Fulham have had an awful lot of loanees lately, but it is hard to recall one who’s slotted in as seamlessly as Joachim Andersen. The Danish defender is more than just the critical piece in Scott Parker’s revamped rearguard – he’s a leader of serious stature as well. Vocal on the field, a calm and composed communicator who reads the game impeccably, Andersen’s importance to Fulham’s relegation battle was underlined by the fact he was handed the captain’s armband just four games into his Craven Cottage career and he has grown gradually in importance ever since.
Andersen’s partnership with Tosin Adarabioyo has blossomed into one of the league’s most successful. Before the pair arrived at Craven Cottage, Fulham had conceded eleven goals in four fixtures and looked like a basket case at the back. Oppositions were rampaging through a shambolic defence at will and relegation appeared a foregone conclusion. The task in front of Andersen and Adarabioyo – neither of whom had played a single Premier League minute – was considerable and yet they provided a reassuring sense of security from the outset, with the Whites grabbing their first point of the season straightaway at Sheffield United and a clean sheet against West Brom in their very next outing.
The dramatic metamorphosis to a more parsimonious presence at the back has continued over a longer period. Undoubtedly helped by Parker’s switch to a five at the back, Fulham have conceded just seventeen goals in the nineteen league games that Andersen has played in – with seven clean sheets. The latest of which, in the home win over bottom of the table Sheffield United, might prove to be the most crucial – lifting the Whites just three points away from safety. Adarabioyo leads the list of Premier League defenders for number of clearances, whilst Andersen himself is sixth. The Dane is second in the Premier League in terms of aerial duels won and tops the charts for number of interceptions in his own penalty area.
Andersen’s primary responsibility remains keeping the ball out of the net, something he has proven remarkably adept at, but his contribution to Fulham’s resurgence is far greater than mere defensive reassurance. In many ways, he’s the perfect fit for Parker’s own footballing philosophy. Comfortable with the ball at his feet, Andersen will regularly raid forward himself – he did it twice to great effect against the Blades – and frequently unlocks opposition rearguards with raking passes. One such marvellous through ball proved the difference last night, releasing Ademola Lookman into the inside left channel for the winning goal, but just as important have been his precise passes to find midfielders in space at the start of several Fulham moves. He was successful with 94 of them last night as Fulham passed the Blades into submission and rarely wasted a ball.
You sense the 24 year-old’s impact off the field has been just as transformational for Fulham’s fortunes. One of the greatest contrast between this team and the two that have been relegated from the top flight in the past seven years has been their resilience. Even when the situation seemed bleak, this side haven’t wilted. Much of that has to be down to the character of the individuals involved. Andersen, an organiser at every defensive set play, has impressed with his intelligence, professionalism and winning attitude which has clearly transmitted to his team-mates. In a relegation battle, these characteristics can represent the difference between success and failure. There’s simply no understating Andersen’s influence.