2018 has undoubtedly been Fulham’s year as they recently made it 20 games unbeaten, leapfrogging Cardiff City into second place in the process. Can you sum up the last few months?
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster after starting the season the way they did. The last time the two sides met, Fulham lost and you didn’t really have any inkling that the next six months was going to happen. It’s been four months of stunning football and they are finally becoming the Fulham everyone thought they would be last season, going into the start of this season. Everything seems to have clicked and Slavisa Jokanovic’s side are playing really good football; it’s entertaining, you get the sense every game will have goals in it and those signings in January have really added steel and grit – they’ve been the missing pieces, really. If you wanted to sum it up, I suppose you’d have to say it’s been sensational.
Early signs pointed to a season of mid-table mediocrity for The Whites - what was the turning point?
The main thing that fans have been pointing to is the January signings, and you can’t look past them. At the same time, the fitness levels they have now is what they needed at the start. I don’t think pre-season was too good and the way Fulham play football - they like to dominate the ball and hound the opponents with possession and pressing - I don’t think they were fit enough to do that in the first part of the season. Everything has clicked and their fitness levels are where they should be. Then, obviously, you have to look at the signings: Mitrovic is the striker they’ve been crying out for the last couple of seasons, he’s scored nine goals now which just shows his influence. Targett is Premier League quality and adds comfort to the left, but also allows Ryan Sessegnon to get further forward as well and to be let loose on opposing teams.
I imagine it’ll be difficult to choose, but who has been the best player over the last few months?
Centre-backs aren’t always going to get the headlines, but I think it’s been Tim Ream – he’s been absolutely outstanding this year. Fulham haven’t been good defensively since they dropped down to the Championship, but over the last six months they’ve finally managed to add those clean sheets and grit and steel in defence. Ream is in the form of his life at the moment – I do the player ratings after the games and I’ve run out of ways to describe how he’s playing because he’s a solid eight out of ten every game. He’s probably been my player of the season.
It’s been a privilege to watch Ryan Sessegnon, though. You know he’s going to become an absolutely quality player and when he’s playing in the Premier League and Champions League you’ll be able to say ‘I saw him at the start of his career’. It’s been great to witness his progression – to have 14 goals at 17-years-old from the left side of the pitch is just outstanding. Towards the end of last season he didn’t look like a 16-year-old lad playing in a men’s team and he’s just gone over and above this season and looks like he’s been playing men’s football for the last 10 years. It’s been a pleasure to see him develop into the player he is today and I’m sure there is so much more to come.
What is your highlight of the season so far?
I think the 20 games unbeaten has been a huge highlight, but personally it was the 5-4 win at Sheffield United in November. I’d never seen a game that crazy before and it was the game that kick-started the run, really. The fact that two players scored a hat-trick and it ended with nine goals was absolutely crazy. Games like that come around once in a blue moon.
How are Fulham likely to set up at Craven Cottage on Saturday evening?
It’ll be 4-3-3 and I reckon it’ll be the same back five that have played the last few games. It’ll be Bettinelli in goal, Targett left-back, Ream, Odoi and Fredericks across the backline and the midfield won’t change at all – it’ll be Cairney, Johansen, McDonald and that’s their staple, what gives Fulham the ability to play football in the way they do. Cairney has come back from injury and has been absolutely outstanding, so much so that he’s on the Player of the Year award list despite having missed so much of the season. Mitrovic will be leading the line, Sessegnon will be out on the left and who plays on the right will be anyone’s guess. He likes playing Piazon at home and Ayite is out injured so it’ll either be Piazon or Kebano, I think.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
I think I sat on the fence last time out, but this time I’m going to have to go for a 2-1 Fulham win just on the basis of the form they are on.