In the last two seasons where Fulham were promoted to the Premier League, they had a campaign to forget. In 2018-19, they were second last with 26 points, and in the 2020-21 season, they finished with a meagre 28 points, 11 points behind 17th-placed Burnley. However, what we have seen in his first season in charge is quite promising.
Fulham have finished 10th after an impressive season that saw them amass 52 points. It is a brilliant performance of a team that, in the past few seasons, has been stuck in the cycle of relegation and promotion from and to the Premier League.
In a season where teams splashed cash around, this looks to be the most competitive Premier League season. Nottingham Forest spent more than € 150 million, bringing in 19 new players. The message was simple- to spend, improve, adapt or get relegated. In addition, they had also lost talented youngster Fabio Carvalho to Liverpool.
Marco Silva’s tactics took them to the Premier League and transformed them. Under the Portuguese, Fulham have gone toe to toe with their opponents this season. They have also gelled well and shown a fluidity absent in previous seasons.
After leaving Everton, the manager was out of a job for two years. However, that did not lead to problems when he took charge at Craven Cottage. On the contrary, Marco Silva’s tactics were instrumental in Fulham’s promotion to the Premier League.
Marco Silva tactics
Defence is the key
Here’s an interesting stat from Fulham’s last two stints in the Premier League. The Cottagers conceded 81 and 53 goals after five matches in the 2018-19 and 2020-21 seasons respectively. And while they conceded 53 goals even this season, there was a stark difference this time. The goals came when the team played a more attacking brand of football that left them much more vulnerable to their opposition than their previous season. Despite this, they conceded the same number of goals showing their drastic improvement.
So, how have Fulham improved on their Achilles Heel?
|Fulham’s 2022-23 stat comparison with the previous two PL campaigns after f|
|League Table Position||10th||18th||19th|
Silva’s backline consists of left-back Antonee Robinson, centre backs Tim Ream, Tosin Adarabioyo, and right-back Kenny Tete. And this backline works in a way that doesn’t leave them vulnerable in the face of relentless opposition attacks.
While Ream and Adarabioyo are no-nonsense defenders, their fullbacks’ symmetry has been the key. Robinson is more attack-minded on the left and ventures forward, while Tete likes to stay back. This ensures that Fulham are never left exposed defensively. Their no-nonsense defenders, on the other hand, relish the good-old art of defending. No team has won more aerial duels than Fulham this season so far.
The team is ranked fifth in interceptions with Tim Ream being the second-best in the league. They are also fourth in the number of tackles won. Silva has been so obsessed with strengthening the defence that his players do not shy away from tactical fouls. They are ranked as the third-best teams called out for making fouls this season.
However, the defence had to tweak their strategy after their first two matches. In those matches, Silva had Marek Rodák in between the sticks. While the Slovakian is a good shot-stopper, he lacks ball-playing skills. Silva wanted to change that, and thus newly signed Bernd Leno was drafted into the squad. The German helped the team to build up from the back, which has been visible.
The team is taking time to adapt to the new tactics, but Silva sees the bigger picture. He wants his squad to be multifaceted, which will come in handy when they need an alternative plan.
The fluid midfield
Marco Silva played a 4-2-3-1 system that turns into a 4-4-2 system when they lose the ball. And the base of the midfield is defensive midfielder Joao Palhinha who was signed this summer and Harrison Reed. While Palhinha was the defensive shield, Reed played as the box-to-box role to perfection.
Palhinha ended the season with 84 successful tackles to his name, the best in the league. He also has initiated 90 counter-pressing actions, the most by any player in the league. And while the midfielder has the most yellow cards in the league, his no-nonsense game allowed Reed to contribute to the attack.
Fulham might have scored 106 goals in the Championship, but the Premier League is a different beast. And Palhinha and Reed provided the perfect balance required in a league where Fulham were not favourites against more than half the teams.
💪 Joao Palhinha is averaging more tackles per game than any other player in Europe's top 5 leagues this season (5.2) pic.twitter.com/F2DqvyVpKh
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 31, 2022
Even their roles have altered after Leno’s inclusion in the squad. In the first two matches, Fulham could not build up from the back due to Rodak’s limited ball-playing ability. Instead, Rodak would punt the ball long for Aleksandar Mitrovic. The tactic was used so heavily that the Serb had won 35 aerial duels, the most in the league and 15 more than nearest rival James Tarkowski after five games in the season.
But with Leno in the goal, the team started to build up from the back. Palhinha, Reed, and Andreas Pereira began to form pass networks in the middle. The trio try to narrow the field in the centre. At the same time, Neeskens Kebano and Bobby Decordova-Reid try to exploit the width of the pitch.
Marco Silva’s tactics not only played to Fulham’s strengths but also left room for adaptability, which they needed in abundance to survive in the Premier League.
Attacking game changers Pereira and Mitrovic
Marco Silva may have altered Fulham’s tactics to make them more balanced. However, he did not sacrifice the attacking brilliance at his disposal. Mitrovic scored 43 goals last season but saw his tally drop to 14, but those goals came in crucial situations, helping his team earn much needed points.
Mitrovic was the focal point of long balls due to his height. However, the Serbian is adept at holding the ball and being involved in the build-up play. And he was helped in the attack by Pereira, the team’s creative force.
100 – Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored more Premier League goals versus Brighton than he has against any other side (4), while his opener tonight is the 100th league goal of his Fulham career. Centurion.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 30, 2022
Pereira drops down in the midfield to collect the ball. His heatmap from SofaScore shows that he positions himself on the left flank to receive a pass. After receiving the ball, he either links up with the wingers or tries to get past defenders.
Pereira’s positional sense and intelligent movement is his key asset. It is the reason he managed to create 60 chances, the most by any player on the team. Pereira also leads the gegenpressing for his team, which they only deploy when they have their backs against the wall.
How Marco Silva help Fulham survive relegation?
Marco Silva made Fulham an attacking beast in the Championship, where they scored 106 goals to achieve promotion. However, unlike their previous two campaigns, where they failed miserably, Fulham made intelligent decisions. The club signed players that would give them the quality and experience of top-flight football.
Marco Silva must also be credited for creating a system that made Fulham a tenacious team. The defence was solid and performed to Premier League standards. The fullbacks worked in tandem providing adequate defence and offence.
The same can be said for Palhinha and Reed. However, work needs to be done, as Fulham still have a long way to go. They are still over-reliant on Mitrovic, which could spell doom if the striker gets injured. Furthermore, they also need to get their wingers involved in the game, as Mitrovic cannot be expected to provide goals at the same rate as the Championship, which was evident by his return of 14 goals this season.
Marco Silva’s tactics helped Fulham beat the odds and finish 18 points above the relegation zone, an amazing performance. However, they must adapt further to keep the momentum going next season. However, they have shown signs of it, and after surviving relegation, signs indicate that Fulham could get even better