Premier League 2023-24 preview No 10: Fulham | Fulham

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 13th (NB: this is not necessarily John Brewin’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 10th


From the opening moments of their first game of last season against Liverpool, promoted Fulham raised the bar of expectation from relegation candidates to a team within a reasonable chance of Europe before a late-season slump. Considering the turbulence of the summer, with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Marco Silva linked with the Saudi Arabian gold rush, predicting a similar mid-table outcome feels optimistic. They enter the season enigmatically and Silva, having pledged to stay at the club, wore a furrowed brow for much of his team’s Stateside participation in the Premier League Summer Series.

Mitrovic, whose goals powered Fulham to safety and beyond last season, is a different matter. His reported intention has been to quit the club, Saudi Arabia or not. Fulham’s form while he served an eight-match ban through last spring spelled out how difficult he could be to replace. Raúl Jiménez’s arrival from Wolves has brought in a centre-forward of proven Premier League class, the issue being that level came before he sustained a cracked skull in November 2020. Calvin Bassey, who has joined after one season at Ajax, was a star of Rangers’ run to last year’s Europa League final and looks a more progressive addition, though perhaps Jiménez could find his old form, by the Thames, in the fashion of Willian last season until he too was tempted by the Saudi Pro League.

Fulham’s chances are likely to be governed by what happens in the remaining transfer window. Keeping hold of or adequately replacing João Palhinha, who in that opening Liverpool game announced himself as a high-grade midfielder and stayed one all season, looks key. His pre-season shoulder injury added a further wrinkle to that Silva frown.

The manager

Marco Silva resisted a reported £40m offer to coach Al-Ahli, convinced by the Fulham owner, Shahid Khan, that his future belonged in south-west London. The Portuguese has finally established himself as a Premier League manager. His stints at Hull, Watford and Everton were too brief to win him the same affection he enjoys at Craven Cottage. Last season Fulham played the progressive, aggressive football that made his reputation, winning him his previous opportunities. Now, with Mitrovic wanting to leave and Palhinha suffering a pre-season injury, comes the challenge of rebuilding when transfer business has been less than brisk. Khan’s sweet talk presumably included the promise of fresh blood to refresh a squad that tired last year.

Leading the shirt sales

Palhinha’s signing was transformational, the Portuguese midfielder’s poise and positioning soon winning him wide acclaim. For Fulham to stop being a yo-yo club, they needed an alleycat to fight their cause within Premier League midfields and in Harrison Reed, Palhinha had a more than capable lieutenant in taking the game to opponents. His was a ratting role, closing off spaces, winning second balls and adding a dimension to overlaps. Reed will run all day for the cause and has made himself a cult hero among Cottagers’ fans. Fulham’s success last season was built on hard work and no player embodied it better than Reed. Should Mitrovic and Palhinha move on, there is little doubt about the next most popular player.

Harrison Reed, on the ball in pre-season action against Brentford in July, was tireless for Fulham last season. Photograph: Stuart Wallace/Shutterstock

Folk hero

“The mane, the myth, the legend” – the veteran and part-time podcaster Tim Ream was thus acclaimed by the club’s social media accounts in July, locks flowing in true warrior style. Fulham has been a destination for American players since Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey two decades ago, but Ream may well be the finest of the Atlantic crossings. Last season, his eighth in west London, was his best yet in a Fulham shirt, and he was one of his national team’s better players at the World Cup. “If you were 24 instead of 34, you’d be playing for me,” was a reported comment from Pep Guardiola to the St Louis-born central defender.

Last season’s results: won 15, lost 16, drew seven.

One to watch

Fulham supporters have been waiting some years for the breakthrough of the 20-year-old Jay Stansfield, who has an awesome goalscoring record at junior level. Last season he made some early appearances for the first team until he was sent on loan to Exeter in League One, the club where his late father, Adam, was a club legend, playing across the front line. He signed off from Exeter with a hat-trick against Morecambe. Whether this can be his breakthrough season – or another loan – may depend upon Mitrovic’s whereabouts, and those who replace the Serb.

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