In Focus: Palhinha looks right at home with Cottagers
Joao Palhinha has been a revelation since joining Fulham for what is turning out to be a bargain fee of around £17million.
With three goals in 16 league appearances under his belt, the Portugal international has established himself as one of the first names on Marco Silva's teamsheet.
The Cottagers currently sit eighth and have enjoyed seven wins in the current campaign, scoring 29 times along the way.
Ahead of their trip to Leicester tonight, we turn the spotlight on Palhinha who is thriving in West London.
Performing in big games
The Christmas period is always busy for Premier League clubs and it is easy to drop points when games are being played every two or three days.
But Fulham have recorded victories in both of their top-flight fixtures since the conclusion of the World Cup.
Palhinha helped his team keep a clean sheet against Crystal Palace on Boxing Day before scoring the winner against Southampton on Saturday.
His header in the 88th minute proved decisive following Aleksandar Mitrovic's penalty miss in stoppage time and the three points lifted Fulham into the top half of the table.
A James Ward-Prowse own goal had given the hosts a 1-0 lead before the midfielder made amends and levelled the scoreline early in the second half.
But Palhinha settled it after lurking at the back post for a corner and nodding Kenny Tete's flicked header into an empty net, giving Fulham a huge three points.
No player has made more tackles in the top flight (75) than Palhinha this season. In fact, nobody comes close to his contributions in that area, with Tyler Adams second on the list with 58.
The 18-cap international stands at 6ft 2in and throws himself about with force and desire — unsurprisingly coming away with the ball more often than not.
Consistency is what separates him from other defensive midfielders in the Premier League. Palhinha averages 4.76 tackles per 90 and wins 2.09 aerial duels each game.
As well as this, the former Sporting man commits just over one foul per 90 and loses 1.46 challenges, suggesting that it is rare for him to lose out in the middle of the park.
His duty under Silva is to prevent the opposition from breaking through the lines and his success is evidenced by his 17 recorded interceptions this season, ranking him 43rd in the league.
Although his performances may go under the radar, Fulham would not be in such a luxurious position without the midfield anchor.
Enjoy it while you can
Interest surrounded Palhinha before he eventually signed for Fulham in the summer of 2022.
Manchester City and Manchester United were both reportedly keen on the 27-year-old but lost out to the promoted side.
And although his work this year means that Fulham look set to finally break their curse and remain in the Premier League for the first time in a decade, Palhinha may end up sporting new colours in 2023.
The fee paid by the Cottagers will seem a bargain considering his rise in value over the last few months but that may not stop a top club from swooping in to reinforce their elite squads.
United will be thinking ahead to when Casemiro will need replacing and they will want to upgrade at least one of midfield duo Fred and Scott McTominay.
Furthermore, City may tempt the Lisbon-born midfielder, who would be unlikely to turn down the opportunity to play in the Champions League once again.
Relishing the opportunity
Palhinha has expressed his delight at the free-flowing, hard-hitting football that is played in the Premier League.
Speaking earlier in the season, he said: "You can actually make tackles here and I love that. It was one of the most important things behind my decision to come — the style of the play.
"In my head I just want to play the ball with intensity. This is why I like the league. Every game the players want to play the ball but with aggression and fairness.
"We want to play impressive football and have a good season. I think the club is building a very good team with a good spirit and that spirit is the most important thing we have.
"In football you can be very good tactically and technically but, if you don't have the attitude, the passion and the spirit it's hard to do good things."
Palhinha will be looking to help extend Fulham's run with victory over Leicester but will face a Foxes side who are fighting for every point this season.