Starting a season in the EPL after a recent promotion should be one of the best times to be a football fan. Very few enter the fray without some scars from previous campaigns, however, and Fulham fans can be forgiven for scrutinising every move made by their board and management after getting it so spectacularly wrong last time. So what were the errors made last time, and what do they need to do differently this time around?
A season to forget but also to remember
There are two main ways that a club can practically relegate themselves before a ball has been kicked. The first was demonstrated perfectly by Norwich last season; despite leaking goals in the Championship, the club resolutely failed to shore up their defence despite preparing to face some of the most dangerous forward lines in the game. The results were oh-so-predictable. The Fulham board were equally as culpable the last time they were promoted to the promised land two years ago. They certainly could not be accused of skimping in the transfer market, and in fact spent over £100 million in the summer transfer window, the first promoted team to do that. The problem was where they spent that money.
There appeared to be no plan, no strategy that would result in a team capable of pulling together and performing in what is rightly called the toughest league in the world. The players they recruited may well be talented and indeed could go on to have glittering careers, but few, if any, had hardnosed experience of the ‘fighting in the trenches’ football that was required.
That season they had three different managers in the dugout and were relegated in the first week of April. They ended the season ten points from safety having shipped 81 goals. It is a season that most Cottagers would wish to forget, even if they are unable to, but the board certainly should not forget what went on. They need to ensure they do not make the same mistakes again.
They should make sure not to throw away everything that did work and has continued working since relegation. Mitrovic and Cairney will be vital, as will Norwegian captain Stefan Johansen who will need to draw on every bit of his international experience when he dictates things from the middle of the park.
Fulham fans and those following their international captain’s progress in Norway will be disappointed but perhaps not surprised to see the Premier League Odds on their chances of survival, but are there signs that they have learned from what went wrong before?
A Different Focus
The spending spree the club embarked on in the summer of 2018 was somewhat forced upon them. Though the club had just been promoted by playing attack-driven, vibrant football, much of the foundations of that side were loan players. When they returned to their home clubs, Fulham were left with the bare bones of a squad. That is not the case this season. They have holes that need filling, but it is far easier to find a player that fits in with a specific role, than just bringing in people wholesale and then hoping they can gel to make a team.
Another big plus this time is that in Scott Parker they have someone with a bit more defensive nous. Jokanovic had no EPL experience and seemed incapable of changing his side’s style of play to make them less vulnerable at the back. By the time Ranieri came in, the players’ confidence was shot to pieces – literally. Parker inherited a squad that was bordering on the shambolic and should be applauded from whatever passes as a hill in West London for the way that he has built and organised a squad and team that not only found its belief again, but managed to negotiate the play-offs and gain promotion.
Parker’s focus this summer has been on making his team less vulnerable, less brittle. Initial signs are encouraging, and with still a month of the window to go, Fulham fans should be confident that though achieving EPL safety is not going to be easy, at least this time they will be equipped to at least give it a fight. Check out our preview of the 20/21 EPL season.