Fulham once again return to the Championship with expectations of an immediate promotion back to the Premier League, their journey begins at home against Neil Warnock's Middlesbrough, who have promotion ambitions of their own.
The Whites are under new management after Scott Parker departed for fellow promotion hopefuls Bournemouth. Marco Silva was selected as his replacement which has been received well by the Fulham faithful.
Middlesbrough have had a busy summer, with incomings and departures aplenty; amongst those coming in are exciting Argentine midfielder Martin Payero, burly forward Uche Ikpeazu and skilful winger Sammy Ameobi.
These new additions combined with a handful of exciting academy graduates have those associated with the club believing they can push for a play-off place this season.
Marek Rodak, who starred when the Whites were promoted two seasons ago, will likely return to the starting goalkeeper spot after serving as a backup to loanee Alphonse Areola during their Premier League campaign. However, new arrival Paulo Gazzaniga will also be vying for that spot.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa has been heavily linked with a move away but could still feature, or even start, on opening day. Highly-rated versatile winger Harry Wilson should make his debut after joining on a £12m deal from Liverpool.
Warnock is likely to start with a 3-5-2 system he has deployed throughout pre-season, with new arrival Ikpeazu in line to make his debut as a strike partner to Duncan Watmore up top, with Marcus Browne still recovering from a knee operation. Academy graduate Hayden Coulson is also unavailable due to Covid-19 protocols.
Matt Crooks could also make his debut in midfield while Warnock has a decision to make at right-back with three players in Anfernee Dijksteel, Djed Spence and Darnell Fisher all vying for the starting spot on Sunday.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream, Tete; Anguissa, Reed; Wilson, Cordova-Reid, Knockaert; Mitrovic.
Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Lumley; Fry, McNair, Hall; Dijksteel, Crooks, Howson, Morsy, Bola; Watmore, Ikpeazu.
Ones to watch
Fulham – Aleksandar Mitrovic
The Whites will be looking upon their Serbian target man to recapture his goalscoring form after another forgettable outing in the Premier League.
Therefore, all the eyes will be on the 26-year-old with Fulham's promotion aspirations riding heavily on the Serbian's goalscoring form coming into this season.
Middlesbrough – Jonny Howson
Midfield stalwart Jonny Howson was handed the captain's armband in February of this year and looks to be reassuming that role for this campaign.
The 33-year-old played 41 league matches last season in several positions for Warnock's side.
His versatility, experience, and leadership will be key this season as the Teesside club looks to improve on their 10th place finish last time out.
Fulham are undefeated in their last five encounters with Sunday's opponents, with their previous meeting back in January 2020 where the Cottagers ran out 1-0 winners on home turf.
Anthony Knockaert's early strike was all that separated the sides on that occasion; it is one of only two goals that have been scored in the last three games between the two sides.
Middlesbrough's last victory against Fulham came back in February 2016 at Craven Cottage with early goals from Albert Adomah and Grant Leadbitter enough to secure victory.
Despite their poor recent form against West London opponents, Middlesbrough have the better head-to-head record with 29 wins overall compared to Fulham's 26, with 12 games ending in a draw.
This 13:30 kick-off will be live and available to watch on Sky Sports Football; coverage begins at 13:00. Alternatively, you can follow the action live on VAVEL with text commentary available throughout the game.
What the managers have said
Newly-appointed Fulham boss Silva spoke of his excitement in beginning his managerial reign at Fulham and his desire to leave a mark on the club, which he admittedly failed to do at his previous employers in England.
"You can speak about many things around football," said Silva. "But the main thing is always the results. Our aim as a club is clear - we want to fight to be in the Premier League, but many clubs want the same," he said.
"Those that have just been relegated are always talked up as being in the mix to be promoted, but there are many examples in the past where that hasn't happened. We have to be strong, and in terms of our philosophy, we are learning something new every season.
"We have to try to be a consistent team and try to get the best out of our players. It's something we've managed to do at previous clubs. I like playing offensive football, but we have to have a balance.
"We want to play attractive football but to win games in the Championship; you need the desire and commitment. That's the main thing." [Via skysports.com]
Middlesbrough gaffer Warnock spoke about the club's summer dealings and his excitement heading into a new campaign with a young squad.
"We're a bit thin on the ground at the moment," Warnock explained. "But they're a good group of lads. We've got to try and have some fun this year.
"We’re looking to have a good go, and we’re hoping to get a few more lads in before the window closes.
“Sammy hasn’t trained; he has an injury at the moment which doesn’t look good.
“Other than that, the lads that have come in have done really well. They are not glamorous signings, but they are what you call bread and butter signings.
“Two or three others we’ve been close to a few times, and I’m sure we’ll get them before the end of the window.
“It’s just an exciting time, and I think everyone is really looking forward to it.” [Via gazettelive.co.uk]