After earning promotion back to the Premier League, and a very busy transfer window, how will Fulham fare in their first season back in the top flight since the 2013/14 campaign?
Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic successfully led the Cottagers back to the Premier League after a 4-year absence from the top flight. The first two of Fulham’s campaigns in the Championship were utter disappointments, with the West London side finishing in the bottom half on both occasions. There seemed to be an emergence of creeping doubts as to whether Fulham would ever make it back to the top flight, particularly after the play-off semi-final heartbreak at the end of the 2016/17 season. Last season, however, was a different story, as Fulham embarked on a scintillating run of 23 games unbeaten, finishing 3rd and narrowly missing out on the illustrious automatic promotion spot after a wounding defeat to Birmingham City on the final day. Fulham were made to do it the hard way, defeating both Derby County and then Aston Villa on their quest to return to the Premier League.
Manager and Preferred Tactics
Slavisa Jokanovic began his managerial career in his home country with Serbian team Partizan Belgrade before enduring a spell at Muangthong United in Thailand. Since then, he has honed his coaching skills in Bulgaria, Spain, Israel and also briefly at Watford. His current position as Fulham head coach has arguably been his most successful. After steering the Cottagers away from Championship relegation, the Serb has guided Fulham to two top 6 finishes and has established himself as a true fan favourite at Craven Cottage.
In terms of tactics, Jokanovic doesn’t seem to remain faithful to one particular formation. Instead, he prefers to adjust his system to the type of players he has at his disposal. This Fulham side have thus far adopted a philosophy of intense pressing with quick turnovers. Following the signings Jokanovic has made so far in this window, we could see a Fulham team that plays expansive football in an attempt to best utilise the abundance of pace and attacking talent in this team.
Last season’s promotion back to the Premier League was a wonderful team effort from Fulham, but if one player who particularly stood out above his team mates had to be identified, it would have to be Ryan Sessegnon. After starting the season at left-back, Sessegnon’s goal scoring capabilities were revealed and the player has since adopted the left wing position, finishing the season with a total of 15 league goals – a truly breath-taking feat from an 18-year-old. The teenager has been linked with a move to bigger Premier League clubs, but for now it seems as though he will remain in West London where he will be keen to show that he is able to not only live up to his own hype, but also the relentless demands of the Premier League.
At the start of the 2017/18 season, Fulham named Tom Cairney as club captain and he has been instrumental in Fulham’s return back to the Premier League. In January 2018, Fulham rejected two offers from West Ham for Tom Cairney, which stood at £15m and £18m respectively, thus highlighting how integral he is to Fulham’s success. The decision to reject both offers proved crucial, as Cairney scored the only goal in the play-off final win against Aston Villa and was nominated for the Championship Player of the Season Award. Cairney is expected to play a key role this season and Fulham will need him to be at his best if they are to have a successful campaign.
So far this transfer window, Fulham have highlighted just why promotion to the Premier League is so invaluable at the moment, having reaped the rewards of the multiple millions awarded to them from current television deals. This was no better exemplified than by the signing of Jean Michael Seri from Nice for £27m – a player who had previously been linked with Barcelona and Manchester City. Seri’s performances last season weren’t quite as impressive as the mightily high standards he had set himself the season before, but from Fulham’s perspective, this transfer oozes ambition.
Other impressive signings include World Cup Winner Andre Schürrle on a two-year loan deal and the permanent signing of Aleksandar Mitrovic for a reported £22m. Schürrle will add pace and creativity and will hope bring the best out of Mitrovic, who scored 12 goals in 20 games for Fulham last season whilst there on loan. Together with Ryan Sessegnon, Schürrle and Mitrovic could really form a potent front three.
First and foremost, Fulham must survive the Premier League this season, particularly after the money spent during this transfer window. Fulham have been known for their attacking brand of football in the Championship, but a solid defence is absolutely crucial in the Premier League and this could be Fulham’s downfall this season unless further transfers are made. A successful and realistic return back to the Premier League would be a bottom half finish but comfortably escaping relegation, and with a manager such as Slavisa Jokanovic at the helm, there is no reason why this couldn’t come to fruition.