Pre-season is getting closer for a Fulham team preparing for the Premier League for the first time in four years, and so far we have had no incomings at the club. It is far too early to hit the panic button, but I’m sure many fans have been wondering who the first player through the door will be, and when it is going to happen. In my last ‘Strengthening Season’ article I focused on the goalkeepers, but this time it is the turn of the defence to go under the microscope. The point of these articles isn’t to speculate on the names who may or may not be brought into the club, but is to assess what shape the squad is in already. What players already in our ranks should be involved in our Premier League campaign?
The thing that scares me about Fulham’s squad right now is just how thin we are on the ground. Right through the squad we have massive gaps which will need to be addressed before we kick off against Crystal Palace. Fulham have relied heavily on loans in the past number of seasons but the problem with this is that when it comes to the end of the season, we all of a sudden realise that we don’t have an awful lot of players who are actually ours! Ryan Fredericks left for West Ham quite early on in the summer, so we now actually only have four first team defenders in the squad. Player of the Season Tim Ream, play-off semi-final hero Denis Odoi, Janurary buy Cyrus Christie and flop Marcelo Djalo. I’m stating the obvious when I say that this needs addressed.
Who of these four can make a difference next season? Who should be kept for numbers and squad rotation? And who should be saying goodbye?
Fulham’s Player of the Season and probably one of the most under-rated Championship players last season. Despite a rocky first season on the banks of the Thames, Ream became the first name on the team sheet this season past. I’m pretty sure that he won every single header in the Play-off Final against Aston Villa, and he is the sort of leader that you need in the centre of defence. I 100% expect him be starting against Crystal Palace bar injury. He has already played in the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers back in 2012, and with International experience dating back to 2010, we shouldn’t worry about him being able to perform in one of the best leagues in the world.
This is where things get a bit trickier. Odoi made the second centre back position his own after Tomas Kalas got injured, and he eneded up being a better fit than the Chelsea loanee in Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham. We is good with the ball at his feet and enjoys a run forward, but I feel that his lack of height would be exploited in the Premier League. I absolutely think that Odoi should stay in and around the squad, but we need a bigger, stronger centre back to come in and partner Ream. I would be concerned if we had no choice but to have an Odoi-Ream centre back pairing come the start of the season.
The Irishman looks to be a ready made replacement for Fredericks and was brought in with the knowledge that Fredericks would be off. He is quick, and loves getting forward- all the things that Slav wants in his full backs. I hope he is better defensively than Fredericks was though, because I think that he was rather suspect in that department! In the Premier League we aren’t going to get to fly forward anywhere near as much as we did in the Championship so we need our defenders to be disciplined. Christie may cut it, but I think we need more cover in that position and I would rather go for someone who we know can make the step up to the Premier League and have Christie as a back up.
The Spanish defender made just four appearances for Fulham last season, with his two starts coming in the League Cup. He was barely Championship standard and won’t be playing in the Premier League for us.
So there we have it. We have one player in our ranks who I reckon is a starter and two who could be in and around the squad for the season but who I wouldn’t really want to have to rely on heavily. I have no doubt that players will be brought in in the coming weeks and I’m confident that between Tony Khan and Slavisa Jokanovic the right people can be found.