Just 77 days after their 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley secured Fulham’s return to the Premier League, the Cottagers will begin their top-flight campaign against fellow London outfit Crystal Palace this weekend.
Optimism is high after some exciting business in the summer transfer market, but manager Slavisa Jokanovic will not be getting carried away, as his side focus on achieving their primary objective - survival.
While they will undoubtedly run into a sticky patch at some point this term, Fulham are on the crest of a wave at present and are no bigger than 6-4 with William Hill to get their season off to a winning start on Saturday afternoon.
Fulham were widely tipped to achieve promotion during the play-offs in 2016/17, having been the best team in the division for the second half of the season. They froze when the pressure was on, disappointingly losing to a mediocre Reading side.
The following campaign followed a similar pattern: Jokanovic’s men slipped as low as 15th in the standings at the start of December, but a remarkable run of 18 wins and five draws in their final 24 matches sent them surging up the table.
That return of 59 points from a possible 72 was not quite enough to seal a top-two finish, however, so Fulham had to do things the hard way by negotiating a two-legged tie with Derby County, and a Wembley showdown against Steve Bruce’s Villa.
There was little doubt that The Cottagers deserved to go up, and while avoiding an immediate return to the second tier is their overriding objective in 2018/19, Fulham are not here to simply make up the numbers.
Fulham’s recruitment has been ambitious heading into the final few days of the transfer window, with Jean Seri – a player who was on the verge of joining Barcelona this time last year – perhaps the biggest coup of the Premier League summer so far.
Andre Schurrle and Calum Chambers are similarly exciting additions, while the return on a permanent basis of former loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic ensures Fulham have a physical focal point to play ahead of their neat and tidy midfield.
Anyone who watched this team last season will know there was already plenty of quality within the ranks before the new arrivals pitched up at Craven Cottage. Cultured playmaker Tom Cairney is the man who makes Fulham tick in the centre of the park; Ryan Sessegnon, a precocious talent, plays with extraordinary maturity for an 18-year-old; and Tim Ream is the type of ball-playing centre-half who may actually be better suited to the Premier League than the Championship.
With a defined style of play and clear overarching philosophy, the Cottagers should be good enough to avoid the drop this term. They should also have enough to get past their opponents, managed by ex-Fulham boss Roy Hodgson, this weekend.
Crystal Palace are notoriously slow starters. They ended last season strongly winning four and drawing two from their last six games – a run which included a 5-0 thrashing of Leicester City in what was one of the club’s best all-round performances in the modern era – but it could take them a while to get going in 2018/19.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Yohan Cabaye are big losses in midfield, and there is a slight concern that shifting back to a 4-3-3 formation, in order to accommodate Christian Benteke, will harm the cohesion and balance Palace achieved towards the end of last season - when Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend were employed as central strikers.
Eagles fans know the potential perils of facing a buoyant, newly-promoted club on the opening day, with memories of last August’s 3-0 defeat by Huddersfield Town bound to resurface ahead of Saturday’s contest.
The circumstances are very different, of course, with hindsight showing that the Frank de Boer project at Selhurst Park was always likely to fail, but a fresh Fulham side will nevertheless be difficult to stop in front of their own supporters on a sunny afternoon at Craven Cottage.
Jokanovic’s principles mean Fulham will look to play on the front foot and dominate possession, with Palace likely to stand off and attempt to hit them on the break.
The hosts will start quickly and it could therefore be worth backing an early goal – SuperLenny offer 51/20 on the opener coming between the 16th and 30th minutes – but the leading bet here is a straightforward Fulham win, with William Hill among the top football betting sites offering that top price of 6/4.
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