Ulham’s lack of transfer activity has pissed Marco Silva off all summer, but in Joao Palhinha the newly promoted side appear to have nabbed a gem.
The £20m summer signing from Sporting Lisbon could hardly have asked for a tougher test on his Premier League debut, against a Liverpool side who went so close to a quadruple last season first visitors Craven Cottage Saturday.
But in a battle with the Reds’ Champions League and title-winning captain Jordan Henderson, the technical genius that is Thiago Alcantara and, most discouragingly, Fabinho, perhaps the most astute defensive midfield operator of the division, it was Palhinha who stood out, like the hosts. started the season with a deserved 2-2 draw.
Palhinha’s stature helps: at 6ft 3in, the 27-year-old looks much more like the mold of Tomas Soucek or Rodri than that of N’Golo Kante. He was dominant in the air and strong in the tackle. But, beyond the size, the Portuguese exuded a certain presence, rebellious in the face of a red wave that so often overwhelms, as Fulham gave the visitors a taste of their own medicine during the first half in particular, when Jurgen Klopp’s side struggled to work. the ball through the lines and got stuck.
Silva believes his compatriot is uniquely suited to the demands of the English game, although it should be noted that the Portuguese top flight provides increasingly fertile ground for English clubs.
“Joao, in the next games, weeks, months, will give more and more,” Silva said. “He has already shown his quality and adaptability. [The Premier League’s] almost perfect [style of] soccer for him.
Former Manchester United player Andreas Pereira also impressed on his competitive debut, but the fact that he and Palhinha are the only members of Silva’s starting XI not to have been relegated with Fulham two years ago years explained many of the manager’s grumblings. His squad remain short of numbers and quality and the 45-year-old was quick to point this out.
Fulham have thrown a lot at the transfer market wall in recent post-promotion campaigns and the fact that this is the third in five seasons says a lot about how little has stuck.
But the need is to do better, not less, and on the face of it Palhinha’s arrival shows that a club recently famous for dismal recruitment are capable of getting it right.