Fulham v Middlesbrough
Sunday August 8, 13:30
Fulham favourites for immediate Premier League return
Fulham's most recent Premier League campaign promised plenty under Scott Parker but the Cottagers failed to fire and suffered an immediate return to the second-tier. The club have since moved to make Marco Silva their new head coach and many are anticipating a major assault on title honours from the West Londoners considering the quality within the squad.
The Whites' roster is packed with a frightening array of seasoned Championship options. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Tom Cairney, Michael Hector and Harrison Reid have all proven they're too good for this level, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa could arguably be competing in Europe, whilst Harry Wilson has since arrived to give the group fresh final-third impetus.
Silva should inject a more energetic, front-foot approach than predecessor Parker as the Cottagers promise to utilize their superior firepower.
With 19 players with promotion-winning CVs at his disposal, it would be a surprise to see the capital club conclude the campaign outside of the top-two.
indeed, they are my selection to win the league.
Youngster Tyrese Francois may start in midfield.
Middlesbrough strong in both boxes
Middlesbrough continued their upward trend under veteran Neil Warnock's watch last term as the Riversiders' posted a 10th-placed finish. However, Boro's boss demanded more and was disappointed the Reds failed to finish in the end-of-season race for a play-off position having appeared on-course during the early embers of 2020/21.
Warnock has used the summer to continue to mould Middlesbrough's squad in his image. Rangy striker Uche Ikpeazu will lead the line, Sammy Ameobi adds an element of unpredictability and Matt Crooks was a smart signing from Rotherham to provide energy and ball-playing ability to a midfield that already appears well-set to battle the best.
Boro are underpinned by a robust defensive set-up, and have both the pace and power in both boxes to provide awkward opposition throughout the campaign. During pre-season, Warnock has preferred a three-at-the-back system with Paddy McNair, Grant Hall and Dael Fry all performing with aplomb but fitness concerns leave the club a little short on the left.
Fulham come into this contest unbeaten in their past five fixtures against Middlesbrough across all competitions over the last five years (W3-D2-L0). The Cottagers have kept their sheets clean in the most recent three head-to-head duels (W2-D1-L0) with Boro, whilst also boasting an impressive W4-D1-L1 return when the duo have met at Craven Cottage.
Fulham 1.9720/21 collected a league-low five wins during their relegation from the Premier League, with the Whites also finishing rock-bottom of the home table. Under Scott Parker, the Cottagers posted a desperate W2-D4-L13, notching only nine goals as hosts and firing blanks on 12 occasions. It's an area that will require a huge improvement, starting Sunday.
Middlesbrough 4.407/2 began 2020/21 by tabling W4-D6-L1, a spell that also saw the Reds ship just five goals. It put Boro in contention, although Neil Warnock's side were unable to sustain their early season efforts, managing only W14-D6-L17 in their following 37 matches. The visitors also posted just W1-D6-L7 when travelling to teams in 15th and above.
Goals were rarely on the agenda during Fulham's bleak one-season top-flight stint but with an impressive arsenal of attackers to select from, Marco Silva has promised a more front-foot approach as the Whites' bid to bounce straight back to the Premier League. Serbian hitman Aleksandar Mitrovic should spearhead the home side's challenge.
Middlesbrough will likely set-up to conserve and counter, making the most of set-piece situations with a midfield selected to disrupt and out-work their opposition. Last term, all three of Boro's trips to the top-three finishers (and ante-post favourites) featured no more than a solitary goal, suggesting Neil Warnock's side might be happy to sit back and see.
Therefore, Under 2.5 Goals 1.814/5 holds the most appeal heading into Sunday's televised showdown.