Many thought Marco Silva’s time in the top flight of English football had come to an end when he was sacked by Everton at the beginning of December 2019.
The Portuguese had taken charge of the Toffees in the summer of 2018 and enjoyed a respectable first season in charge, leading them to an eighth-placed finish.
But the 2019-20 campaign started poorly and when Everton took a 5-2 beating at the hands of their city rivals Liverpool, it became clear that Silva’s position had become untenable.
He lost his job – the third time in English football that he had ended his time with his employer acrimoniously after previous stints in charge of Hull City and Watford.
Eighteen months later, however, the opportunity to replace Bournemouth-bound Scott Parker at Craven Cottage arose and Silva chose to take it.
Since then, he has led Fulham on a magnificent ride, restoring them to the Premier League and repairing his reputation in the process.
Both Fulham and Silva bounced back in a big way in 2021-22. The former were keen to restore their Premier League status at the first time of asking following a humbling relegation and they did just that.
The Cottagers took 13 points of their first 15 and became the first English club to score 19 goals over three matches in the month of January, becoming the first side since Chester City did so in 1933.
They won the Championship by beating Luton Town 7-0, rounding off a high-scoring campaign that saw them clock up 106 goals – a feat only bettered by Manchester City back in 2001-02.
Silva’s Fulham looked lean and mean, dancing in the bright lights of west London and determined to right previous wrongs. The man himself looked like someone who had learned from his mistakes.
All of that would have meant nothing, of course, had his team floundered upon their return to the Premier League and gone straight back down. Thankfully for them, however, that certainly has not happened.
Fulham are sixth in the Premier League ahead of this weekend’s action having taken 38 points from their opening 24 fixtures and look certain to avoid the drop.
But that is not what they are focused on. The Cottagers stand a real chance of securing European football for 2023-24 and look capable of capitalising on what has been a poor year for Chelsea and Liverpool.
The battle for a Europa League place looks like it will be fought between themselves, Brighton and Brentford, as well as the usual suspects.
Their position in the table is fully deserved. Silva’s Fulham are a serious prospect – capable in the final third, tenacious in midfield and more than capable of running a tight ship at the back.
In terms of their underlying metrics, they rank highly Premier League-wide in several key categories – third for defensive duels won (991), third for loose balls won (385) and fourth for clean sheets (eight).
Collective and individual quality
Fulham are superbly coached, it is clear to see. Silva has been working on himself and refining his techniques during his time out of the game and it is evidently beginning to pay off.
But they also have a great deal of individual quality to go along with this collective coherence. Bernd Leno has kept seven clean sheets between the posts, serving as an important building block for their defence.
João Palhinha has made a team-high 272 successful defensive actions as well as winning 115 interceptions and 134 defensive duels. The Portuguese is the glue that holds their midfield together.
Andreas Pereira has contributed two goals and a team-high six assists from his position in attacking midfield. The Brazilian, returning to English football after a spell back home in Rio de Janeiro with Flamengo, has also completed 24 dribbles, made 29 progressive runs and taken 41 touches in the box.
And then, of course, there is Aleksandar Mitrović. The Serbian has always been considered too good for the Championship and not good enough for the Premier League but he has dispelled that myth in 2022-23 – contributing a team-high 11 goals and two assists for Fulham.
And that makes for a potent combination. Fulham have a point to prove and they are led by a man and a group of players in a very similar boat. They are most certainly proving it this year.
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