What fantastic news it was seeing that Marcus Bettinelli got the call-up for England last week. It’s great experience for him, and a credit to him in that he got the call despite not even playing in our first two games. I said to his Dad Vic that he just needed to get his head up and work hard to keep his place once he did get back in, and he’s got his just rewards for that. He’s a great lad and a really good communicator, which is so important for goalkeepers.
Working with the likes of Jordan Pickford and the England goalkeeping staff will have been invaluable for Marcus, and it will also allow him to see where he’s at. He might have spent that week there and come away thinking he’s maybe not that far behind someone like Pickford. The whole experience will also have given him confidence, and that’s something that you cannot underestimate. That’s especially the case for goalkeepers in teams like England and Fulham who play the way we do out from the back, because they will make mistakes and it’s just a case of getting on with it.
Marcus worked with Gareth Southgate at Under-21 level, so there will already have been that level of trust there. Several members of the senior squad are young lads that Gareth already knew and has brought through, so that can only bode well for the future with Marcus. Gareth will already know what he’s all about, and most importantly what his character is like.
Another individual who enjoyed the recent internationals was Aleksandar Mitrović, who scored twice the other day for Serbia. That’s exactly what you want. The last thing you want is your striker going away on international duty and having a stinker, because that can dent his form when he comes back. Mitro’s gone away and kept his run going, which is great to see. I played with some top strikers in my time, and the best ones thrived on confidence as it kept them scoring goals and on a roll.
The lads who weren’t called-up went away to Spain for a training camp. I think the warmest weather we got in my day was Bournemouth! We never really went away mid-season but I definitely see the merits of the lads going off to Murcia. We signed so many new players this summer, and the ones who arrived late wouldn’t have gone away on pre-season, so this was a good opportunity for team bonding. The more you’re together, the thicker you become and the better the understandings get.
Next up is the small case of Manchester City away. Some teams try and shut up shop at the Etihad, but I can’t see Fulham playing any other way than the way we know, and that’s fairly similar to City’s style. I don’t think Slav wants to play any other way, and I reckon the team are so acclimatised to that, that they wouldn’t change for anyone.
Like most people, I’ve watched a lot of Man City in recent years. I know they’ve got incredible squad depth, but it’s always better to play them when they’re without Kevin De Bruyne, so that’s a positive going into Saturday. I do think we can get at them because they can leave themselves a little bit open at times or be a tad over-confident at the back, so that’s what we’ve got to look at. When the ball goes up to Mitrović, we’ve got the get the ball to stick as often as possible, because we don’t want to be defending in our own half for 90 minutes.
We may be heading to the home of the champions, but you’ve always got a chance when you’ve got an in-form striker leading the line. Whether it’s Kompany, Stones, Laporte or Otamendi he’s up against, Mitro is going to fancy his chances. But when you’re playing a side like Man City, it’s all about getting support to the striker, because it’s easy for them to become too isolated. Even though we’ll be playing our football, City press so high and so quickly that your forward players can become isolated. We’ve got to be brave, and get players in and around Mitrović when he does get the ball.
City are playing Lyon this coming Wednesday, so they’ll have that in the back of their minds. Pre and post-Champions League is always the best time to catch the top-four, because without a doubt they’ll either have one eye on the game coming, or be recovering from the one just gone. I’m not saying it’s going to make a huge difference, but we need to try and make the most of every advantage we can. I’ve been covering the Premier League for a long time now and it does happen; you sometimes see players conserving energy thinking about the next match, so if that’s the case on Saturday then we need to make the most of it.
Finally, I’d like to wish George Cohen a speedy recovery because I heard he had a fall recently. Anyone who’s met him knows he’s one of the nicest men in football. Sometimes that sort of comment is overused, but not in George’s case because he’s a top guy. Let’s hope he’s back at the Cottage soon!