It’s been a strange couple of months for Fulham, December started with a disastrous trio of defeats to play-off chasing rivals in Bristol City, Preston and Brentford as Scott Parker’s position was teetering in the eyes of many. A win over Leeds felt like a job saver and Fulham have gone on to lose just one of the seven matches since Christmas. An odd result at home to Reading is the anomaly of the purple patch but still raises legitimate questions about Fulham’s potential to win games when they go behind (they’ve only won one of the twelve matches they’ve conceded first, losing eight and drawing the other three).
But the Whites have still managed to win four of their last six and most notably, three of the four wins have been by a goal to nil, a scoreline that has recently felt unattainable to hold once the last flurry of pressure comes from the opposition. People have noted that reasons for this include Kevin McDonald’s reintroduction into the Fulham team alongside the incoming Michael Hector, and whilst both have had a positive impact, it doesn’t count for the 1-0 win at Stoke on the final game of 2019 where neither were in the squad.
There appears to be a mentality change, at least when Fulham are ahead in games. They seem more intent in protecting Marek Rodak (who by the way, has earned the number one shirt, he’s played just 36 minutes more than Marcus Bettinelli but made more than double the saves – 43 to 21). This more resolute Fulham side have (largely) not lost the core aspect of their philosophy in the process, Stoke had Jack Butland to thank for the game not being out of sight by half time and Jonathan Woodgate would have been delighted that by half-time, Middlesbrough were still within a goal of a result.
Now I don’t want to just dismiss the influence of both Kevin McDonald and Michael Hector. Whilst McDonald doesn’t possess the mobility of either Harry Arter or Harrison Reed, his size and positional discipline creates somewhat of a third centre back. Scott Parker spoke following the Hull game how important he felt it was to have at least five behind the ball with McDonald influential. Hector on the other hand, has brought a serious smooth feel to the defence. He may not have the distribution ability of either Tim Ream or Alfie Mawson, but I think you can safely argue that he’s perhaps the purest ‘defender’ we’ve had at the centre of defence for a long time. That circa £7m initially felt an overpay, but it may not end that way. Could the Aston Villa – Fulham comparisons continue? Is Michael Hector our Tyrone Mings? Only time will tell…
Scott Parker will be pleased that his side has picked up winning form and in January his options are growing despite the disappointment of losing talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic for a few weeks. With Michael Hector becoming eligible and Terence Kongolo joining Fulham on loan from Huddersfield, Scott Parker has the centre back depth to play three at the back on a regular basis if he wished with personnel allowing him to play that with five or four across midfield opening up the potential of a striking partnership (of which we haven’t seen at Fulham since Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele) or the current front three. I know a lot of people don’t like a 3-4-3/3-5-2 but I grew fanatical after watching Antonio Conte’s Juventus side manage to dominate the middle of the park but also cause issues thanks to the two up top. Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio were energy bunnies ahead of Andrea Pirlo that allowed them do the leg work for him, get up the pitch to support the forwards and come back to support the wing back on the outside.
The FA Cup
I got sidetracked there admittedly, but I thought the timing of this piece was ideal. I’m sure we can all agree that an FA Cup game away to Manchester City doesn’t mean in a thing in the grand scheme of things this weekend. Fulham and Scott Parker can only ‘win’ by knocking out the reigning Premier League champions (or taking them to a replay). In fact, I quite enjoy these games because it’s the peak of what we’ll be up against all season. Even against poor Port Vale, Pep Guardiola started with Joao Cancelo, John Stones, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Sergio Aguero; so I’m sure we can expect no less, especially given the title race is over and this is an opportunity for silverware.
Permanent loan moves
It’s been a while so why not turn this into somewhat of a longer piece? Fulham have reaped the rewards of including options to buy in their loan business this past summer. Triggering the option for Ivan Cavaleiro opened up a match day loan spot for Terence Kongolo to come in and beef up our backline whilst news broke yesterday that Tony Khan has also made Bobby Decordova-Reid a Fulham player permanently and you presume that’s to open another potential loan spot for a forward given the injury issues at the top of the pitch for Fulham that were evident against Charlton in midweek. It probably would’ve been cheaper to pick Harry Arter or Harrison Reed for permanent moves, credit to Tony for going for who has impressed most. Whilst I dislike his “I’m bloody brilliant, aren’t I?” attitude when announcing transfers, perhaps (just perhaps) Tony Khan is learning on the job.