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Fulham: why Jokanovic’s defence simply must improve

Fulham made history earlier in the season by being the first team to spend over £100 million during the summer transfer window immediately after being promoted from the Championship to the Premier League.

The Cottagers brought in some real talent during the window, including the familiar names of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre Schurrle, as well as introducing some new players to the Premier League such as Jean Michael Seri. While these new signings have been delivering the goods for Fulham, it’s hard to tear your attention away from the fact that Fulham have conceded the most goals in the Premier League this season – 21 in total, giving an average of just over two and a half per match.

The newly-promoted club are yet to retain the same defensive line-up in consecutive Premier League games which doesn’t allow the back line to gel and understand eachother. Is this simply a rotation system implemented by Slavisa Jokanovic, or is the Serbian manager struggling to find a solid system at the back?

Marcus Bettinelli, a talented young shot stopper who was recently called up to the England squad, is yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League. The 26-year-old has been called upon to make a host of great saves this season, but even the best keepers cannot single-handedly prevent a thrashing every game.

Since Fulham’s goalkeeper impressed Gareth Southgate enough to represent the national team, there must be something less than impressive going on at the back. It is evident from Fulham’s last two games where the area of weakness seems to be, and that is straight down the middle – the centre-backs are having trouble defending their goalkeeper. After shipping five against Arsenal and three against Everton, problems are continuing and need to be addressed with urgency.

Denis Odoi, who has played in all of Fulham’s last six matches, has been paired with just about every other centre back the team has to offer with none of these partnerships being a success in stopping the goals. The central defenders struggle to close down the attackers and often fail to get a foot in when the ball is in their box, which inevitably leads to conceding goals.

With some recent injuries to some of their defenders, things have got even worse for the Cottagers – eight goals in two games against have left Fulham with a sore goal difference of negative twelve. If Fulham continue in this way their negative goal difference could come to haunt them at the latter of the season. In their most recent match against Arsenal, Jokanovic deployed an interesting system that involved three centre-backs (Odoi, Ream, Le Marchand). Whether this was a response to the amount of goals conceded from central positions, or just a way to make the most of the limited resources at his disposal, we all know that it didn’t work and the Gunners thrashed Fulham 5-1.

The Whites may need to splash out a bit of cash during the January transfer window, even after they spent so much in the summer. A little more quality in defence could turn Fulham into a formidable team, since scoring themselves is not something they’ve found too difficult this season. Nine goals in eight games is not bad going for a newly-promoted club and there is plenty for fans to be optimistic about.

Fulham’s next challenge comes in the form of Cardiff City, followed by crucial matches against Bournemouth and Huddersfield. Two of these teams are the joint lowest scorers in the league, presenting an opportunity for Fulham to get themselves on the right side of the scoreline and start climbing up the table.

Harry Mahon

90maat's team correspondent for Tottenham Hotspur, graduate of Loughborough University and current student at the University of Surrey.

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