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Reed and Tete in as Fulham face Leicester

Scott Parker has shaken up his Fulham side as they bid to make up lost ground in the relegation battle against Leicester City at Craven Cottage tonight.

Parker is seemingly sticking with his 5-2-3 formation, which he first introduced to great effect at the King Power Stadium earlier this season, with the Whites desperate for a third win of the season. The starting line-up shows two changes from the side who spurned valuable points against relegation rivals West Brom at the weekend. Mario Lemina has been dropped to the bench in favour of Harrison Reed in the deeper midfield role – which isn’t all that surprising as the pair have interchanged as like-for-like replacements for much of this campaign.

The second change is more eye-catching. Parker has left Fulham’s top scorer, Bobby Decordova-Reid, to the bench. The Jamaican international has scored five league goals so far this term, the last of which was the opener in Fulham’s impressive first half at the Hawthorns on Saturday. He has been replaced by Kenny Tete, a natural right back, recently returned from a calf injury.

Perhaps this is a move to exploit Tete’s crossing ability with Mitrovic back in the side as he curled in a fine ball for Mitrovic to head across goal in the home victory over West Brom earlier this season. It might mean Decordova-Reid could be introduced in a more offensive role off the bench and there is always the possibility that the versatile former Bristol City man may need a rest having played in eighteen of Fulham’s twenty league games so far this season.

Fulham’s defence should consist of Tete at right wing back, with Ola Aina alongside Joachim Andersen and Toisin Adarabioyo and Antonee Robinson continuing at left wing-back. Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa will play alongside Reed in central midfield, with Ademola Lookman and Loftus-Cheek operating in the wide areas. Mitrovic, excellent against West Brom, starts up front with the emphasis on improving Fulham’s goal return.

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Leicester are somewhat injury-hit, missing six potential starters through injury. Wesley Fofana and Timothy Castagne suffered hamstring problems in the defeat to Leeds, whilst Jamie Vardy and Wilfred Ndidi are nursing long-term injury issues. Brendan Rodgers’ men appear to be starting in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with captain and Danish international Kasper Schmeichel in goal, with Evans and Soyuncu starting ahead of him in the central defender roles. At left back is ex-Luton defender James Justin, with Ricardo Pereira back in at right back. Hamza Choudhury replaces Ndidi in the holding role with Youri Tielemans. In the advanced playmaker role, Fulham will face England international James Maddison, with Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez on either side. In the absence of Jamie Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho will start in the centre forward position.

What do you think of the line-ups for this evening’s game? Do you think Fulham must take something from this in light of Leicester’s injury crisis?

What can Fulham learn from Brentford?

Let’s talk about every Fulham fan’s favourite team. Brentford. Yes, Brentford. The plucky outfit from down the road that has risen from the depths of League One to the brink of the Premier League over the past decade, despite regularly selling their best players. What is the key to their success? And how can Fulham learn from it?

First of all, to understand the key to Brentford’s success, you must understand game theory, as well as how it is applied to football business. In simple terms, game theory is the mathematical analysis of decision making in competitive circumstances. You don’t really need to know much more than that, but you’ll have to understand how it affects a football club and how the operate.

Off of the pitch, game theory can be applied to football clubs in one-off events, such as the negotiation of a transfer or a contract, as well as the entire outlook on football which a club possesses and how that impacts upon their strategy.

In Fulham’s case, the club has a ‘finite’ game theory. That is a short-term strategy focussing on the event at the end of the season. Namely, promotion to or survival in the Premier League. Therefore, the club takes actions based on these objectives, such as 2018/19’s high transfer spend and then sacking of both Jokanovic and Ranieri in an effort to avoid the drop. However, as we are finding out now, this is detrimental for the future.

This is because Fulham are caught in a cycle caused by the huge broadcast revenues in the Premier League and the relative financial poverty of the Championship. The massive returns that come with being in the Premier League mean that the top flight regulars are comfortably established. Promoted clubs often find that they must spend big to be able to compete. Otherwise, in the cases of Norwich and SC Paderborn, they will spend little instead recouping the one-off top-flight revenue in order to build for the future.

If the promoted clubs who spend big fail to survive, they become trapped in an ongoing ‘yo-yo club’ cycle, as their costs are too high for the Championship and therefore must focus on a short-term plan of promotion back to the Premier League to avoid financial ruin. However, this short-termism is detrimental for the future, trapping the club in said cycle.

So, this is the situation that Fulham is in, but how can we learn from our next-door neighbours?

Since gambling magnate, Matthew Benham, assumed full control of Brentford in 2012, the club has instilled the same values that has made him so successful at playing the bookies. This involves trusting the numbers and writing off any short-term setbacks in favour of sticking to the long-term ‘infinite’ plan. In other words, they have patience in their project which uses slow and sustainable growth as they look past the end of the current season.

Brentford have a well-documented ‘Moneyball’ style of recruitment, involving recruiting players who other players have missed via statistical analysis. However, it is their plan after the simple recruitment which is the genius and that really differentiates Brentford and Fulham’s moneyball techniques.

First of all, Brentford aim for low cost, high reward transfers, aiming to uncover young hidden gems to develop and integrate into the side over multiple years. Whereas, under Tony Khan, Fulham’s strategy has been to identify players to buy using stats, with seemingly little thought to cost or age – as long as they are under 28.

It is the slow development and integration of talent which makes Brentford successful, as the player learns the club culture and playing philosophy through the B team and by working with players further ahead of them in their development cycle. It is this slow, patient approach with unparalleled continuity that breeds success into the future.

For example, after the play off final, Brentford sold Ollie Watkins and Said Benramah, two of their best players, for huge fees and impressive profits. They kept Thomas Frank as their manager and picked up Ivan Toney from Peterborough for just £5 million – an impressively low fee for a player who is currently the league’s top scorer. They also promoted Sergi Canos to a starting role, to replace Benramah, who they have been slowly developing through the B team and then first team since 2017. They have also promoted Marcus Forss, a highly rated young prospect, to a rotational role at centre forward. Marcus Forss is now learning from Ivan Toney and has worked alongside the other Griffin Park success stories like Watkins and Neal Maupay since he joined the club in 2017.

Brentford have managed all of this change whilst remaining one of the Championship’s top sides – currently third in the table on an eighteen-match unbeaten run. They undoubtedly contingency plans to replace every player in their squad as they leave for bigger clubs and it is this consistency that is key. It is a testament to their long-term planning and project as they have committed to incremental improvement whilst leaving within their means. Although the final step has so far eluded them, I can’t help but feel that they will eventually become an established top flight team capable of punching above their weight, even if it takes another decade.

So, what can Fulham learn from this? The first objective has to be breaking the ‘yo-yo club’ cycle. This can be done either by avoiding relegation from the Premier League long enough to become an established side that is comfortably better than any newly promoted teams each year, or by spending a few seasons in the Championship to develop and implement a long-term strategy that promotes low and sustainable growth. Whilst I’m sure that the second is the less popular option amongst fans, it might prove more profitable in the longer term.

To implement this plan, Fulham should shift their recruitment strategy to something more similar to Brentford. The club already heavily uses data within its recruitment, so it just needs a slight change in what to look for. We have seen from the summer window that low cost ‘uncovered gem’ signings utilise Tony’s data system more effectively than the high cost signings that we have previously seen – witness the success of integrating Tosin Adarabioyo into the first team, for example.

However, not only should Fulham be looking to buy cheap young talent, but we should be looking to develop the talent that we produce from our academy. This is a massive strength over Brentford, who scrapped their academy some years ago, and if done correctly we could see youth players constantly breaking into the first team – similar to Southampton in recent years. Ryan Sessegnon is the only real success story from the academy in recent years as players are rarely trusted in the first team, due to our short-term plan. We have seen brilliant prospects leave in recent years – O’Riley, Elliott, Dembele and Drameh for example. If the club gave youth its head and allowed a young manager more freedom without being worried about the impact of relegation then some of these talents might thrive. What’s more, any youth player sales are financially deemed as pure profit – where is the downside?

Finally, could the club restructure and add people with footballing experience to help with workloads and decision making? Could a technical director and a vice-director of football help avoid the mistakes from the past and implement a long-term strategy? Someone with the knowledge and experience being added into the mix couldn’t hurt – especially if it allows the club to complete transfers faster.

The Premier League is clearly the place to be and we all hope that Fulham can stage a recovery to remain among English football’s elite, but if dropping into the Championship prompts a rethink that persuades the club to pursue a long-term plan to achieve sustainability it could deliver real rewards. On the bright side, those glorious Championship away days are better, aren’t they?

What would relegation mean for Fulham?

This week’s massive relegation six pointers did not go well. Whatever Scott Parker might have said publicly prior to facing Brighton and Hove Albion and West Bromwich Albion in the space of four days, Fulham needed more than just two points from those two games. The club are now staring at the possibility of a third relegation since Shahid Khan took over in 2013 and the impact of another drop from the top flight on this squad, the club’s overall finances and Financial Fair Play regulations would be considerable.

Heading back to the Championship would necessitate another summer rebuild. Fulham’s current side is heavily built around loan players, who would all leave. It is fanciful to think that Joachim Andersen, Ademola Lookman or Ruben Loftus-Cheek would be eager to play in the second tier and their current deals would make them too expensive in any case. The same certainly goes for Alphonse Areola, who on the basis of his excellent displays in a Fulham shirt would feel confident of finding a new club in one of the continent’s top divisions. The likeliest player to remain at Craven Cottage might be Mario Lemina, but that appears a stretch – especially with Genoa rumoured to have been interested in taking him back to Italy earlier this month.

The best of Fulham’s permanent playing staff would look elsewhere as well. Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa has already far exceeded the level of his previous performances at Craven Cottage, attracting both praise from the pundits and envious glances from elsewhere. Given the length of his contract and the impending financial pressures, a cut-price sale post-relegation could prove too tempting to resist. There’s a real chance that Aleksandar Mitrovic, despite his lack of form to date this term, could leave as well. He’s a proven goalscorer at international level, probably has his peak years ahead of him and the club would find it difficult to carry his wages in the Championship. Others might head for the exit too. Tosin Adarabioyo has reportedly caught the eye of Juventus already. Why play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo when you can take on Lincoln on a rainy Tuesday night?

Therefore, Fulham would be faced with the sort of enforced reshaping of their squad they have had to go through before. An aging and rather uninspiring squad, with many members of the ‘old guard’ coming to the end of their contracted years, would be asked to make an immediate return from the Championship – and we all remember just how tough a league that is. The club would surely have to bring in new signings, constrained by a limited post-Covid budget without any of the revenue earned from a sustained spell at English football’s top table. They might turn to youth, but an influx of too many youngsters risks both competitiveness on the field and stalling promising careers, as we saw under Felix Magath.

The Premier League revenue distribution model means that clubs generate incredible sums of broadcast revenue simply from participation in the competition. A finish in the relegation places can still be worth circa £100 million. Here is how the funds were distributed in Fulham’s last Premier League campaign, 2018/19:

Premier League 2018/19 payments to clubs
Credit: Premier League

Fulham’s 2019 accounts show that in 2018/19, Fulham generated £108.98 million from broadcast revenue streams, a 403.4% increase on the 2017/18 season prior, in which the team competed in the Championship and earnt just £21.65 million from broadcast revenue. It can, therefore, be assumed that these figures would be reversed on relegation. However, Fulham would receive £45 million in parachute payments from the Premier League to try and plug this gap. In the second season, parachute payments would drop to £35 million before vanishing completely for the third season as Fulham would have only completed in the Premier Division for one season before relegation.

The club would also suffer a relatively large drop in commercial income, as sponsors often hold clauses to reduce payments or even exit the sponsorship deal entirely. This is because sponsorship becomes less desirable with less visibility, decreasing the price that the club can demand. Fulham’s accounts show that commercial revenue increased 2.1 times upon promotion to the Premier League in 2018/19, from £8.47 million to £17.73 million, meaning that dropping out of the top flight may likely have the reverse affect.

Finally, matchday revenue would also theoretically decrease due to decreases in ticket prices and attendances. Matchday revenue is the most important revenue stream for football clubs, despite usually being the smallest, as its regularity allows clubs to pay operating expenses during the season. However, COVID-19 has meant that clubs have not been able to generate any matchday revenue for almost a year, setting aside a single game against Liverpool in December. Therefore, any change on matchday revenue from the 2020/21 season would be good, as it means that fans are back in stadiums and spending money.

Dramatic decreases in revenue may cause concern over Financial Fair Play (FFP). FFP is a set of financial regulations put in place by the Premier League and EFL, designed to ensure that clubs are living sustainably within their means by limiting the losses that they can make over a 3-year period. If Fulham are relegated come the end of this season, the FFP limit for 2021/22, measured from 2019/20-2021/22, will be £61 million. This is because for each Premier League season, the club can lose up to £35 million as per the regulations, whereas in the Championship, this drops to just a £16 million loss per season – which is especially tight when considering the much lower revenues.

To see just where Fulham lie in relation this £61 million FFP limit, the club’s main costs must be analysed. Just with any football club, Fulham’s main costs are the ‘total staff costs’, or wages, PAYE and pension payments. The 2019 accounts show that Fulham spent a whopping 141.8% of revenue on wages in the 2017/18 championship season, spending £54.3 million on staff costs compared to just £38.3 million revenue. In 2018/19, after the £100 million splurge, this had increased to £92.6 million. This shows just how wildly out of control the staff cost spending is, even with relegation wage drop clauses inserted, it would likely be much higher than turnover.

Fulham’s other major cost is the ongoing amortisation of transfer fees. Amortisation is an accounting process which spreads an initial cost, such as a transfer fee, over a set period of time, such as the player’s contract. If the player’s contract is extended, any remaining cost is spread over the extension period.

I have attempted to work out Fulham’s ongoing amortisation costs with the Fulham squad, using Transfermarkt’s reported transfer fees. Note that this is an estimate and that figures will be incorrect due to estimated fees and unknown amounts of depreciation and impairment.

By my estimation, the amortised cost of the current squad for the 2021/22 FFP period, without any incoming or outgoing transfers between now and the end of 2021/22, is a mind-blowing £119.34 million. The big 2018/19 spend really is coming back to bite us, explaining the shrewd spending this summer as well as the lack of any movement so far this January window.

For Fulham to pass the FFP regulations next season, if relegated, the club must generate enough revenue to come within £61 million of the total costs. This seems like a mammoth task. Fulham have already been stung by FFP, suffering a transfer embargo in 205 as a result. However, this time around, it would likely wreck even more havoc due to the costs that the club faces, threatening to send us back to the dark ages of battling relegation to League One under Kit Symonds.

So what is most likely to save Fulham this financial heartache? A strong run of results in the second half of the season, as remote a prospect as that appears on this particular Sunday morning, would be ideal. Failing that, a summer fire sale of some of our leading assets and a spot of creative accounting would be the best option. Now, where are those six wins coming from …

Baggies burst Fulham’s survival bid

As the players walked out to Liquidator, a 1969 Harry J. All Stars classic used by many football clubs, both sides knew that anything less than a win would likely liquidate their hopes of survival. Fulham figures have insisted that the ‘wins are coming‘ recently and the trip to West Brom appeared to be a perfect opportunity to pick up a third league victory. The disappointing draw means the Whites have collected just two points from two meetings with our rivals in the bottom four in what looked like a pivotal week. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that such a return could prove terminal to our survival hopes.

Scott Parker’s side started encouragingly on a worn and snowy surface, utilising the now familiar 5-2-3 system, with a few subtle tweaks. It might be a stretch to suggest he’d been reading my thoughts, but the restoration of Aleksandar Mitrovic to the starting line-up chimed with the overwhelming sentiment post-Brighton and utilising the Serbian as a false nine came to fruition fantastically. He dropped deep, dragging West Brom defenders out of position, and creating space for Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Fulham’s inside forwards to exploit the space behind the home defence – as Bobby Decordova-Reid did devastatingly early on.

West Brom end horrid home run and share points with Fulham in nervy  relegation clash

Out of possession, Mitrovic pressed Albion’s back line, often winning the ball high up the pitch. Mitrovic was arguably the catalyst for Fulham’s dominant start, as yellow shirts flooded forward to great effect. But the visitors were frustratingly unable to turn their dominance into goals. The outcome would probably have been very different if Decordova-Reid’s second shot had gone in rather than striking the post – and, despite eight shots on goal, Fulham had the slenderest of leads at the interval. For all their flawless football, there’s no substitute for ruthlessness in the final third, something Albion proved at the start of the second half.

After what must have been a lively team-talk, Sam Allardyce introduced his new centre-forward Mbaye Diagne. The Senegalese international, signed on loan from Galatasaray only last night, seems like the sort of option this Fulham side would love, with his mixture of size, strength and speed. Whilst he did not score himself, he immediately disrupted the Fulham backline, who had a largely serene first period, and Kyle Bartley grabbed an equaliser just two minutes after half time.

WBA fans laud Mbaye Diagne | The Transfer Tavern

Heads definitely dropped at this point, with Fulham quickly slipping behind after Diagne’s dart down the read led to Matheus Pereira poking in from close range. A defeat looked on the cards until Parker shuffled his deck, bringing on Harrison Reed and Ivan Cavaleiro for the final quarter. The Portugese winger scored a fine diving header – from a lovely Reed cross – to consolidate Fulham’s position as the Premier League’s draw specialists. The point doesn’t do much to help either start and with the Whites unlikely to sign a striker in what remains of the transfer window, the future looks rather bleak.

You can’t lay too much of the blame at Parker’s door. He has done incredibly well to make Fulham competitive at a higher level after such a shambolic start and reintroducing Mitrovic removes the one major concern about his team selection. The hierarchy’s reluctance to bolster his attacking options seems strange and Parker appears resigned to making the best of what he has.

What did you think of the game? How can Fulham improve?

Three changes for Fulham at the Hawthorns

For Fulham’s second crucial away game of this double-header weak, Parker has chosen to start Aleksander Mitrovic, in what hopefully could become a ‘plan B’ masterstroke with the ability to save the club from relegation come the end of the season. But what is the rest of the Fulham line-up? And how do the Baggies line up today?

Scott has seemingly chosen a back five once again to face West Bromwich Albion, making four changes from the match against the Seagulls. The line-up suggests that the Whites will start with Mitrovic leading the line, as Cavaleiro drops to the bench, likely with Lookman to his left and Loftus-Cheek to his right.

The midfield duo also faces a change, with Lemina assuming the box-to-box midfielder over Reed for this game, whilst Anguissa keeps his spot. In the back line, Antonee Robinson returns at left wing back, after completing his two game ban, with Decordova-Reid switching back to the other side. The centre back trio have remained the same, with Adarabioyo on the left side, Andersen in the middle and Aina on the right. Areola remains between the sticks after Wednesday’s wonderful display of talent.

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But how do our opponents line up?

The Baggies have seemingly also chosen to line up with a 5-2-3 formation, with the Mnachester United academy graduate Sam Johnstone starting in goal. Their centre-back trio will consist of Ajayi, Oshea and Bartley, which Mitrovic will attempt to disrupt, whilst Furlong starts as a right wing-back and Gibbs as a left wing-back. Given the Albion’s frailties in defence as of recent times, currently holding a -33 goal difference, there is some hope that Fulham can add a third win to their tally.

The Baggies then line up with Snodgrass and their captain Livermoore as a midfield duo, whilst Gallacher – who the Whites faced at Charlton and Swansea last season – and set-piece specialist Pereira start on the flanks. Northern Ireland international Calm Robinson then starts up front. Fulham’s ex-goalkeeper, David Button, starts on the bench for this season’s second David Button Derby.

What do you think of the line-ups today?