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Thanks for the memories, Kevin McDonald

Friday’s announcement that Kevin McDonald would be leaving Fulham at the end of the month felt inevitable but it still tugged at the heart strings a little bit. McDonald, the heartbeat of this side for so long, has far bigger things to worry about than his contractual situation at present as he recovers from his kidney transplant – but the outpouring of emotion as Fulham fans reacted to the news showed just how important he has been in SW6 over recent years. The word legend is horribly overused in sports punditry these days, but McDonald is a bona fide Fulham one as much for his contributions in and around the dressing room as on the field.

The Scottish midfielder became a cult hero during his time at Craven Cottage, slotting in successfully to a problem position at the base of Slavisa Jokanovic’s midfield after Fulham finally concluded their lengthy pursuit of his signature with Wolves in the summer of 2016. McDonald has spoken about how the Serbian head coach changed his game by playing him in a deeper role than he had ever played before and it worked to perfection. The triumvirate of McDonald, Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney were in many ways the critical part of Jokanovic’s success – becoming a delight to watch as their pretty passing ripped through Championship opposition, especially when the Whites went half a season undefeated.

McDonald often controlled games, even when not on the ball, a metronome who sat just ahead of the centre backs and ensured that the Whites were ticking over correctly. He was always one to be trusted, providing a sense of solidity when Fulham’s defence was notoriously leaky. However, the 6’4″ Scottish international also proved to be more than capable with the ball at his feet, with his elegant passing providing the foundations for more conventional flair players, like Cairney, to influence proceedings higher up the pitch.

McDonald, of course, was not short of his own moments of magic. In different ways, his goals against Barnsley, Leeds and Millwall will live long in the memory. His magnificent strike at the Den will be etched in Fulham fans’ minds for ever – topping off a brilliant awayday with some raucous celebrations. It finished off a superb team display on a high-pressure occasion for the Whites and the technical excellence of his astonishing 25-yard screamer should never be discounted either. .

But perhaps McDonald’s most important influence was one which the fans never truly saw. He was clearly a leader on the field, but his ferocious will-to-win and reassuring words around the dressing room, which we glimpsed with the snippets of footage and photographs of the celebrations following the Wembley victory over Aston Villa, definitely resonated with his team-mates. You can be certain McDonald was critical to the camaraderie that carried Jokanovic’s side through the magnificent run in the second half of the 2017/2018 season.

We have seen tantalising glimpses of his character. He’s been engaging with the fans, but never sought the limelight. Many of his acts of kindness – sending messages to supporters who have been seriously ill or videos of support to those struggling with coronavirus – arrived privately, a mark of the man. There have been hilarious interludes in public, such as attesting to the accuracy of the Fulham fans cheeky ditty in his honour to Ivan Berry, or the revealing stories that featured in his engaging chat with former team-mate Si Ferry.

If we didn’t already know about McDonald’s bravery, we were convinced of it by the way he faced up to his kidney surgery – going public in order to educate others about the disease and what help was available. It may have brought his playing career to a premature end, but frankly it is remarkable that he scaled such heights whilst battling his body for fourteen years in professional football. His two promotions with Fulham are made all the more remarkable. We wish both Kevin and his brother, who donated his own kidney, well in their ongoing recovery.

There are still questions marks about where McDonald’s career goes from here. He has already passed on some of his insights to Fulham’s academy stars as he studies for his coaching badges. A move into coaching would allow McDonald to continue to influence the game that he loves and there’s no doubt that he would carry the respects of his peers into a new role. That, of course, is for the future. I’m certain we haven’t heard the last of Kevin McDonald. Alongside all Fulham fans, we wish him all the best for his recovery – and it isn’t just sentiment that has me hoping that we’ll see him in the dugout at Craven Cottage at some point in the future.

HammyEnd’s End of Season Awards

It’s been a strange and tumultuous season for Fulham, one that opened with few expectations before a run of good form following the Whites’ surprise win against Leicester. Unfortunately, fans were ultimately left disappointed yet again as the club failed to secure Premier League survival. However, that wasn’t without some memorable moments for the Cottagers. So, here is our 2020/21 end of season awards.

Player of the Season

Crystal Palace vs Fulham player ratings as Harrison Reed pushes claim &  Whites miss opportunity -

Our player of the season is the ever-consistent Harrison Reed. The box-to-box midfielder has shown his commitment in every game this season whilst wearing the historic white shirt, building on the strong start he made at Fulham last season. Reed has truly cemented his status as a vital part of the side this season, becoming one of the first names on the team sheet as his sheer endeavour has endeared him to Fulham fans and the coaching staff alike.

However, the tireless midfield maestro was run close by both Alphonse Areola and Joachim Andersen. The high-profile loan stars have been tipped for bigger things after a dependable season in an underperforming side by the river. They will both be sorely missed by the fans, who witnessed the French and Danish internationals elevate Fulham to a level not seen in the Premier League for arguably 10 years.

Young Player of the Season

Scott Parker believes Fulham teenager Fabio Carvalho is set for a bright  future | Asian Image

Fulham’s Young Player of the Season is unquestionably Fabio Carvalho. The 18-year-old Portuguese starlet has featured five times for the senior squad this season, having started in the club’s short-lived runs in the FA and EFL Cups. The young winger has also played a part in three Premier League games this season, making his league debut on May 1st 2021 as he played 12 minutes at the end of the Whites’ 2-0 loss away at Chelsea. Just two weeks later, Carvalho made his full Premier League debut, scoring a thunderous shot that bolted off the underside of the bar as he started on the right-wing in Fulham’s 3-1 loss to Southampton.

Admittedly, Carvalho had little competition for this award with his nearest competition, Josh Maja, aged 22 years old. However, this takes nothing away from the academy graduate who was a shining light in Fulham’s dull season-ending games. Carvalho was a joy to watch as he added an element of energy and excitement, making darting runs throughout the opposition’s half and utilised his electric pace to add a smattering of creativity to the Whites’ attack. He is an exceptional prospect and we can’t wait to see how he progresses next season.

Academy Player of the Season

Fulham FC - Tottenham U18 3-0 Fulham U18

Fulham’s Under-18s side have had a brilliant season, retaining the Premier League Under 18 title and scoring 78 goals in the process. This has thrown up multiple candidates for Academy Player of the Season, including Keiron Bowie and Luke Harris. However, our winner goes to Mika Biereth, who has scored 21 goals in 21 PL-U18 games whilst assisting a further 13 goals.

The 18-year-old English striker has proved instrumental to the Under-18’s second successive title, contributing towards an enormous 43.6% of the side’s goals. This has been even more important as Fulham’s other striking starlet Jay Stansfield has been out for the majority of the season due to injury. Hopefully, we will see more of Motspur Park’s young talent in the Championship next season, continuing the conveyer belt that has brought graduates such as Ryan Sessegnon and Harvey Elliott to the fore.

Goal of the Season

Fulham end wait for a win by beating fellow strugglers West Brom |  FourFourTwo

Fulham have scored 32 goals in all competitions this season, 27 of which came in the Premier League – the second-lowest in the competition behind only Sheffield United. Despite finding it hard to find the back of the net with any regularity, the Whites have scored some beauties in 2020/21, including those of Tom Cairney against Crystal Palace in October and Bobby Decordova-Reid against Queens Park Rangers in January.

However, HammyEnd’s Goal of the Season goes to Ola Aina, the ex-Chelsea defender loaned from Italian side Torino, for his effort against West Bromwich Albion in November. This goal came after a wonderfully worked 1-2 with Decordova-Reid on the right-hand side of the pitch, with Aina picking up the return pass on the edge of the box. The Nigerian international struck the bobbling ball first time with his weaker left foot, sending it looping into the top-left corner of the goal. This jaw-droppingly beautiful strike was awarded the Premier League’s Goal of the Month for November, showing its appreciation from the wider footballing community.

Assist of the Season

EPL relegation rivals West Brom, Fulham draw 2-2 - The San Diego  Union-Tribune

Fulham’s lack of goals also did not compromise the quality of the build-up play to those that were scored. Therefore, the Assist of the Season is also awarded for yet another goal against the Baggies. However, this time it is Harrison Reed taking the prize. Reed assisted Ivan Cavaliero in the 76th minute of the January fixture, away at the Hawthorns, to earn Fulham a point on the road.

The goal came with some slow build-up play, as Anguissa shifted the ball from the centre of the pitch to Aina on the right-hand side. The full-back then found Reed to his right, looking to overlap the box-to-box midfielder. However, Reed had spotted a creative opportunity and instead played a floated cross from the touchline into the box. The ball bounced on the penalty spot before being met by the head of a diving Cavaleiro, who guided it to the right of the goalkeeper and into the left side of the goal to complete the sublime goal.

Do you agree with our assessment for this season’s awards? Let us know down below.

The Reality of Relegation

As a result of yet another lacklustre result, the curriculum vitae of both Scott Parker and Tony Khan are now marred with the two Premier League relegations. Something must change for Fulham to build a stable project, But, what does relegation mean and how should the club prepare for yet another season in the second division?

In a previous article that analysed Fulham’s financial accounts for the previous Premier League season, it was abundantly clear of the consequences of dropping into the second tier. Should these same trends reoccur, which they most likely will, here is a summary of what could happen:

  • Revenue streams drop by around £100 million, with a reduction in broadcast revenue of around £80 million and a halving of commercial revenues.
  • Normally, decreased attendances and lower ticket prices lead to lower matchday revenue. However, the club can expect around £7 million in matchday revenues should we should begin to see supporters re-integrated into stadiums next season.
  • To help plug the gap, the club will receive parachute payments of £45 million for the first season and £35 in the second in the Championship.

However, the club must avoid making a loss of more than £61 million between 2019/20 and 2021/22. Whilst the accounts have not yet been released for the 2019/20 season, the two main costs for football clubs are wage costs and amortised transfer fees. Even though we don’t know the side’s wage costs, Fulham’s costs in 2018/19 were a whopping £92.6 million. This may have been even higher this season with the only recent sales of note being Ryan Sessegnon and Ryan Babel whilst the club has loaned multiple high earners, including Areola and Andersen.

Thus, whilst all senior players reportedly have wage reduction clauses, it is known that the Whites had by far the largest wage costs in the Championship last season, which may be a problem when considering that my calculations put the current team’s amortised transfer cost at a mind-blowing total of £119.34 million over next year’s three-season FFP period, prior to any further spending.

The EFL have relaxed their FFP rules to help clubs deal with the impact of the pandemic, allowing clubs to write off “COVID-19 costs” as per appendix five. This has been adjusted and defines COVID-9 costs as “lost revenues and/or exceptional costs incurred by a Club that are directly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic and that are identified and calculated in accordance with such guidance as issued by the Board“. However, the amount that Fulham could write off is unclear. UEFA have also considered tearing up their FFP regulations, although there are no concrete plans or proposals as of yet.

Therefore, to help balance the books, we may see the board shift a hoard of players. Here are some deals we may see:

  • Most, if not all of the loanees would leave, shifting hundreds of thousands per week off Fulham’s balance sheet.
  • Bettinelli, Ream, McDonald, Christie, Fabricio and S. Sessgenon all have contracts expiring at the end of 2020/21, although some may yet be extended.
  • Odoi and Kebano both enter the final year of their deals, as do Hector and Mawson, who could be sold for £2 million and £4 million to make an accounting profit.
  • Johansen, who QPR have outlined their intention of signing, also enters his final year, as do Le Marchand and Seri – who the club may look to shift for as little as a combined £8 million to cover the remaining amortised cost.
  • If sold for more than £10 million, the club would make an accounting profit on Mitrovic, who is reportedly unlikely to stay with Parker at the helm.
  • If the £25 million to Everton rumour is true, the club would make an accounting profit of over £16 million on Anguissa.
  • Other players, such as Tete and Reed have also been linked with moves away after cutting their teeth in the Premier League, although.
  • Any profits made would crucially claw back some of Fulham’s FFP deficit, helping the club avoid punishment.

Whilst it is not certain what will happen this summer – with Parker’s “This squad won’t be the squad next year” comment resonating through fans’ heads – many expect those such as Anguissa to leave. Some are also calling for the club to sell Mitrovic, to start afresh and bring in a player more malleable to different systems and that can adapt to the speed of Premier League football. However, this is a big risk that could leave the club without a recognised goalscorer – and one that scored 26 goals in 2019/20. Selling Johansen could also be costly as he has proved on multiple occasions that he is more than capable at Championship level, especially as he could be a ready-made in-house replacement for Lemina and Anguissa.

But, this would leave big gaps within the ageing playing squad that would need to be filled with talented players at low cost. Fulham should look towards building a solid base for a long-term project – Parker hinted to the need for a recruitment overhaul, hitting the hard reset button to allow Fulham to progress. The ex-Tottenham man may be better placed than other managers for this, as his attachment to the club should offer more sway with the board. However, with Parker linked to both the Tottenham and England U21 vacancies, there is an opportunity for a fresh start – Howe Lennon or Wagner perhaps?

Whether Scott stays or not, the board should look to promote young starlets who are impressing in the various youth squads, such as Fabio Carvalho and Mika Biereth, whilst keeping ahold of the young talent the club already possesses, such as Steven Sessegnon. This is something that Peter Rutzler of the Athletic has echoed, saying “academy talents Sylvester Jasper, Tyrese Francois, Fabio Carvalho, George Wickens, Luca Ashby-Hammond and Jerome Opoku are all likely to be involved during pre-season. It is expected that breakthrough talent Carvalho will sign a long-term contract.

These should be complemented by players in their peak years who are impressing in the English Football League, keeping costs low and building a sense of morale and togetherness – think Tottenham’s policy under Pochettinho. Otherwise, the other technique is to search Europe for their more affordable talent, with the club often shopping in Belgium and France. Whilst this can bring some hidden gems, it is also more likely to turf up some who aren’t quite up to scratch, such as the controversial Le Marchand and Seri deal.

Therefore, whilst we don’t know for certain who Tony Khan and the recruitment department is lining up, as their policy can appear somewhat scattergun at times, here are some players that the Whites have been linked to recently:

  • Lyndon Dykes has scored 12 goals in 42 Championship games after transferring to QPR from Livingston for £2 million last summer. West Bromwich Albion and Burnley have also been recently linked to the Scottish striker, who is in contention for a Euros spot.
  • Siriki Dembele handed Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony, with whom Tony Khan had an argument on Twitter over the details of the Ivan Toney negotiations, a transfer request in January. The 24-year-old Ivorian has scored 12 goals in 44 matches and could be available on the cheap as he enters his final year of contract. However, Celtic, who have his younger brother Karamoko Dembele on their books, have also been linked to the versatile forward.
  • Chelsea Academy graduate, Ike Ugbo, has spent the season on loan at Cercle Brugge, scoring 16 goals in 33 games in the process. The 22-year-old striker, who is of Nigerian descent, is linked to a whole host of other clubs too, including Monaco and Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria, for a deal in the region of £5 million.
  • Josh Windass is an attacking midfielder, who can also play as a striker, that has scored 10 goals in 43 games for Sheffield Wednesday this season. The 27-year-old, who has also assisted 10 goals, maybe affordable given the Owl’s recent relegation. He also possesses an element of versatility that is sought after by Fulham’s recruitment department, so could fill in for Cairney at number 9 when injured as well as starting upfront.
  • Sheffield United centre back Kean Bryan has also been linked to the Whites. The 24-year-old defender, a graduate of Manchester City’s academy, has made 15 appearances for the blades so far this season, scoring one goal. Therefore, Khan could be eyeing the defender as a replacement for loanee Joachim Andersen.

Who would you like to see be brought into the squad? And, what do you think of the manager situation?

Match Preview: Fulham vs Burnley

Tonight’s meeting with Burnley could spell the end. If Fulham lose, Scott Parker will have to let go of the crumbs of hope he has clung to as the Whites’ results have slowly dropped off at the most pivotal point of the season. Relegation will be confirmed. How can the Cottagers prolong their fight to remain the top flight?

Burnley are a side well known for their 4-4-2 formation, with Dyche employing a very classical British style of football which has brought the Lancashire some of their most successful years in modern times. However, despite reaching the Europa League just a few short seasons ago, the Clarets have found themselves pulled into this year’s relegation battle as they currently sit in 17th place, one spot ahead of ourselves. However, tonight they have been afforded the opportunity to end this battle and send London’s original football team into the second division.

This game will likely be a tightly contested affair, with both sides having conceded relatively few goals so far this season. In fact, on this front, Fulham has the advantage, having conceded just 45 goals in 34 Premier League games, whereas the Clarets have conceded 47. However, Dyche’s side has also scored 6 more goals than Parker’s, with 31 goals for this season, boasting Chris Wood with 11 goals as one half of their strike partnership. On the other hand, Fulham have failed to score in five of their last seven home games, as it feels that the team has given up the ghost.

Dyche heads to the Cottage with a relatively free treatment table, with only Brady and Long unavailable through injury. Unfortunately for Fulham, the Clarets will be able to welcome back star striker Wood after an injury scare. Parker also has two players, Cairney and Kongolo, who will miss the match, whilst Reed is doubtful due to an ankle injury. Ruben Loftus-Cheek returns to the fold after being ineligible for last weekend’s fixture against his parent club, Chelsea.

For Fulham, this is a must-win match with a loss confirming their relegation. Only if the Whites win all of their last four games do they have a chance at survival. Therefore, expect to see Parker’s men playing cautious football, almost to avoid a loss, but with the continuation in the use of the 4-2-3-1 formation, here is my predicted line-up:

My proposed line-up against Burnley

We can expect to see Mitrovic pressuring Burnley’s back line, attempting to distract and out-muscle them, creating chances for the faster wingers either side of him. However, the utilisation of the Serbian’s heading ability and goalscoring nouse from within the box will also prove key to any successful game plan.

The midfield will be an incredibly important battleground for both teams as Burnley will attempt to stop any ball progression through it. Therefore, it is vital that the ball is brought through the middle of the pitch quickly then distributed to a quick winger or into Mitrovic, who is able to hold-up play – something very similar to how the Clarets themselves like to attack.

Fulham’s Last Chance?

Fulham’s trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday night presents possibly their last chance at mounting an improbable escape from the drop zone. Relegation isn’t mathematically confirmed, but survival from this position feels as though it would be miraculous. Any scenario that sees Scott Parker’s side vaulting out of the bottom three almost has to include a surprise win in the blue half of SW6. So, how can Fulham defeat Chelsea – something that has only happened eleven times in 86 meetings since 1910 – to extend their survival hopes?

You have to go back to 2006 for the last time a Fulham were victorious in the local derby. Chris Coleman’s tactical masterclass, which saw Steed Malbranque memorably nullifying Claude Makele, and Luis Boa Morte grabbing the iconic winner in the first half was all the more notable for the fact that it was just one of only five defeats Chelsea suffered on their way to lifting the Premier League title at a canter. Coleman’s side ended an eighteen game, 27 year barren run in the local derby to joyous and chaotic scenes on the pitch after the final whistle – creating memories that are still fondly recalled by all of the Fulham faithful.

A win at the weekend feels imperative as Parker’s side have lost form at precisely the wrong time of the season, sitting seven points behind Brighton and Hove Albion with five games to go. Eddie Nketiah’s last-gasp – and controversial – equaliser for Arsenal was a real kick in the teeth and Parker must now plot another surprise victory to go with the ones at Leicester, Everton and Liverpool. Doing so against a Chelsea side reenergised by the arrival of Thomas Tuchel is a serious task.

Since Tuchel took charge in late January, Chelsea have seen an upturn in form, drawing 1-1 in the Champions League semi-finals with fellow Super League villains Real Madrid on Wednesday night. The German likes to line his men up in variations of the 3-4-3 formation, with Rudiger, Thiago Silva and Christensen forming a solid base at the back. This trio, which swaps Zouma for Silva if the ageing Brazillian is unfit, has conceded just 9 games in 22 games under Tuchel, in all competitions. This is even more impressive when considering that five of these goals came in a bizarre 5-2 loss against fellow strugglers West Brom, in what can only be described as a surreal Sam Allardyce special.

Therefore, to understand how to break down and beat Chelsea’s high defensive line, we must use the loss against the Baggies as a case study. From re-watching the goals, and other significant moments, from the highlights, it is clear what Allardyce sent his side out to do. West Bromwich Albion didn’t give the centre backs any space, latching onto their mistakes as they utilised short passing. Their wingers, Pereira and Phillips, pressed high into the space left behind Tuchel’s flying wing backs, allowing the midlands men to outnumber the defenders when on the attack whilst simultaneously helping to silence Chelsea’s attack as Alonso and James were pinned back. Big Sam also exploited the Blue’s high defensive line, which left them incredibly exposed to long balls over the top – an astonishing oversight as this and set pieces are the Bionic Man’s signature moves.

Despite the early red card for Silva, which forced Tuchel to substitute Ziyech for Christensen to maintain the three at the back system, it is clear what Parker must do to exploit the opposition’s systematic frailties. Therefore, I propose that Parker once again deploys the 5-2-3 formation, to which we have now become accustomed. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek unavailable against his parent club, to which many will breath a sigh of relief, and Tom Cairney still recovering from injury, it seems as though there is little option but to drop the number 10 role anyway. Therefore, here is my proposed line-up:

Perhaps controversially, I would suggest dropping Mitrovic. Many have criticised Parker for the Serb’s lack of involvement this season, something which I partly agree with, however, he is very much a player whose performance is dependant on his opposition. His lack of pace may hinder Fulham’s counterattacking ways against such a solid defence, therefore I propose that he should be introduced in the second half, once the front three has worked the opposition’s tired legs.

However, without Mitrovic, who brings some creativity to the line-up, Anguissa should once again be selected after his Arsenal comeback. This may be a risk as Chelsea’s pressing could catch the Cameroonian international off guard – especially should he expose his trait of taking too many touches – but, as stated in my previous article, he adds a creativity from deep (when the system is suitable) which is unrivalled from the players which are currently available. This may be especially important if Parker does look to utilise a counterattacking system. Although, if Anguissa shows that he is more of a liability than an asset, he too should be swapped, with Lemina and Reed offering a robust midfield, if lacking a spark.

The wing backs may prove to be the most crucial component of this system, with West Brom’s own confidently disrupting Chelsea’s system. Therefore, Tete and Robinson would look to remain high up the pitch to limit Chelsea’s numbers going forward. Robinson’s pace also offers an outlet down the left hand side through which Fulham can burst up the pitch, even if his crossing leaves a lot to be desired. Lookman’s crossing, however, is impressive and should be exploited to try and score from set pieces – a long time weakness of Fulham’s – although Andersen, Tosin and Anguissa offer an aerial threat, as does Mitrovic.

Little can be said about Fulham’s defence, other than hopefully Tosin can regain his form, which has been uncharacteristically dodgy as of klate. However, Chelsea pose a large attacking threat, even with Werner not in the rich goal scoring form that he showed at Leipzig. Werner, like Bamford, appears to be a volume striker, taking multiple opportunities to score. Therefore, Scott should look to deploy a low block, stifling the pace advantage that the German possesses and limiting through balls, cutting his threat. This would also force Chelsea to attempt long shots, something that their other attacking talents possess the ability to do but is still much more unlikely to yield rewards from – especially with Anguissa and Reed hunting them down.

How do you feel about the match and this line-up? Can the Whites break the Chelsea curse at the Bridge and prove that there is only one team in Fulham?