Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 22/25
The Championship in England starts this weekend, and in the opening round, Fulham will welcome Middlesbrough to Craven Cottage on Sunday afternoon.
It’s a fresh start for the Cottagers in the English second tier, after they failed to keep hold of their status as a Premier League club at the end of 2020-21. Led by Scott Parker, they finished in 18th place, whole 11 points behind Burnley in 17th, the last to provide survival in the top flight.
Parker has left the club since, and at the start of July, Marco Silva was confirmed as the new manager on a three-year contract. His task will, of course, be to do whatever it takes to get the team back up as soon as possible.
There are a couple of new names in the squad that are supposed to help in achieving the goal. Attacking midfielder Harry Wilson has arrived from Liverpool for a reported fee of £12 million. Goalkeeper Paolo Gazzanigga has come in from Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer, and there are a couple of players returning from loans away from the club. On the other hand, goalkeepers Alphonse Areola (returned to Paris Saint-Germain before moving on to West Ham) and Marcus Bettinelli (Chelsea, free transfer) have left. Midfielder Stefan Johansen has been sold to Queens Park Rangers, and the contract of midfielder Kevin McDonald has expired. Winger Ademola Lookman, centre-back Joachim Anderson and striker Josh Maja have all left following the expiration of their respective loans.
In pre-season this summer, Fulham met with Charlton Athletic and recorded a friendly 1-0 win.
Gazzaniga is expected to come straight in and start ahead of Marek Rodak between the posts. Serbia international Aleksandar Mitrovic should be the man leading the line upfront, but midfielder Andre-Frank Anguissa could miss out with his future up in the air at the moment, with the club waiting to receive offers for his services.
Middlesbrough finished in 10th place in the Championship last season, in relative comfort as they managed to create a huge gap between them and the relegation zone, but like Fulham, they’ll be eyeing Premier League promotion this time around.
Arguably the most notable addition to Neil Warnock’s squad this term is 22-year-old midfielder Martin Payero, who has arrived from Argentinian side CA Banfield. The midfield ranks have also been strengthened by the acquisitions of Matt Crooks from Rotherham and Lewis Wing from Sheffield Wednesday, though the latter has been loaned back to his former club. At the back, goalkeeper Joe Lumley came in from QPR and right-back Lee Peltier from West Bromwich Albion. Upfront, Middlesbrough signed winger Sammy Ameobi from Nottingham Forest and striker Uche Ikpeazu from Wycombe Wanderers.
There were a few departures as well. Midfielder George Saville has joined Milwall, striker Britt Assombalonga has gone to Adana Demirspor, and striker Ashley Fletcher to Watford.
As part of the summer preparations, Middlesbrough beat Bishop Auckland by 3-0, Tavistock by 7-0, Plymouth Argyle by 2-1, and lost 1-2 to York City last week.
Crooks could make his competitive debut for the club, lining up behind Duncan Watmore and fellow newcomer Uche Ikpeazu upfront. Payero will still have to wait for a while, however; his international clearance is yet to be settled.
As always, the campaign-opening matches are hard to call in advance, but with a Premier League campaign just behind them, Fulham should be able to beat Boro and start the new season on a high.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 22/25
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