Ranieri ready to swap Cairney for Shelvey

Claudio Ranieri has told Fulham’s top executives that he wants to explore the possibility of swapping club captain Tom Cairney with Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, according to Dave Kidd in the Sun.

Cairney has reportedly fallen out of favour with the new Fulham manager and was dropped to the bench for the Boxing Day draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Scottish international was criticised for a lack of application after replacing Aboubakar Kamara with the Whites 1-0 up and is apparently disappointed at no longer being a first choice in Ranieri’s midfield.

The 28 year-old doesn’t fit into the Italian’s new-look formation which features three centre backs and Ranieri appears to prefer Ivory Coast international Jean-Michael Seri in the central midfield role that Cairney had made his own under Slavisa Jokanovic. The former Blackburn Rovers midfielder made the Championship team of the year in 2016/2017 and famously scored the winner at Wembley as the Whites beat Aston Villa in the play-off final to return to the top flight.

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez is a known admirer of Cairney, having seen a number of bids rejected over the past couple of seasons. He might be reluctant to allow the England international to leave next month, with regular starter Ki-Sung Yueng due to jet off to the Asia Cup to represent South Korea. West Ham, who actively sought to sign Cairney last year, could be another potential destination for the playmaker and Ranieri is interested in defender Pedro Obiang as a possible makeweight.

Cairney, who only signed a five-year contract extension in July, has made 145 appearances for Fulham, scoring 27 goals, since moving to Craven Cottage in a £2.5m deal back in June 2015. He became a pivotal part of Jokanovic’s side, being switched to a central role, and was named captain after Scott Parker’s retirement.

Frustrated Ranieri points to positives

Claudio Ranieri was frustrated that his side let a winning position slip against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Craven Cottage this afternoon but believes that Fulham have made significant improvements during his tenure that should hold them in good stead as they battle relegation.

The Italian manager believes he has found a solution to Fulham’s previously leaky defence by switching to three centre backs and the Whites certainly managed to nullify Wolves’ attacking threat for much of the contest.

I think they’ve improved a lot. I think I’ve found a solution for this team with five at the back. Of course, it’s not dogmatic. The team is much better, more solid, and more comfortable. Of course we need something more when we have the ball because when you’re bottom, it’s not so calm, you’re a little more anxious to do something good.

We have to continue this way. It’s the right way. It’s the second time we played in this shape and I’m very happy for this reason.

Ranieri was disappointed that Fulham didn’t have more to show for their domination of the first half, but was encouraged with the manner of his side’s performance against a team that have surprised the pundits and many opponents so far this season.

We are a little disappointed because I think we deserved more from the first half because we created more than them, In the second half, after we scored a goal, they found a solution. I’m satisfied with our performance, as we worked hard against a good team. It was a tactical match today.

Mitrovic had a chance to win the match. In this moment, we need to continue to stay together and be positive. When a team is bottom, everything goes against this team, but we are stronger than this. We want to react in every circumstance, in every match. If we continue to fight, train well, understand the tactical movement, we’ll do better.

We try to find a solution, but if you continue to fight, you can change things. If you lose hope, you lose everything. I believe in my players. For this reason, I believe we can make something good.

Can Fulham maintain the momentum from St. James’ Park?

After the pre-Christmas miracle of a clean sheet at Newcastle, Claudio Ranieri was defiant in the face of an ignorant journalist’s question. Told that the side who is bottom of the Premier League always goes down, the Fulham boss adamantly insisted ‘it is not true’. He is, right, of course, although there are only three examples of this (West Brom in 2004, Sunderland in 2013 and Leicester City in 2014). Perhaps still buzzing from securing a point on Tyneside, Ranieri added: ‘We’ll be safe at the end, don’t worry.’

The Tinkerman has yet to settle on a regular line-up since replacing Slavisa Jokanovic in November, although Saturday’s attritional draw with a Newcastle side who failed to register a single shot on target was probably a direct result of Ranieri’s switch to a three-man central defence. Tim Ream, Alfie Mawson – who survived a punch on the nose from Sergio Rico in the first half – and Denis Odoi delivered a display of defensive excellence that has been missing all season to provide some much needed resilience at the back. The big question confronting the Fulham coach over his Christmas dinner will be whether to stick with a back three and match up with Wolves, or to add an extra attacker in order to put the visitors under some pressure this lunchtime.

Ranieri’s side haven’t won since his first game in charge – a dramatic five-goal thriller against Southampton a month ago – and remain rooted to the foot of the table. Despite that, the Italian has pointed to greater positivity in the wake of the draw against the Magpies – revealing that result had helped to lift the training ground. It might be a worry that Fulham’s ability to threaten opposition defences has been lacking in recent weeks as the Whites have failed to score in six of their last nine league games. Aleksandar Mitrovic has looked horribly isolated lately, although he will point to the fact that his late shot at Newcastle might have nestled in the far corner had it not struck the arm of Jamaal Lascalles. There is certainly something in Cyrus Christie’s suggestion that Fulham need to display more of a killer instinct if they are to stay up.

Teenage winger Ryan Sessegnon has been passed fit again after missing the last two games through a groin strain. He would most naturally return in the left wing-back position in place of Joe Bryan in Fulham’s new-look system, although the England under-21 international has looked most at home in the Premier League in a more advanced position. He famously scored the first goal against Wolves at the Cottage last year as the Whites went on that 23-match unbeaten run to the end of the season. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa will be missing until the New Year at least, which should allow Arsenal loanee Calum Chambers to continue his recent resurgence as a deep-lying midfielder.

Ranieri was raving in his pre-match press conference about Wolves’ storming performance against Liverpool last Friday where they were unfortunate to be beaten by Liverpool after giving Jurgen Klopp’s league leaders a real scare in the first half. Nuno Esporito Santo’s men started Premier League life like a runaway train, even taking the game to Manchester City in another accomplished performance against one of the league’s top sides. They came from behind to beat Chelsea and, despite picking up a single point from their last eighteen, will pose a serious threat this afternoon.

Santo’s side have continued to play the sort of ambitious and eye-catching football that characterised their romp to the Championship title last season – if anything, kicking on in these more rarefied surroundings. The mighty Willy Boly has been been a rock at the heart of the back three with Conor Coady, converted into a centre half by Santo last season, equally as impressive. Morgan Gibbs-White, a World Cup winner with Steven Sessegnon with the England under 20s last summer, has shown glimpses of his prodigious talent and the unheralded Raul Jimenez has proven a real livewire in the opposition penalty area,

Wolves are likely to be without Diego Jota, who has recently looked like he has found the answers to replicate his devastating skills in the Championship again in the top flight, but Fulham should be equally wary of Adama Traore, whose blistering pace caused such alarm at Middlesbrough last year. Traore posed real problems for the Liverpool defence at Molineux on Friday night and will be licking his lips at the prospect of taking on Fulham’s leaky defence.

MY FULHAM XI (3-4-2-1): Rico; Odoi, Mawson, Ream; Christie, R. Sessegnon, Chambers, Seri; Cairney, Schurrle, Mitrovic. Subs: Bettinelli, Le Marchand, McDonald, Johansen, Vietto, Ayite, Kamara.

Claudio’s tactical tweak clinches first clean sheet

Well… it wasn’t a classic, but a really strong defensive display from Fulham starved Newcastle of opportunities on goal and managed to grind out a 0-0 away from home to earn their first clean sheet of the season. Claudio Ranieri made a tactical tweak for the trip to St James’ Park with Cyrus Christie coming in for Aboubakar Kamara to create a 343/541 with the aforementioned Christie playing at right wing back, Joe Bryan opposed him on the left and Alfie Mawson positioned as the central of three centre backs; Tim Ream to his left and Denis Odoi to his right.

Each member of the back five was exceptional at Newcastle with Sergio Rico not facing a single shot on target, but Alfie Mawson takes my man of the match reward. With a game leading seven clearances and comfortable distribution from the back, the former Swansea centre half is starting to show glimpses of being worth the outlay he cost the club in the summer. Calum Chambers alongside Jean Michel Seri patrolled in front of the back five with the defensive efficiency that he’s now setting standards for; his four tackles was tied top for frequency within both teams.

Since Claudio Ranieri was appointed, it felt like he would need a window before serious progress could be made. Ranieri-ball is less focused on possession statistics and more so on being defensively well structured and attacking with pace, a formula that mixed with his Leicester City squad of 2015/16 created that miracle title winning team that I’m sure none of us will forget. Fulham’s current squad was built with Slavisa Jokanovic’s slower, more methodical form of football in mind and is lacking in serious pace throughout but Ranieri is making do with what he has at his disposal.

Fulham struggled to really build counter attacks, partially handicapped by an injury to Ryan Sessegnon but the depth in the squad of players with those characteristics. The Whites struggled to make the ball stick in the final third for large parts of the game, and were dispossessed a massive 21 times (8 of which courtesy of Andre Schurrle, and 4 each from Tom Cairney and Jean Michel Seri). This team needs to play more into space and keep an eye on that for the January transfer window – players that can chase balls into the channels, that can skip past their opposing player and keep up with a more intensive counter attacking approach.

While Wolves will likely be a tougher test with a bit more offensive fluidity than Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle, that first clean should hopefully see Ranieri outlay more for those McDonald’s meals he suggested in his first press conference at the club. Fulham round out the year with two huge home games against Wolves and Huddersfield and should have the confidence to put in a similar defensive display.

January is the key for me, but that was a big step for Ranieri and team…

To all Fulham supporters, have a very Merry Christmas. And if you don’t hear from me by then, a Happy New Year too.

Ranieri ‘happy’ with Fulham’s first clean sheet

Claudio Ranieri was delighted with the defensive application of his players after Fulham recorded their first clean sheet of the season in a goalless draw at Newcastle this afternoon.

The Italian boss had said earlier in the week that he ‘needed a clean sheet like I need pasta’ and his team responded after Ranieri employed three centre backs in a new system at St. James’ Park. The tactical switch was so successful that the home side did not manage a single shot on target. Ranieri was full of praise for his side’s effort during his post-match press conference:

I am happy. I am happy because we gave to them just one chance in the first half. In the second half they created some threat in our box, but they never shot at our goal. And in the second half we created four or five great chances to win the match. But the draw is okay for us with the first clean sheet and we must continue in this way.

The Fulham manager felt his side could have nicked a late victory, with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Aboubakar Kamara going close to putting the Whites ahead in the closing stages.

We played well the first half, [in] the second we lost possession of the ball but we created more chances. The second half was a battle, we knew it would be a physical match. We reacted very well, responded very well. The questions put to us, we answered very well, and also on the counter attack we created great chances.

One point is important, the clean sheet is important. And now I start to think about Wolverhampton because I watched their match last night and Wolverhampton played fantastically. For me it was very important to see how my defensive three react, and they reacted very well. It was good to see them keep possession, make some good actions. We’re at the bottom of the league, so we’re not so positive or with a lot of confidence, but I’m sure we’re getting better.

Ranieri rejected a reporter’s suggestion that the side bottom of the Premier League at Christmas usually gets relegated. Two of the last five teams propping up the table on Christmas day have survived – and Fulham’s point puts them level on points with Huddersfield. Ranieri remains confident his team can survive.

It’s not true. We’ll be safe at the end, don’t worry.

Fulham’s first clean sheet secures precious point

A tactical tweak from Claudio Ranieri helped Fulham keep their first clean sheet of the season as they claimed a valuable point at St. James’ Park after a scrappy stalemate with Newcastle United. Ranieri played an extra centre back to strengthen his leaky defence and Fulham successfully nullified Rafa Benitez’s ponderous side as the Magpies failed to register a single shot on target. The visitors might have won it at the end with Aleksandar Mitrovic seeing his shot blocked by the arm of Jamal Lascalles and substitute Aboubakar Kamara running in on goal at the death.

Mitrovic, making his first return to St. James’ Park since making his loan move to Craven Cottage permanent in the summer, was adamant that he should have had a penalty after Lascalles threw himself in front of his close-range effort but the Serbian striker was a terribly isolated figure for much of the afternoon. He might have done better with the game’s first chance but Martin Dubravka got his angles right to save a tame shot. Dubravka, who almost passed the ball straight to Mitrovic three minutes from time when he dawdled in possession, was then indebted to Lascalles for stopping Kamara’s storming run with a superb sliding tackle.

All that drama at the death was out of a character with an otherwise soporific encounter. The first half was woefully short on quality, with both sides giving the ball away far too easily. Sergio Rico was largely untroubled in the Fulham goal save for the odd punch, although he saved his best right hander for Alfie Mawson’s cheek just after the half hour when a mix-up in the visitors’ defence nearly presented Newcastle with a rare sight of goal. Denis Odoi produced the timeliest of interventions to nod clear at the back post with Ayoze Perez poised to turn home Lascalles’ header from a Ki Sung-Yeung free-kick.

Newcastle probed patiently in the second period as Fulham sat deeper, but they gradually began to run out of ideas. The loudest the home crowd got was in barracking Martin Atkinson for waving away three penalty appeals, the most convincing of which saw Joe Bryan seem to pull down substitute Kenedy at the far post. Bryan almost made the most of his reprieve when he fired across the face of goal and wide from just inside the box after latching onto a clever Mitrovic lay-off. The home side’s clearest chances came from set plays and Fabian Schar spurned the best of them heading a corner from Matt Ritchie onto the roof of the net.

Fulham’s first clean sheet took them level on points with Huddersfield, who they face over the festive period in what looks like a crunch encounter at Craven Cottage, but it was a measure of how close they came in the closing stages that the point felt like something of a disappointment. They defended manfully, with Alfie Mawson, Tim Ream and Odoi outstanding frequently throwing their bodies in front of the ball, and there were none of the catastrophic errors that have characterised their return to the top flight. Ranieri spoke earlier this week about his desire to build his side from the back and such solidity will be needed in the weeks ahead if Fulham are to climb out of the relegation zone.

NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-1-1): Dubravka; Manquillo (Yedlin 84), Dummett, Schar, Lascalles; Ki Sung-Yueng, Diame, Atsu (Kenedy 72), Ritchie; Perez; Rondon. Subs (not used): Woodman, Fernandez, Hayden, Joselu.

BOOKED: Kenedy.

FULHAM (3-4-2-1): Rico; Odoi, Mawson, Ream; Christie, Bryan, Chambers, Seri; Cairney (Ayite 82), Schurrle (Kamara 76); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Le Marchand, McDonald, Johansen, Vietto.

BOOKED: Kamara, Seri.

REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).