There is an exciting battle in west London this weekend which will have a huge say in the race for the top six in the Premier League as Brentford host Fulham at the Gtech Community Stadium.
It is almost three years since these two teams contested in the 2019-20 Championship play-off final in which former Fulham defender Joe Bryan caught out goalkeeper David Raya with a long-range free-kick to open the scoring in extra time, before doubling the score 12 minutes later. Henrik Dalmsgaard salvaged a late consolation goal at the death and the Bees were denied their first promotion to the Premier League.
And while Fulham secured a return to the top-flight at the first time of asking, it didn’t change their fortunes as they suffered another relegation back to the second tier the following season. That same season saw the Bees crack the formula for the play-off final as they triumphed over Swansea City 2-0 at Wembley Stadium.
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Despite leading the Cottagers back to the Premier League, Parker left the club by mutual agreement ahead of the 2021-22 campaign and owner Shahid Khan flew to Portugal to lure former Everton and Watford boss Marco Silva to the project that was about to unfold.
Over at Brentford, they made a fine impression on the Premier League with a stunning 2-0 victory over Arsenal on the opening day of the campaign and they continued to surprise the close-minded fans of the Premier League to finish comfortably in 13th, 11 points clear of the relegation zone.
Thomas Frank has been working wonders at Brentford since taking over the top job in 2018, having first acted as Dean Smith’s assistant. He has carried on the fine work from the coaches before him, as well as the support from one of the best recruitment teams in the world. No matter who they sell, they’re five steps ahead when it comes to procuring a replacement. Their system runs like clockwork and is incredibly efficient. From those in the English Football League who have witnessed their rise over the years, it came as no surprise to see them flourish once they reached the promised land.
At Craven Cottage, it seemed like Fulham were trying to learn a thing or two from their neighbours as they acquired Silva’s services and then started to be a lot smarter with their additions - showing they had learned from their mistakes back in 2018-19. A clear vision was in place which stemmed from the boardroom, into the dugout and onto the pitch. The team developed an identity and stormed to the Championship title under the Portuguese coach who helped his players reach new heights.
Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic had been a prolific goalscorer in the second tier but it was under Silva where his powers were enhanced. The forward netted 43 goals in 44 appearances last term, smashing the Championship record for a single season - previously held by Brentford’s Ivan Toney the year before.
Now both these west London clubs are in the Premier League together and both have established themselves as being able to tussle with the elite and they’re both in a strong position to finish inside the top six come May. They may have had different approaches in getting here but the reward has been just the same.
Sunday’s clash is a huge game for both teams because Fulham can give themselves some extra breathing room from their neighbours and could even climb as high as fifth in the table. As for Brentford, they can close the gap on Silva’s men to just one point and start to build some momentum in the closing months of the campaign. The stakes for this fixture have never been higher.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change