia||12/13||Liga Portugal||30||13||6||11||1.50|
|Estoril Praia||11/12||Liga Portugal 2||25||15||6||4||2.04|
WHAT STYLE OF FOOTBALL DOES SILVA USE?
Marco Silva has primarily used a 4-2-3-1 formation at Fulham, favouring an attacking, possession-based style.
It resulted in a team that could dominate opponents – only Swansea City enjoyed more of the ball than Fulham in the Championship – but when needed, they were equally comfortable adopting a more direct approach.
“We want to start from the back, to build, and to have the right parts to attack as well. But in some moments, if you can reach the opposition box in three or four passes, why make 10 passes? I don’t need to make 10 if I have the chance to get there in four or five. We have to realise where the space is and to realise what the opposition is doing as well. And then we have to explore the spaces. If you can attack in 10 seconds, we don’t need to attack in one minute. It’s good for us that we have different ways to arrive (at the opposition box). Because it doesn’t give the opposition just one way to block us.” – Marco Silva
And that’s reassuring, because in the Premier League, Fulham will be pinned back for large periods and will be more reliant on their direct attributes, with the speed and ball carrying abilities of their wide players key.
However, their philosophy is unlikely to change.
“I will not change as a person, I will not change as a manager. Our philosophy will not change. If you ask me right now if we will have 70 per cent possession, I will tell you we will not. Of course, we have to prepare, we have to be creative, we have to be humble enough to understand what type of competition we will play. But our main idea, our philosophy, will not change.” – Marco Silva
Always Cheating’s Brandon Kelley echoed those comments:
“Silva favours a dynamic, attacking style of play, typically setting Fulham up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mitrovic up top. Mitro’s general lack of mobility could challenge this formation against the more dominant teams. I had a biased view against Silva when he moved to West London, considering his failure to achieve anything of note (beyond grudging respect) during numerous stints in the Premier League. But considering his success last season, it’s safe to say he’s improved as a tactician and man-manager. I’m very interested to see if he can rise to the occasion in the coming year.
For a team that won with relative ease, it’s tricky to surmise just how flexible Silva has been at Fulham. However, there were a handful of notable matches in which Fulham’s attacking flair dried up due to some pressing tactics from the opposition. In those instances, Silva typically opted to give his starting XI and initial tactics time to work themselves out and made substitutions very late in the match. Match to match, though, there was rarely a need for Silva to tinker.” – Brandon Kelley
As a team, Fulham are comfortable creating chances from a variety of different positions on the pitch, whether it be from out wide or centrally, which isn’t a huge surprise given that they were the first team to score more than 100 goals in the second tier since Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City in 2002.
As the league table and their goalscoring reflects, they were dominant in open play, but they were also ruthless from set-pieces too, netting 19 non-penalty set play goals in 2021/22, 14 more than they managed in the previous campaign under Scott Parker.
ATTACKING STATS 2021/22
|Total||Rank v other Championship clubs|
|Shots per game||16.1||1st|
|Shots in the box per game||9.4||1st|
Defensively, only Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest conceded fewer goals than Fulham’s 43, while they also allowed fewer shots per game than any other Championship side.
However, they may have issues dealing with opponents’ counter-pressing, especially the top Premier League teams, as they do sometimes lose the ball in dangerous areas inside their own half.
DEFENSIVE STATS 2021/22
|Total||Rank v other Championship clubs|
|Shots conceded per game||8.8||1st|
In terms of personnel, Aleksandar Mitrovic led the line and Silva’s tactics allowed the Serb to flourish, as he broke the division’s 46-game season goalscoring record, netting a whopping 43 in 44 appearances.
We’ll delve into Mitrovic’s numbers and role in greater detail in our follow-up article on Fulham’s attackers, but it’s safe to say he’ll be a popular target for Fantasy managers once the game relaunches.
Harry Wilson and Neeskens Kebano provided the width and were additional goal outlets down the flanks, scoring 10 and nine respectively, while the former also added 19 assists, a league-leading total.
Fabio Carvalho, meanwhile, performed as a number ten, but will now join up with Liverpool for pre-season. It leaves a big hole in the team and finding a player in his mould will not be easy. Depending on how they recruit, that could mean a possible shift in shape, which is something to monitor in the coming weeks and months.
Further back, a solid midfield screen was provided by Harrison Reed and Jean Michael Seri, although the latter has since been released, which poses another puzzle for Silva to solve ahead of Gameweek 1. Tom Cairney was an alternative option for Silva in midfield, starting 16 matches in the engine room.
The first-choice backline consisted of goalkeeper Marek Rodak, plus the on-loan Neco Williams, Tosin Adarabioyo, Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson.
DOES SILVA LIKE A SETTLED SIDE OR WILL HE ROTATE?
Rotation: the scourge of the Fantasy manager.
The likes of Pep Guardiola and Graham Potter make life a nightmare for FPL bosses and team news writers alike and many of us long for a top-flight full of Sean Dyches.
Silva, however, didn’t tend to rotate too much in 2021/22, often sticking with his best XI.
“Silva often sets out with the same starting XI, with changes happening every so often in the midfield pivot or full-back position depending on who is available. He rarely rotated at full-back, though, when his preferred options were fully fit.” – Brandon Kelley
HOW DOES SILVA HANDLE THE PRESS?
Press conferences form a big part of how Fantasy managers pick their team, so it is always important to assess what role Silva will play in that.
So, are Fulham going to be a team we can rely on for accurate injury information?
Always Cheating’s Brandon Kelley told us:
“Silva is subdued and generally a manager of few words. He’s not known for being transparent with the media.” – Brandon Kelley
WHERE MIGHT SILVA STRENGTHEN IN THE SUMMER?
Fulham are currently in the process of reshaping their squad ahead of their top-flight return, with Jean Michael Seri, Alfie Mawson and Michael Hector all departing the club earlier this week.
There are also rumours suggesting Anthony Knockaert, Ivan Cavaleiro and Josh Onomah are not in Silva’s plans, so plenty of movement is expected in the transfer market.
And they will absolutely need to add quality this summer, with key players like Fabio Carvalho already needing replacing, which isn’t ideal.
Brandon Kelley explains:
“A new goalkeeper and centre-back is needed, as well as a new no. 10 to replace Carvalho. For a while American Antonee Robinson looked to have locked up the left-back position, but his growth as a player has slowed and there are rumours the club is looking at other left-backs. Whether a new left-back comes in as a replacement for Robinson or a competitive back-up remains to be seen.” – Brandon Kelley
According to media reports, priority positions are thought to include centre-half, central midfield, wingers and a right full-back.
Brentford’s success last season shows what can be achieved with the right additions, and Fulham will be hoping they can follow that path rather than that of Norwich City and Watford in 2022/23.
Our huge thanks again go to Brandon for his time and insight.