The last time Fulham were relegated from the Premier League, the club embarked on a summer firesale and were fortunate not to drop down another division. To date, the mass exodus that many might have feared following last season’s underwhelming tilt at the top flight hasn’t happened yet. Indeed, Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic have committed their future to Fulham – despite the drop.
The long-rumoured departure of Ryan Sessegnon hasn’t happened yet, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Daniel Levy is craftily plotting a miserly late raid to secure the teenage winger with minutes left in the transfer window. Today’s suggestion that Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa is close to making the switch to Spain may have raised a few eyebrows, especially as it leaves Fulham woefully understocked in a crucial position. Anguissa might have been a big disappointment last term, but the prospect of seeing him in the Championship was tantatilising – and possibly too good to be true.
We all know just how good Kevin McDonald can be at the base of a midfield. The Scotsman, arguably the true leader of the side that Slavisa Jokanovic guided to such unforgettable success at Wembley last May, has all the attributes to reprise his all-conquering role as a holding midfielder: reading of the game, an uncanny ability to intercept the ball and excellent passing from deep positions, but there is the nagging doubt that Father Time might just have caught up with McDonald. In terms of the senior squad, the only alternative to the former Wolves midfielder would be Ibrahima Cisse, who has scarcely featured for the first team in the past two years.
Parker’s pre-season preparation suggests that he is keen on adopting the 4-3-3 that brought Jokanovic so much success. In that system, the holding midfielder is crucial – both in terms of sitting in front of a fragile back four and giving the likes of Tom Cairney and, even the industrious Stefan Johansen, the license to roam dangerously in the opposition’s final third. With Fulham’s fragile defence, that screening role becomes all the more vital.
A goal differential of minus 47 leaves nobody in any doubt as to why Fulham were relegated. It is, therefore, somewhat surprising that, just over a week away from the big kick off in Barnsley, we are still awaiting defensive additions. Parker has plenty of possibles to pick from in central defence but nobody has made a compelling case to partner Alfie Mawson. Like McDonald, we will have to wait and see whether Tim Ream can reprise his outstanding 2017/2018 form. Even if he managed it, there would be a distinct lack of pace in Fulham’s back four.
The other position that desperately needs strengthening is right back. Fulham struggled to adequately replace Ryan Fredericks when he left for West Ham last summer. Fredericks’ pace was an asset in both boxes and neither Cyrus Christie or Timothy Fosu-Mensah pulled up any trees last season. Christie could be competent back in the Championship, but I feel it is time to bring in a fresh face to provide the proven quality we are currently lacking. Both Steven Sessegnon and Marlon Fossey are fine prospects, but it is asking an awful lot for them to come in and power a promotion push. If Anthony Knockaert is going to line up on the right flank, then right back becomes an even more critical position – as the Frenchman is probably not going to provide all that much protections.
As Frankie wrote earlier, the additions of Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro have sent a serious message to the rest of division. The prospect of a fluid front line of Knockaert, Cavaleiro and Mitrovic is truly mouthwatering – and all three of them have Championship pedigree. Plenty of Championship defenders will be worrying about facing one of the best front threes in the league. Reuniting the three musketeers in Cairney, McDonald and Johansen offers plenty of creativity and grit, which means the defence is the only area left to fortify.
There’s no doubt that Fulham will be entertaining over the course of this season, but a couple of late acquisitions can give Scott Parker the sort of squad depth that should be able to cope with a gruelling 46-match schedule. If a new right back and a centre half sign in the run up to the Barnsley game, then a promotion push is most definitely on the cards.