“My team is like an orchestra. To play the symphony correctly I need some of the boom boom boom, but I also need some tweet and sometimes the tweet and boom go well together. Sometimes all you can hear is the boom, sometimes only the tweet. That is not good music.”
Claudio Ranieri was the orchestrator of Leicester’s classical music in the 2015/16 season. The affable Italian waved his conductor’s baton on the touchline of the King Power Stadium like a scholar; etching the Foxes’ name into the footballing history books in possibly one of the most extraordinary feats in all of sports. 21 months after being unceremoniously relieved of his duties at Leicester, the veteran gaffer is back in the Premier League; bestowed the task of reviving downtrodden Fulham – who haven’t won a league game since August in their 4-2 win over Burnley. Can Ranieri lift the Cottagers well clear of the relegation zone? Or are we all looking upon his appointment with rose-tinted, Ranieri-esque spectacles?
One key area that Ranieri undoubtedly brings to the Fulham dressing room is boosting the team morale and charisma of outstanding players that have looked lacklustre in recent games. With Slaviša Jokanović at the helm, it looked evident through mundane performances after their 3-0 loss to Everton, from the likes of André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Jean Michaël Seri, that the Serbian had lost the confidence of his new-look Fulham side due to an attractive brand of football that struggled to adapt to the top-flight.
Their flaky defensive tactics did not help Jokanović’s cause as he leaves the Whites having conceded a total of 31 goals – the highest of any side by a considerable amount. Ranieri’s magnetic personality is the obvious choice to rejuvenate a subdued Fulham side, a man whose encouragement and tactics made Marc Albrighton look like Pavel Nedvěd for a season and a man who created a defensive partnership consisting of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth that was one of the most formidable in the league. Claudio could be the shot of adrenaline in Fulham’s arm that allows the high-standard of names at Craven Cottage to play at their full potential.
“I’m unsure [if Ranieri can keep Fulham up this season]. We’re more than capable as a manager and squad, it’s down to the players buying into a new philosophy. We can compete in this league but lack the mentality we showed last season. Honestly, I’m just unsure. Ask me in three months!” – Christian Paul, Fulham fan
Tactically, Ranieri has become synonymous with either a 4-4-2 formation that was slightly staggered in attack – the set up that won Leicester the title – or a 4-2-3-1 layout which he has utilised at other clubs; the former of which could completely change the proficiency of this season’s Fulham side. Jokanović, whilst prone to editing his preferred formation in times of desperation, favoured a 4-2-3-1 set up – that could morph into a 4-3-3 with the wingers advancing – with Aleksandar Mitrović as a sole striker.
Mitrović has proven himself as a prolific striking option in the top flights of English football who thrives with balls into the box or balls to his feet as a strong target man, something that seemingly hasn’t been utilised this season. On the expectation that Ranieri would implement a 4-4-2 formation, Mitrović would be accompanied by Luciano Vietto in his natural forward position which would allow for interplay between the two strikers and an ever more counter-attacking threat with Vietto staggered ahead of Mitrović in a similar way to how Vardy was partnered with Okazaki under Ranieri at Leicester. Vietto playing more centrally also allows for formidable wingers such as Ryan Sessegnon and André Schürrle to play more prominent attacking roles in an attempt to feed the strikers, as well using their quality to score the goals too.
Away from the attack, the ever-present Tom Cairney and the imposing name of Seri are more than apt to occupy the centre of the pitch and will be expected to work a lot harder than previous performances have shown. This is especially the case for Seri as if Ranieri is to refine Fulham’s defence, the Ivorian will need to press a lot harder and cut oppositional passing lanes to not leave Denis Odoi and his defensive partner (most likely Alfie Mawson) isolated as they have been for numerous goals that Fulham have conceded this season. Apart from Cyrus Christie and Odoi who have seemed to put in a shift as apart of the Cottagers’ back-four, Claudio will be expected to browse the market to tighten the nuts and bolts of his defence and bulk up Fulham’s defensive repertoire of players.
Whilst Claudio Ranieri has been known to work miracles in the Premier League, steering the damaged ship of Fulham is still a demanding task for a manager that is entering his 33rd year of management. For an orchestra to make profound and spectacular music, all areas of the ensemble have to be working tirelessly from the intricate violins in attack to the intimidating and booming percussion instruments in defence.
Fulham’s orchestra may be tumultuous at this point in the season, but Claudio Ranieri is now the man wielding the baton and safety is his number one concern.