After a poor pre-season with just one win in six, Fulham began their Championship campaign as favourites to bounce straight back to the Premier League. After an £100 million spending spree following play-off final success in May 2018, a 19th placed finish in the top-flight sent the Cottagers back to the relentless and demanding second tier, but if any team are well equipped to gain promotion this season, it is them.
Except for the sale of Ryan Sessegnon to Tottenham in the summer, Fulham have managed to keep the nucleus of the squad that won at Wembley almost 18 months ago. Captain Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic remain the star men, while Marcus Bettinelli and Stefan Johansen have come back into the fold after featuring sparsely in the Premier League. Alfie Mawson was signed following promotion, while this summer saw the arrival of two players who have impressed in the Championship previously - Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively.
Following a disappointing defeat on the opening day of the campaign at Barnsley, Fulham recorded three wins from three to propel themselves up to third in the table. However there were to be a few bumps in the road, as an early goal and a mistake helped Nottingham Forest to a 2-1 win at the Cottage, while a dogged Cardiff display earned them a 1-1 draw with the Whites, who struggled to break down Neil Warnock’s side. Two more 1-1 draws in two weeks followed as a strong 60 minutes against West Brom was not enough for the three points, while a 93rd minute Atdhe Nuhiu header salvaged a point for Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. On Friday night however, Fulham got back to winning ways with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Wigan - the Latics not managing a shot on target all game.
Fulham have always been a team that play attractive football and in recent years have really stepped that up a gear. They attack with numbers, as their full backs - Joe Bryan and Steven Sessegnon - push high up the pitch to overlap the wingers or get on the end of threaded through balls from Cairney. Knockaert and Cavaleiro meanwhile help make up arguably the most dangerous front line in the Championship. The tricky wingers are able to switch wings to either deliver dangerous crosses (Knockaert even scored from one against West Brom) to the physical Mitrovic, or cut in and shoot, something that was evident in their win away at Huddersfield as Cavaleiro bent in a beauty after cutting in from the left hand side.
To win this game, Reading will have to learn lessons from their clash with Swansea and hold onto the ball far better. Their second half showing was a lot more promising and John Swift and Ovie Ejaria will once more be key in playing through Fulham’s lines. Andy Rinomhota will be hoping to retain his place in front of the defence, as his dynamism, tough tackling and reading of the game would suit coming up against the likes of Cairney and the tricky Johansen. Pele, in comparison, hasn’t quite found his feet yet in the rapid pace of English football.
Perhaps Gomes will opt for the 4-2-2-2/4-3-3 from the start due to Fulham’s width and overlapping full-backs. Three centre-backs may be wise against such an attacking and talented front three, but this was something Swansea seemed to exploit in the first half, and Fulham may well look to drag out Reading’s wing-backs and play into the space behind with wide runners. However the Cottagers’ full-backs play very high up the pitch so will also leave space in behind which Reading themselves could look to exploit on the counter against a very possession based side.
A 4-3-3 would also match up with Fulham, and you’d have to say that Reading aren’t far off them at all in terms of overall quality throughout the XI. So due to these sides’ similar styles of play, coupled with home advantage, Reading should be confident coming into the game but also wary about the threats that one of the promotion favourites, who may just have hit some form again, will pose.