With plenty of European leagues resuming to action, the EFL Championship will be the latest to follow suit this weekend with much to play for on both ends of the current table.
Fulham are seeking an immediate bounce-back to the English Premier League after suffering relegation a season ago. Led by U.S. Men’s National Team defender Tim Ream, Scott Parker’s side are third in the Championship table and remain alive in the race for automatic promotion with nine matches left to play.
Saturday’s opener for the London club comes in the form of a local derby against fourth-place Brentford at Craven Cottage, a match which is the first of several tough test for Fulham in the remaining matches.
“It’s a lot to take in at once, but overall we’re looking forward to playing games again,” Ream said in a Zoom interview for the club’s website. “We want to get back out there and do what we love to do. It’s been a long time coming, 10-11 weeks now. It’s going to be strange with no fans there at a derby match, but the intensity will still be there. We know what’s at stake and we have nine games to get where we want to be.”
Ream and the rest of the first-team squad have been back in full training for over a week while still taking part in social distancing protocols. The 31-year-old veteran has made 35 league appearances for Fulham this season, helping them to a fourth-best defensive record in the league so far.
Fulham has a tough road in the final nine matches, facing four of the current top-six clubs including Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion, who are ahead of them by a decent margin. The positive though is that should they go on a good run of form, they have a strong chance of earning automatic promotion and avoiding the playoffs later this summer.
“We all knew the run-in over the final matches was going to be tough and where it could put us in the table if we did well or not,” Ream said. “To play four games against teams in the top-six in the final nine matches, that is a tough run-in, but it is a blessing since we control our destiny. We also need some help to go our way if we want to finish in the automatic spots.”
This weekend’s date with Brentford is the final meeting between the two sides for the time being, with the visitors earning a 1-0 result back in December at Griffin Park. Brentford has won three of their last six head-to-head meetings with Fulham never earning a home win over their rivals in Championship play.
Fulham will need to be strong and focused in their first match back, hoping to remain in touching distance of the top-two by weekend’s end. Although the club was unbeaten in four straight prior to the pause, Ream is expecting a highly-contested derby showdown in the club’s first test over the final month-and-a-half.
“I don’t expect it be any different from the first meeting,” Ream said. “Every time we play them it’s always going to be a difficult match. I remember the promotion year we had a 2-2 draw with them late in the season, it was a bitter pill to swallow there. They are a possession team who like to get the ball to their wingers and attack the opposition’s fullbacks. It’s a juicy one, but it will also be a challenge.”