Fulham released their new kits on Monday, marking the surest sign that the 2020/21 campaign is right around the corner. But the early-season optimism and excitement is dampened by a depressing realisation – Fulham will be facing Premier League attacks with a Championship defence.
Our current failure to meaningfully strengthen at the back is an inexplicable disaster. With just four days left before the Cottagers face Arsenal, we appear set to start the season with a squad that is simply not up to the task.
Perhaps most frustrating is that the need to significantly bolster our backline was clear for all to see from the very moment we clinched promotion. The centre-back and right back positions were areas of glaring weakness. Every supporter knew we needed to invest in those areas if Fulham were to avoid a repeat of our disastrous 2018/19 campaign.
Instead, with less than a week before we kick off our return to the Premier League, our options in the heart of defence remain appallingly weak.
Michael Hector is the best of the lot, but while his steady performances at the back steered us to promotion, he has never played a minute in the top flight. The other options are poor. Tim Ream, a true club legend, flailed in the Premier League in 2018/19, even after coming off a player of the season display in 2017/18. Now two years older, Ream will be hopelessly outmatched against the division’s best.
Denis Odoi was best at the right back position in the Championship last year, but was exposed two seasons ago and little suggests anything will change this time around. Rounding out the list is Maxime Le Marchand, whose cheeky chant cannot outweigh his kamikaze defending and Scott Parker’s assessment that he wasn’t good enough for the Championship.
And just this week, the centre-back ranks were thinned even further following Alfie Mawson’s season-long loan to Bristol City.
With the exception of Arsenal on the opening day, Fulham have a series of winnable fixtures in the first month and a half of the season. While the club very well may strengthen in the next month before the window shuts on October 5, it may come too late for the Cottagers to settle in the new signings and seize on crucial matches against the likes of Aston Villa, Leeds, West Brom, Crystal Palace, and Sheffield United.
Of course, Tony Khan and the recruitment department were dealt a tough hand this summer. In a season transformed by the pandemic, there was an absurdly short time span between the end of the 2019/20 season and the start of the 2020/21 season. Made even worse was Fulham’s promotion through the play-offs, granting us even less time.
To give Fulham credit, we have signed Antonee Robinson and are heavily linked with a number of right backs. But there can be no ignoring the dereliction of duty in a lack of centre-half reinforcements.
With a backline like this, Fulham will be heading straight back to the Championship. The Cottagers’ weakness last time out was our inability to stop goals going in, undone by individual errors and defenders who could not handle the Premier League’s elite attacks.
The sad reality is we are heading back into the lion’s den with an unprepared defence. In 2018/19, we were demolished. Two years later, the defence doesn’t look much better.
And for all the outrage at pundits predicting our relegation, the current state of our backline is reason enough for those dismal predictions. For now, it remains to be seen if the club can prove the doubters wrong in the coming weeks and address our defensive gaps before it is too late.