|Opposition Preview - Fulham|
Written by ad_wilkin on Tuesday, 31st Oct 2023 11:00
It’s cup football at Portman Road once again as Town look to go on another run to add to the FA Cup run last season that ended in defeat in a replay to Burnley.
The run this term has already seen them beat one Premier League side in Wolves as they look to reach a first Carabao Cup quarter-final since 2010 where a 1-0 win, courtesy of a Grant Leadbitter penalty, over West Brom saw them progress to face Arsenal in the semi-final.
In their way this time is Marco Silva’s Fulham. Ipswich have recent cup history against Fulham. Paul Lambert’s Town side lost 1-0 to Scott Parker's Fulham in round two of this competition back in 2020. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored the only goal of the game in that one.
Fulham also have a scalp on the way through to this round having beaten Tottenham on penalties in the second round before beating Town’s rivals Norwich comfortably in the third.
This game sits just before they welcome Manchester United to Craven Cottage so there will almost certainly be some rotation in Marco Silva’s line-up. Despite that, they boast a strong squad full of Premier League quality.
Fulham’s number one is former Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno who currently sits in 10th place in the Premier League for goals prevented at 0.97.
He is a vastly experienced goalkeeper and has now clocked up 46 appearances for Fulham to add to his 125 for Arsenal. He has 38 Premier League clean sheets across that period and another 74 in 233 Bundesliga appearances. He’s been an ever-present in the league for Fulham so far but hasn’t featured in the Carabao Cup yet this season.
Fulham’s cup keeper has been 26-year-old Slovakian Marek Rodak. Rodak has been at Fulham his entire career and worked his way through the youth system there. He made his debut for the club back in this competition in 2017/18 in a 2-0 win against Wycombe.
He’s only ever made four Premier League appearances but was Fulham’s number one in both of their Championship promotion seasons in 2019/20 and 2021/22. He was also the hero in the second round saving in the penalty shootout from Davinson Sanchez to see the Cottagers through.
Fulham have two top quality right-backs in Kenny Tete and Timothy Castagne with one of the two likely to start against Town. Tete was one of the key players the last time these two sides played each other, dominating the right-hand side of the pitch and providing the assist for Mitrovic to head in the only goal of that game.
He had his best season in a Fulham shirt last year, playing 33 games and getting five assists having featured regularly since signing from Olympique Lyon in 2020. He started the first five games of this season but picked up an injury and has been out since the 1-0 victory over Luton.
To provide competition for Tete this season, the Cottagers turned to versatile full-back Castagne, picking him up for around £15 million from recently-relegated Leicester.
The 36-cap Belgian international comes with a vast amount of Premier League experience. He played 112 games for Leicester and scored five goals in his time there, featuring at both right-back and left-back. He’s come in to replace the injured Tete this season and performed well but could sit this one out if it is seen as a good game for Tete to make his injury comeback.
Tim Ream is in the twilight of his career but is arguably playing his best ever football and is one of the first names on the Fulham team sheet. He’s featured in all of the Whites' games so far this season apart from against Arsenal where he was suspended having picked up a red card in the previous match against Brentford for two yellow card offences.
He was benched for the game against Norwich in the last round but had to come on when Calvin Bassey picked up a knock. Fulham’s captain has now played 301 games for the club having signed from Bolton in 2015.
The man who he replaced in that Norwich game, Calvin Bassey, is a summer signing from Ajax. The 23-year-old Nigeria international who had previously spent time at Rangers joined for £19 million as he looks to continue his development that has seen him play Champions League football already. He made his full debut against Arsenal, replacing the suspended Ream only to then get sent off himself, picking up his first yellow card for time-wasting and a second for a foul.
He then missed a couple of games before starting the last round of the cup against Norwich. He recently then came in in an unfavoured right centre-back position against Tottenham as Fulham’s injuries in that area stacked up and it was his poor clearances that gifted the ball back to Tottenham for both of their goals in a performance to forget.
Tosin Adarabioyo is one of Fulham’s key central defenders but is currently out injured having undergone groin surgery. It is hopeful he should recover in a couple of weeks but the game against Town will come too soon for him. This is good news for the Blues with the 6ft 5in tall defender providing a strong aerial presence in both boxes, whilst his Manchester City upbringing also means he’s good on the ball.
Issa Diop is another one who is a doubt but his injury could be less serious that Adarabioyo’s. He missed the Tottenham and Brighton games but could be in line to make a return at Portman Road.
Diop made the move across London last summer having spent four seasons at West Ham. He has seven goals in 129 Premier League appearances and is an aerial threat particularly from corners.
The USA link continues at left-back where Ream is joined by Antonee Robinson. Robinson broke onto the scene in two Championship seasons with Wigan and was picked up in the fire sale as they got relegated from the Championship and went into administration. It didn’t take him long to break into the first team set-up at Fulham and he has nailed that left-back spot down ever since with 28,36 and 35 appearances in each of the last three seasons.
Robinson has started nine out of 10 games so far this season with an unfortunate own goal against Sheffield United and a below par performance against Manchester City his only blemishes.
Castagne can cover the left-back spot but Fulham also have depth there in Fode Ballo-Toure, who joined on loan this summer from AC Milan. He’s played at the highest level for Lille and Monaco in Ligue One before making 20 Serie A appearances over two years at Milan as injuries prevented him ever having a proper run in the side.
His only appearance for Fulham since signing was in the last round against Norwich and he could well deputise for Robinson in this one too as he looks to stake a claim for a more permanent place in the side.
Joao Palhinha is Fulham’s star man in midfield. The Portugal international has 23 caps for his country scoring two goals and has become an integral part of this Fulham side since signing from Sporting Lisbon in July 2022.
Palhinha almost left the club this summer but a move to Bayern Munich eventually fell through. This may be revived in summer but for now he is a Fulham player.
He missed a couple of games at the start of the season but has featured in most of the league games and has started both of the Carabao Cup games as Marco Silva clearly sees this competition as a good chance to have a go at silverware.
Last season, the defensive midfielder average 4.2 tackles per game across the campaign. A whole tackle per game higher than Town’s top tackler Sam Morsy is currently on.
He’s not just good at cutting of counter-attacks and winning the ball back, he also found the net three times last term and has two goals to his name already this season, scoring a sweeping volley from a corner to equalise for a ten-man Fulham side in the 87th minute against Arsenal and driving a right-footed effort into the top corner from outside the box in the last game against Brighton.
If Silva continues to start him in this competition, he will likely have a big impact on this game.
Alongside him in second round against Tottenham was fellow holding midfielder Harrison Reed, who has also been a regular partner in the league as well.
The 28-year-old signed permanently for the Cottagers following a 2019 loan spell from Southampton and has started to deliver on his earlier promise becoming a regular fixture in their side. He only missed one game last season and that was enforced through the collection of too many yellow cards and brings bite and thrust as more of a box-to-box midfielder alongside Palhinha.
He also added goals to his game last season, scoring three times having previously gone over two years without a goal. That was against Tottenham so it’s perhaps more telling looking at the starting line-up against Norwich in the third round where Harry Wilson and Tom Cairney started either side of Palhinha.
Thirty-two-year-old Cairney was a crucial player in both of Fulham’s promotions from the Championship but has found breaking into the side a bit harder in the Premier League. This hasn’t been helped by a recurring knee injury which kept him out of the second half of the 21/22 season.
Cairney is currently going through a bit of a resurgence in the side, starting the last five games of last season and scoring a brace against Leicester and coming off the bench a lot this term. He is still a player of tremendous quality on the ball and with 57 career goals, knows where the back of the net is.
Wilson is the man who is competing with Nathan Broadhead for a spot in the Wales team and scored twice from that position against Croatia in the Euro qualifiers.
For Fulham he usually starts on the right wing but against Norwich played in a midfield three. He was effective there, getting an assist in that match. He’s been at Fulham since July 2021 when he joined from Liverpool and has been more of a squad player than a regular started for them previously with only 13 starts last season. He’s already almost halfway there with six so far this season and his form for Wales definitely won’t do any harm either.
Moving back to the defensive midfielders. Twenty-seven-year-old Serbian Sasa Lukic was the man who got the nod to play the league match against Tottenham. Lukic was a January signing last year from Torino but only made four starts for the club as he looked to find his feet in English football.
He comes with a vast amount of experience with 40 caps for Serbia to go alongside 151 Serie A appearances for Torino. He’s missed a few games this season with a knee injury but started the campaign in that holding role whilst Palhinha was out. If Silva doesn’t go as attacking as he did against Norwich this could be seen as a game to get him back up to speed.
Silva has switched between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 formation this season and a player that is great at making that versatility work is Andreas Pereira. The former Manchester United player never really got a chance to make a breakthrough at Old Trafford but at Fulham he has found a home where he is playing his best football with four goals and six assists last season. He has one goal and one assist so far this season and is yet another quality Premier League player that Fulham have in their squad.
Such is the versatility of Alex Iwobi it’s hard to figure out where to put him. Despite the fact that he has stated his preferred position is in central midfield, his pace and dribbling attributes see him moved out to play on the wing and even at wing-back on occasion during his time at Everton. He started against Norwich on the right wing, scoring by slotting the ball into the net from outside the area following a Wilson lay-off.
Iwobi has 228 Premier League appearances across spells at Arsenal, Everton and now Fulham and has 63 caps for Nigeria. His experience, versatility and pace make him a key asset to this Fulham squad and gives manager Silva a great deal of tactical flexibility.
It was a surprise move when Willian returned to the Premier League from Brazilian club Corinthians to join Fulham on a free transfer back in September 2022 but the 35-year-old Brazilian proved to be a very astute signing showing his skill and class on his return to London following spells and Arsenal and Chelsea.
He has six goals and six assists in 39 appearances for Fulham and provides some Premier League X-factor and the ability to score some wonderful goals.
Despite his age, he is still a hard worker and has shown that he can perform at the highest level. He started the last round of this competition and played 79 minutes before being replaced and if he plays will give the Town right-back all manner of issues.
Bobby Decordova Reid is another of Fulham's versatile players and has played in every position in the forward line and even in midfield and a brief spell at right-back.
He’s started the majority of the Premier League games this season on either the right or left wing and even captained the side against Arsenal.
Reid brings tons of experience and has now made 178 appearances for Fulham, scoring 27 goals in that time including the winner at Everton and the opening goal against Sheffield United this season. He’s also been in good scoring form for Jamaica scoring two goals in his last four international appearances.
Town could be facing a former Barcelona player. Speed merchant Adama Traore may even be quicker than Kayden Jackson and has famously taken to covering his arms in oil so that defenders can’t grab him. Wonder if Kayden will get the Lurpack out to compete with him in this one?
He’s currently out with a hamstring injury that has seen him miss five games so far but could be in line for a return soon. A Barcelona youth player, he has eight caps for Spain with his pace and power a handful for defenders at all levels.
Where he lacks is end product. He only has 10 goals in 197 Premier League appearances and has been used more as an impact sub by Fulham this season. However, when he’s on form he can be almost unplayable.
The fact that Fulham picked him up on a free following the expiry of his Wolves contract also means the signing is low risk, high reward for them. Hopefully the reward won’t be seeing him score to put them into the next round.
A lesser-known name in the Fulham frontline who could get some game time is Rodrigo Muniz. Muniz was signed from Brazilian side Flamengo having scored 10 goals in 30 games. His first season in the Championship for the Cottagers saw him net five times in 25 appearances.
He was surplus to requirements last season and loaned out to Middlesbrough where he didn’t have the best of times. He started the Carabao Cup second round match against Tottenham as the main striker and performed well with two shots testing the keeper.
Muniz will likely have to make do with minutes off the bench as he is now down the pecking order behind Raul Jimenez and Carlos Vinicius
Jimenez was the second player that Fulham signed from Wolves, although unlike Traore he commanded a minimal fee. Now 32, the Mexican will be welcoming a fresh start having never really rediscovered his prolific form at Wolves following his head injury. At the peak of his powers, he scored 17 goals in the 2019/20 season.
This season Silva has definitely seen him as his number one striker and he has started all but one of the League games, although he is often replaced by Vinicius and has only played the full 90 minutes once.
Vinicius signed in September 2022 having played second fiddle to Harry Kane for a couple of seasons. Instead, he has found himself behind Alexander Mitrovic and now Raul Jimenez and has never established himself as the first-choice striker, despite his profile fitting more closely to the departing Mitrovic.
He’s a strong, powerful forward who is good in the air and knows where the back of the net is. His 10 goals in 22 matches for Spurs and 24 in 50 for Benfica attest to that.
He started and scored from just over a yard out in the third round against Norwich and will prove to be a handful for whichever Town centre halves are tasked with dealing with him.
Town have rotated heavily for all of their cup ties so far and with games still coming thick and fast, it seems likely that they will do again. Christian Walton is likely to make his first start of the season having recovered from his foot injury.
At right-back it’s probably a straight toss-up between Janoi Donacien and Harry Clarke . I think both will start with Donacien at right-back and Clarke on the left.
Axel Tuanzebe is almost certain to make his debut but who will partner him is an unknown for now. With George Edmundson playing against Plymouth, it’s likely to be a toss-up between Cameron Burgess and Elkan Baggott. With the height and aerial ability of Vinicuis to face, it could well be the Australian starting this one.
In midfield, Sam Morsy played the later round of the cup competitions last season and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he starts, but I think it’s more likely it will be Dom Ball and Jack Taylor in there.
Freddie Ladapo was fit enough for the bench against Plymouth so should lead the line for this one.
Conor Chaplin and Nathan Broadhead will almost certainly be rested which means Marcus Harness will be given a start having scored two crucial goals in recent weeks.
The other two spots are up for debate. Elder statesman and former Fulham man Sone Aluko is still in the squad but hasn’t had much of a role to play in the starting line-up Could his experience be seen as important for this one or could Cameron Humphreys get time in the number 10 role?
Omari Hutchinson put in a shift against Plymouth but could be fit enough to start again in the 10. But I’m going for Kayden Jackson on the right and a rare Humphreys appearance down the middle.
For Fulham, Silva has treated this competition seriously in the first couple of rounds putting out strong starting XIs. They played a day later with Town having drawn 1-1 with Brighton on Sunday, so he may rotate more for this one to get fresh legs in.
Cup keeper Rodak will start in goal. The back four is all a question of fitness. Tete could make a comeback from injury if he is fit if not Castagne is likely to start again.
The only two fit centre-backs are Ream and Bassey so they’ll play in the middle unless Diop or Adarabioyo have recovered from their injuries and at left-back Ballo-Toure will deputise.
I think Silva will go for an attacking central midfield three. Cairney is certain to play, as is Wilson who was effective in that central role last round.
Palhinha had been preferred as the holding play in the last two cup rounds but played the full 90 against Brighton so this could be seen as a chance to get Lukic some more minutes.
Again injuries have hit Fulham on the wings a bit, so Willian and Decordova-Reid could well start their second game in the space of four days.
Up front Carlos Vinicius didn’t make the Brighton squad at all and may have been saved for this one. If it turns out that he is instead injured then Muniz should deputise following a brief lively cameo against Brighton.
Fulham could be quite fluid going forward. They have an abundance of talent in the attacking areas but Wilson in a free central role could prove to be their main threat, especially as he’ll come into this one hoping to force his way into the starting line-up.
His set-piece deliveries will also be a danger. If Willian plays then Donacien could be in for his toughest test so far but I back the Saint Lucian to deal with the aging Brazilian.
Going the other way, if Fulham do play with just the one holding midfielder, then there should be gaps for Town’s number 10. If this is Humphreys then Town could have some rotation of their own with Taylor, Humphreys and Harness all capable of playing in midfield, on the left or as the 10.
This will be the biggest test of Town’s season so far with Fulham on paper the best opposition they have faced with plenty of Premier League and international experience even in their second-choice team.
If Silva plays a strong side I think they’ll be too much for Ipswich. I don’t think it will be a walkover though. Portman Road is tough for any team to come and, like the majority of games this season I think there will be goals at either end.
I’m going for a 3-2 Fulham victory in this one as unfortunately I think Town’s cup run will come to an end.
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