Fulham were one of the most active teams in the transfer market last summer following their return to the Premier League. The Cottagers had spent four years in the Championship, but Tom Cairney’s strike in the playoff final guided the club to victory over Aston Villa to secure their spot in the top flight. Owner Shahid Khan backed Slavisa Jokanovic in the transfer market, spending over £100m to acquire several new players for the campaign.
However, the investment failed to translate to performances on the pitch, resulting in the sacking of Jokanovic in November following a 1-0 defeat to Huddersfield Town on the road. Claudio Ranieri replaced Jokanovic in the dugout, and despite his pedigree, results have not improved. Fulham seem destined for an immediate return to the second tier. Their form, particularly away from Craven Cottage, has been an issue throughout the term, exacerbated by their defeat to West Ham, which extended their winless run on the road to 14 games. As a result, it would be no surprise to see them backed in the football tips of the day for an immediate return to the Championship.
There is quality in the team and Ranieri has shown in the past that he is more than capable to getting outstanding performances out of his teams – none more so than Leicester’s run to the Premier League title. Teams in the past have been in worse situations than the Cottagers’ – eight points adrift of safety at the time of writing, therefore it’s not completely unsalvageable and could be even worth to lay a bet against a pro to get a surprise win.
Fulham’s downfall over the course of the campaign has been their defence. No side in the Premier League has conceded more than the Cottagers this term. During their spending spree, attacking players were prioritised over their defensive counterparts. Alfie Mawson was the most significant addition costing £20m, but he has struggled with a number of injuries limiting his impact. Calum Chambers and Maxime Le Marchand have also been poor, while Denis Odoi, who was with Fulham during their promotion run, has not been able to cut it in the top flight. The Cottagers have only kept two clean sheets, having played three-quarters of the term.
Ranieri has done his utmost to try to resolve the issue, but the players at his disposal seem incapable of shutting teams out. They always seem to have a mistake in them – whether it’s conceding late against Tottenham or own goals against Burnley. Fulham were bullied at set-pieces against West Ham, while they were cut open with ease by Manchester United. It’s going to take a special effort to get the defence into gear otherwise Ranieri’s men will simply have to outscore teams to get the victories required to haul themselves out of trouble.
It has been the case in their triumphs over Burnley, needing four goals to see off the Clarets at Craven Cottage in August. Their victories over Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion were the same story, where the Cottagers needed to score three and four times respectively to secure the three points. Only their win over Huddersfield at home came by shutting out the Terriers, with Aleksandar Mitrovic’s stoppage-time strike delivering the victory.
Mitrovic has been impressive since his £28m move from Newcastle, scoring 10 goals this term. Andre Schurrle’s finishing in the final third has seen him notch six strikes. Other than that the Cottagers have been underwhelming. Given that the majority of the resources were committed to the attacking third, Fulham need more from their midfielders and strikers. Cairney has been a disappointment, while Jean Michael Seri and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa have been underwhelming to say the least. There is ample talent in the group, but they need to fire on all cylinders to produce a run of results to match escapes of the past produced by West Brom, Sunderland and Leicester.