With one of the season’s most important games coming tomorrow evening at the AMEX Stadium, how should Fulham line-up to try and close the gap to Brighton and Hove Albion, one of our fellow relegation rivals?
Since Scott Parker first switched to a back five against Leicester, Fulham have seen an upturn in form, picking up eight points in nine Premier League games. This includes the Leicester win as well as draws against Liverpool and Tottenham, with some asking how we were unable to take three against them! The Whites have also given teams such as Manchester United and Manchester City a run for their money, putting in solid performances to be proud of. The team seems to have come a long way since Paddy Power paid out on Fulham’s relegation after just three games.
However, Fulham have also faced criticism whilst using this formation as they are seemingly unable to complete the job against relegation rivals, such as Brighton and Newcastle, taking just two points from the crucial games. What the 5-2-3 formation brings in defensive stability, it lacks in creativity.
When we play against bottom and mid table teams, the general feeling is that we are too cautious. The back 5 means that we lose the creative role that we have seen Cairney and Loftus-Cheek operate in at times over the season. The fast paced, fluid counterattacking style that has been implemented recently is perfect against the top teams who generally prefer to keep possession, winning the ball and quickly exploiting the space that they leave behind.
However, against the rest of the division, we should be looking for a win more proactively, controlling more of the ball. We should do this by adding an element of creativity into the side, switching to a ‘plan B’ four at the back formation that attempts to retain defensive stability whilst utilising possession better and disrupting their back line.
Therefore, assuming Parker’s pre-match assertion that “no new injury concerns have come out of the recent fixtures” is accurate, my line-up would utilise a full squad, minus the injured pair of Cairney and Kongolo or the suspended Robinson. However, it is worth noting that we are likely to see heavy rotation given the squad have just come back from the COVID outbreak, greeted with a congested fixture list against some of the league’s strongest teams, to which Parker said, “we are trying to repair the tired bodies”.
So, as Fulham prepare to play Brighton for the second time this season, what should the line-up be? This is mine:
This starting eleven would deploy Mitrovic to disrupt the strong Brighton back line with his size and strength whilst allowing him to knock balls onto the more mobile Loftus-Cheek, who would be operating as a False 9. Lookman and Decordova-Reid would operate as inverted wingers, crossing the ball into Mitrovic and crowding the box, whilst Loftus-Cheek waits on the edge of the box for any second balls.
They would also add an element of pace to the forward line, meaning that if Fulham shouldn’t squander counterattacking opportunities, as Lookman, Decordova-Reid and Loftus-Cheek can rush forward on the attack. They could also rotate positions across this frontline, similar to Liverpool’s attacking line.
I believe that this tactic would find a suitable role for Mitrovic – despite his confidence, form and fitness worries – who prospered against Leeds United with Onomah behind him and fast wingers on either side. This would dispel the argument that ‘the system no longer suits Mitrovic with its fast pace’, bringing the best of both worlds. Mitrovic may be able to battle Brighton’s big and strong defenders physically, that includes the 6’4″ Lewis Dunk, 6’3″ Adam Webster and a very familiar Dan Burn, who stands at a mighty 6’7″. Whilst Mitrovic could battle them physically, the inverted wingers may be able to exploit their lack of pace, creating the best of both worlds.
The midfield double-pivot of Anguissa with a box-to-box midfielder pairing with either Reed or Lemina would remain unchanged. This has been something of a strong point so far this season, with Anguissa’s physical and technical ability shining through as he wins the ball and makes runs from deep. Anguissa will also come up against Yves Bissouma, a player who he has drawn many comparisons to with a similar physicality and style playing a role best described as a ‘segundo volante’. Whilst Anguissa narrowly beats Bissouma on stats, this game is the perfect opportunity to compare them once again.
Finally, the back line would remain fairly unchanged, despite having one less man, with Aina simply being shifted onto the left from the middle. Aina has been deployed on the left side before, by Torino, either as a winger or wing-back, and offers a more defensively sound option than the beloved Joe Bryan, who often leaves large pockets of spaces for teams to attack into. This is crucial to try and eliminate as Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey will likely bomb down our left hand side and cause us great defensive trouble.
Unfortunately, this line-up is unlikely, due to likely-heavy rotation as well as some tactical stubbornness shown against smaller teams. However, it would certainly make a nice ‘plan B’ and one with which we could play with some more possession and dominate the game. It certainly would be nice to see Mitrovic fit back into the side somehow and find his feet.
The Norwegian international has not made a single first-team appearance this season having been left out of Scott Parker’s 25-man Premier League squad after the Whites had strengthened their midfield in the summer. Johansen had been vocal about his desire to play regular football and, having turned down approaches from Blackburn and Bristol City, has opted to make a short-term switch across west London.
The popular midfielder, a key part of Fulham’s two promotions from the Championship, has made 136 appearances and scored 21 goals since moving to Craven Cottage from Celtic for £2.5m in 2016. He will offer experience and energy to Mark Warburton’s midfield after Rangers lost the services of former Tottenham midfielder Tom Carroll, who is likely to miss three months after having surgery on an injured knee.
Johansen, who previously helped West Brom to the Championship play-offs when he was sent on loan to the Hawthorns in 2019, still has a further year to run on his Fulham contract. It is understood that there is no option to buy included within this loan deal.
Scott Parker struck a pessimistic note on the possibility of any Fulham signings before the end of the January transfer window, telling his pre-match press conference that it is ‘going to be difficult’ to get new players in.
The Fulham boss has principally targeted a new addition up front, having had to rely on Ivan Cavaleiro as a makeshift forward with Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic struggling for form and fitness of late. Ahead of a critical double header against relegation rivals Brighton and West Bromwich Albion, Parker admitted Fulham were finding it hard to secure a new arrival:
It is going to be difficult for us to be honest. We understand where we need to improve, we’re a team that have just come up from the Championship and the void to the teams who are established is huge. You need to try and be competitive, need to evolve and bring players in. At the same time the balance of expenditure and a realism of where you are is needed.
At this moment in time it is going to be a challenge for us. If that is the case I understand and we all understand the situation. I have a group here who have improved drastically. If we continue to do that we will give ourselves a chance.
One of Fulham’s major problems is the huge nature of their first-team squad. Parker confirmed that Stefan Johansen is expected to join Queens Park Rangers on loan, but wouldn’t be drawn on whether Jean-Michael Seri or Neeskens Kebano – both rumoured to be targets of other sides – will also be leaving before the deadline.
“Stefan will go there to play some games and get some football. I am expecting that to go through. Where we are in terms of players coming in, I’m not going to be brought into who exactly is going to go out. It is clear that the squad is quite big in terms of numbers. There is the option to some to go and get some game time. We’ll decide that in coming days.”
Parker recognises the importance of Wednesday’s trip to Brighton, who sit directly above Fulham in the Premier League table, but is refusing to characterise it as a must-win match.
“They are big. But I don’t think they are the be all and end all. There are still a lot of games, I feel we have a team here who can win two or three back to back. That’s the way I feel. We all understand these are big games. understand that it is a big game. The reason it’s a big game is because of where the two teams in the division. The longer the season goes on it becomes more intense. We’re halfway through, do I see this is the be all and end all and our fate is done? No I don’t.”
A clutch of Championship clubs are keen to offer Neeskens Kebano first team football if Fulham are open to letting him leave on loan before the end of the transfer window, according to reports this morning.
Football Insider says that several second-tier sides are ready to table offers to take the Congolese winger on loan, but Scott Parker and the Fulham hierarchy have yet to decide on his immediate future. The 28 year-old has only started one league game this season – he lasted 63 minutes of the opening day defeat by Arsenal – and his chances of further football at Craven Cottage appear remote after the Whites were knocked out of the FA Cup by Burnley last weekend. Kebano, who scored in the previous round at QPR, was a second half substitute in that defeat by the Clarets.
The likeable winger signed a two-year contract following Fulham’s promotion in August having scored five goals in as many games – and emerged as a surprise free-kick specialist – as Parker’s side triumphed in the Championship play-offs. Having slipped out of the first-team picture following the summer arrival of Ademola Lookman, Kebano will be looking to secure regular football to boost his international prospects with DR Congo battling to qualify for the delayed Africa Cup of Nations finals due to be held this summer.
He has scored 15 goals in 99 appearances since signing from Genk for £3.5m in August 2016, but has only started 35 games in over four years in London. Sheffield Wednesday have had several loan offers for Kebano rejected in recent seasons – and it remains to be seen if the winger will be one of the departures hinted at by Parker in his post-match comments on Sunday.
To say that Fulham are in a precarious situation would be a massive understatement. Ignoring yesterday’s terrible performance in the cup against Burnley, we have been much improved in the league, but with little to show for it. We now sit five points off Brighton in the position above us and have West Brom breathing down our necks. The next two games against the teams either side of us in the league are season defining. There is no escaping that. To be honest we are beyond being able to play well but not win. Those matches against Southampton, Brighton and Newcastle for example were real positive signs of Fulham moving forward, but we can’t afford slip-ups any more. Draws aren’t good enough anymore against certain teams. Win our next two games and the confidence will be back. Win one and draw/lose the other and the fear will still be lingering. Draw or lose them both and we are in full-crisis mode. That might sound like a bit of an overreaction, but given where we are in the table, we can’t afford to let the gap between ourselves and Brighton grow bigger. I fully believe that Newcastle will be in this fight as well, unless they make a managerial change soon, so it’s certainly not just the bottom four in the relegation mix right now.
Let’s start with Brighton. There is something very unbalanced about the Seagulls. They have some incredibly talented players in Trossard, Maupay and Lamptey but they don’t seem to have the right cohesion throughout the squad to sail away from their relegation fears. If he could sort his hot-headedness out, I’d quite like Maupay at Fulham. He could fill the large hole we currently have up front and is without a doubt will be a real danger man for them come Wednesday night. Last time we played them we were very fortunate to come away with a draw with two Brighton goals ruled out rightly for offside. In a pre-VAR world we would have lost that night. Brighton also have the benefit of a win at the weekend, albeit against lower league opposition in Blackpool. As they say, winning breeds winning, so their confidence will certainly be higher than Fulham’s will be based on yesterday’s display. They also won last time out in the league against Leeds, so this is a team in much better form than us. It’s therefore a great chance for us to bring them back down to earth with a bang by taking all three points off them on Wednesday night. After this game they face Tottenham Hotspur and then Liverpool so this is an opportunity for us to really put the pressure on.
As I’ve already alluded to, and pretty much on everyone’s mind at the minute, is Fulham’s lack of a goal scorer on form right now. I say that as I do believe that Mitrovic could still have something to offer us, but we absolutely have to get the service into him. Yesterday he barely had scraps to work off, so really what more could he do? He was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out in the first half as well. I’d like to see what he could do with Lookman and BDR on the flanks and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has been improving, just behind. We know Tete can deliver a good ball, and Bryan combined with Mitro plenty of times last season, so with those two in the wing back positions we could make Mitro a threat again. Defensively we have to be miles better than yesterday. Thankfully we won’t have to rely on Hector (what on earth has happened to him?) and Ream as Aina and Andersen should be back in after their weekend rest. The triple A team of Aina, Andersen and Adarabioyo has been exceptional since being put together so we need another big display from them tomorrow against a speedy attack.
I have no doubt that results will come from this side. We just need them to come sooner rather than later or it will be too late. Come on, boys. It’s time.
The Dutch defender had been missing since picking up a calf injury in the 3-0 defeat by Aston Villa back in October but returned to good effect at right wing-back in the narrow defeat by Chelsea earlier this month. He was pleased to bring his period on the sidelines to an end and told FFCTV that he was ‘almost there’ in terms of reaching full match sharpness:
“It was really hard for me to be honest. It was a long three months outside, pain every day but I did well. I think we played well, we deserved more, but individually I think I played well and I look back with a good feeling.”
Tete knows that Wednesday’s trip to Brighton is a big game, but feels Fulham can more than match the south coast side as shown in their goalless draw at Craven Cottage before Christmas:
“I think it will be a hard game, a tough game for us. They need points, we need points so it is going to be a battle. I think our defence is really solid and we have to keep improving that. We need to get some goals – we are working on that and I believe in this team.”
He stressed the togetherness of Scott Parker’s squad and feels Fulham have more quality to unleash in the coming weeks.
“We are all together. We speak a lot. We have a lot of quality in our squad. We believe in each other, we believe in the coach and everything has to fall into place.”
Fulham are among a number of clubs preparing an offer for in-demand Peterborough forward Siriki Dembele, according to reports this afternoon.
Football Insider claims that the Whites, Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest are all keen on signing the 24-year-old, who submitted a transfer request earlier this month. Dembele, who can operate as a conventional striker or on either wing, has scored six goals in twenty appearances for the League One side this season and has been a longstanding Fulham target.
Celtic are also keen on reuniting Dembele with his brother Karamoko at Parkhead and Old Firm rivals Rangers are reported to be monitoring his availability as well. Peterborough dismissed a £250,000-loan-to-buy approach from Forest last week and, although Dembele is keen to leave London Road by the end of this transfer window, Posh will be seeking a substantially improved offer to part with a player who remains in their first-team plans.
The 22 year-old has made twenty appearances for Argyle and has recently firmly established himself in the heart of manager Ryan Lowe’s three-man central defence, having initially broken into the side at left back. Lowe has been delighted with Opoku’s progress and told the Plymouth official website:
“We’re delighted to extend Jerome’s loan until the end of the season. It was always the plan, and he has done well and is working hard. He’s a good lad and a good player. On the occasions he has found himself out of the team he has come back stronger. He has made that position his own at the moment, and long may that continue”.
Opoku, who has previously captained Fulham’s under 23 side, spent last season on loan at Accrington Stanley, making 25 appearances. His current contract at Craven Cottage expires in the summer, but Fulham have an option to extend it by a further year.
The Fulham manager made eight changes from the team that were narrowly beaten by Manchester United in midweek but none of the newcomers pressed a claim to start this week’s crunch games at Brighton and West Brom. Burnley were in complete control from the off and booked a fifth round tie against either Bournemouth or Crawley courtesy of a brace from Jay Rodriguez’s and Kevin Long’s late third.
Parker was bitterly disappointed with Fulham’s tame showing, telling his post-match press conference:
“We didn’t deserve a result today. It was a tough game and we couldn’t match what we had to face today, we couldn’t deal with them. We fell very short of the standards we’re used to seeing. We all understood the challenges and we couldn’t deal with it too well and get a foothold in the game. Burnley were well worthy of the win.”
The Fulham boss was similarly pessimistic about the potential for new arrivals before the closure of the January transfer window, saying ‘I’m not sure that’s going to happen’. Pressed on potential outgoings, Parker admitted some fringe players may leave the club with Stefan Johansen’s rumoured departure for QPR on loan ‘a possibility’.
Scott Parker might have been very clear about where his priorities lie ahead of this FA Cup fourth round tie, but the Fulham boss can’t have been enamoured by this feeble display as his side were totally outplayed by a second-string Burnley side. The Clarets were in complete command from the off, with Jay Rodriguez ending a nineteen-match scoreless streak with a brace that put the game out of the Cottagers’ reach before Kevin Long ensured the scoreline more accurately reflected the visitors’ dominance with a late third.
Parker had spoken passionately in the week of growing up with the FA Cup but that Fulham’s perilous league predicament meant he would have to prioritise the two massive meetings with relegation rivals this week. Those games at Brighton and West Brom are arguably the acid test of whether his side, reshaped and competitive in the top flight as opposed to the cannon fodder that lost their first four fixtures, can mount a genuine survival bid. The manager’s call for fringe players to stake a claim for selection went unheeded as Burnley, carrying all the confidence that a win at Anfield provides, bossed the first half.
The only surprise was that it took Sean Dyche’s side half an hour to go in front. Michael Hector’s metamorphosis from the decisive figure who denied Cardiff with an incredible goal-saving tackle in last season’s play-offs to a doddery defender utterly devoid of confidence has been alarming and he endured an utterly miserable afternoon here. He could point to the heavy pitch, a consequence of the blanket of snow that covered west London this morning, as a reason for the untimely slip that would have allowed Matej Vydra to give Burnley an early lead save for an offside flag – but there was little mitigation for the rest of an error-strewn display.
The former Watford forward spurned a host of good chances to reward Burnley’s high-octane opening, miscuing wastefully wide after a speculative strike from Phil Bardsley had almost squirmed away from Marek Rodak. The Slovakian international did make a smart save to deny him moments later after Dwight McNeil had sent Vydra clear of a horribly square Fulham defence with a slide rule pass, but the hosts goal was leading a charmed life.
Their luck ran out just after the half hour mark when Jack Cork’s right-wing cross was gleefully glanced in by Rodriguez, who hadn’t scored since an equaliser against Liverpool way back in July. The one-time England international has happy memories of facing Fulham – having opened his Clarets account with a late winner against Whites in the League Cup in 2008 – and he was generously afforded the freedom of the penalty area by Hector to loop his header over a stranded Rodak.
Parker’s side, with eight changes from the team that had pushed Manchester United all the way in midweek, were passive and offered very little in the way of an attacking threat in the first period. Aleksandar Mitrovic could have done with his close range header not being ruled out for offside, but the Serbian still looks worrying short of his belligerent best, and neither he nor Aboubakar Kamara – paired together in a 3-5-2 formation that rarely troubled Burnley – offered Parker much of an incentive to start with them ahead of Ivan Cavaleiro on the south coast on Wednesday.
Fulham did at least start the second period at a far higher tempo with Joe Bryan’s raids down the left flank providing a sense of adventure that had been sorely lacking. The left wing-back came the closest to grabbing an equaliser being denied by a brilliant Bailey Peacock-Farrell save when an inviting cross from Bobby Decordova-Reid dropped onto his right foot. The Northern Ireland international reacted well to foil two follow-ups from Mitrovic at his near post, but rather than prompting a spell of Fulham pressure, the home side’s purposeful start petered out.
It was Burnley who looked the likelier to add another goal, although they were generously assisted by more calamitous Fulham defending. Ream lingered in possession thirty years from his own goal, was robbed by Vydra, who went too wide in trying to round Tosin Adarabioyo and Rodak, and Dale Stephens’ subsequent shot was blocked. But there was no escaping when a woeful piece of distribution from Ream allowed Vydra a clear run on the Fulham goal and Hector barged him unceremoniously to the floor. Rodriguez stroked the spot-kick down the centre of the goal and the away side had an unassailable lead.
A flurry of changes followed with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, impressive in the second half against Manchester United, producing a fine pass to set Kamara clear. The French forward was first denied by Peacock-Farrell’s fingertips before James Tarkowski got back to clear off the line just in time. Long added a third with nine minutes left, bundling home from inside the six-yard box after former Fulham trainee Johann Berg Gudmundsson had managed to kept a keep a lost cause alive. That commitment typified Burnley’s professionalism – and you have to worry about what impact this abject defeat will have on Fulham’s confidence heading into a pair of pivotal fixtures.