A superb strike from Manuel Lanzini condemned Fulham to a narrow defeat in their final pre-season friendly against Premier League West Ham, but another serious-looking knee injury to Alfie Mawson might be of greater consequence to Scott Parker.
The Argentinian playmaker curled an unstoppable finish beyond Marcus Bettinelli from the edge of the box on 18 minutes, pouncing decisively after both Mawson and Denis Odoi had missed chances to clear. It was no more than the visitors deserved as they dominated the first half possession and, had they more clinically punished a number of sloppy Fulham defensive mistakes, Manuel Pellegrini’s side could have been out of sight by the interval.
Joe Bryan and Maxime Le Marchand handed the Hammers a glorious opportunity after five minutes, but the former Bristol City left back atoned for a slack pass with a fine saving tackle as Felipe Anderson bore down on goal. Debutante Pablo Fornals than seized on a dreadful pass from Le Marchand but Odoi managed to block Aaron Cresswell’s attempted finish at the far post.
Fulham struggled to create chances or build up much momentum at all in the final third a week ahead of their Championship opener at Barnsley. Anthony Knockaert looked lively in flashes during his first appearance at Craven Cottage, but too often Fulham’s final ball was lacking. The Frenchman did curl one cross delightfully in for Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the Serbian’s looping header drifted away from goal.
Mitrovic was at the heart of Fulham’s best moves, enjoying a physical battle with Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop. He played a magnificently disguised ball to send Ivan Cavaleiro surging through the centre but the winger’s curler was clawed away from the bottom corner in breathtaking fashion by Lukasz Fabianski. The former Newcastle forward than created a chance all for himself, shaking off the attentions of Balbeuna and ploughing on into the box, but his tame shot was straight at the West Ham goalkeeper.
The second half got off to the worst possible start when Mawson went down clutching his knee after what seemed to be an innocuous tussle with new West Ham striker Sebastian Haller. Mawson missed nearly four months of football after injuring his knee against Huddersfield last Christmas and was in serious discomfort as he was helped from the field. Parker is arguably already short of quality options at centre half and Fulham will now need to consider going into the transfer market with the Championship kick-off on the horizon.
Bettinelli produced a couple of decisive bits of goalkeeping in quick succession to keep Fulham in the contest. First, he pushed away an Arthur Masuaka cross just as Haller appeared destined to notch a debut goal and, from the ensuing corner, made an instinctive reaction save to deny Haller again from barely two yards out.
The hosts’ perked up with the introduction of Aboubakar Kamara down the right and the Frenchman might have made an immediate impact but for the mature defending of Ben Johnson, whose recovery run put Cavaleiro under pressure, and the Portuguese winger sent his shot high into the Hammersmith End. Kamara went closer with an audacious curler from the left angle of the penalty area with twenty minutes to go, with the ball flying fractionally wide of the far post.
Kamara’s pace and power was causing a much-changed West Ham defence some serious problems and he looked likely to level matters when he surged clear of the visitors’ defence to reach Tom Cairney’s through ball, but he dragged an effort narrowly wide of the far post. Bettinelli produced an excellent stop to keep out an effort from Miguel Antonio after a swift West Ham break and, right at the death, Andriy Yarmolenko somehow missed a sitter from almost in front of goal as the Hammers’ Premier League quality told.
Fulham were industrious and forced a succession of corners in the closing ten minutes. Odoi fired weakly straight at Fabianski after Mitrovic appeared to be hauled down in the box, whilst Bryan’s rasping drive from outside the area comfortably cleared the crossbar. This was a searching test for Parker’s side, but there are still serious defensive deficiencies to be addressed if Fulham are to mount a serious promotion push.
The Cameroon international was a £22m deadline-day signing for Fulham last August from Marseilles, but struggled to adapt to English football. His first season at Craven Cottage was a frustrating one, as he made just 25 first-team appearances as the Whites were relegated. Anguissa’s performances did improve towards the end of the campaign once Scott Parker replaced Claudio Ranieri in the Fulham dug out, but the 23 year-old has opted to move on rather than play in the Championship this season.
Villarreal will have the option of making the loan move permanent at the end of the season. Anguissa’s departure means Parker’s squad looks light on options in the key defensive midfield position, with only Scottish veteran Kevin McDonald and Guinea international Ibrahima Cisse accomplished at filling in the role amongst the first-team squad.
Instead of the usual mid-summer angst fueled by a lack of signings, Fulham fans were recently treated to a delicious and refreshing set of prudent acquisitions.
On July 13, Wolves winger Ivan Cavaleiro penned a season-long loan deal with an option to buy. Eight days later, Brighton winger Anthony Knockaert did the same.
Two pacy, direct, dangerous players had been signed, adding a predatory element to the Whites’ strikeforce. The double signing revealed that Tony Khan had learned from the mistakes of last summer and returned back to basics.
One of the main errors from the misguided business of 2018 was the targeting of players whose styles were poorly suited to the Premier League, and in some cases, had never played in the division.
But with the capture of Cavaleiro and Knockaert, Fulham have the services of two players who not only know the Championship inside and out, but have thrived at that level. While some may be suspicious that their respective clubs were so willing to ship off the attackers, they hold the title of being superb in the second division but not quite good enough to be a consistent starter in a top-flight squad.
The attribute of experience playing in a certain division can be overblown, and yes, it is not a prerequisite to have played in England to succeed in England. In recent years, just look at the successes of Brede Hangeland, Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele, Stefan Johansen, and more at Fulham.
But there is something to be said for being familiar with the league’s physical requirements, its speed of play, its energy, and its level of commitment. Failing to grasp these or arriving inadequately prepared to step up to England’s game is a major obstacle for any footballer.
Take a look at some of the flops from the past campaign. Andre Schurrle, although formerly of Chelsea, returned to England some five years later without the pace or strength of his earlier days. He was languid, weak, slow, and ineffective, terribly suited to the demands of the Premier League.
Jean-Michael Seri, who evidently splits opinion, clearly failed to live up to his potential. Used to the slower, more leisurely pace of Ligue 1, the helter-skelter nature of England passed him by and left him as a frequent bystander in tough matches.
Luciano Vietto, brought in from Atletico Madrid, was ineffectual for large stretches of the season, often out-muscled and out-hustled to the ball. Clearly, the strength required to cut it in England was too much for the winger.
Sergio Rico, another import from the Spanish leagues, impressed with his superb saves but maddened many with his failure to catch the ball and command his penalty area when under pressure from crosses. Look no further than his capitulation during the West Ham away match to see how woefully unprepared Rico was for life in the Premier League.
And it’s no surprise that the only new arrival that came out of the season with largely positive reviews, and who in fact won the Player of the Season award, was Premier League-tested: Calum Chambers.
Now, none of this is to say that players from foreign leagues are automatically set out to fail in England — that view would be jingoistic and misguided. But what I would argue is that for leagues as demanding as the Championship and the Premier League, it is vital to bring in reinforcements with knowledge of the division and what it takes to either get promoted or stay up. And that’s not even to say that you need a team chock-full of experienced division players — an even mix will do. But when you end up with a situation like Fulham did last season, mistakes happen.
Look at the squad, and the lack of Premier League experience was striking. Tim Ream had 13 appearances at Bolton. Kevin McDonald played 26 games for Burnley in 2009/10. Cairney stepped onto the field 11 times as a teenager for Hull back in 2009/10. Schurrle featured for Chelsea for a season and a half back in 2013 to 2015.
Only Chambers and Mitrovic, two of Fulham’s best performers, had played regularly in the top flight in recent campaigns.
Yes, Premier League tested players were also poor- Timothy Fosu-Mensah jumps out, but he had been recently shut out at Palace the previous season, a sign that we shouldn’t have signed him in the first place. And Alfie Mawson, although bright in flashes under Ranieri, had endured a poor start with Jokanovic.
But put together, the lack of Premier League nous and know-how was apparent and came back to bite the Whites. That’s why Tony Khan’s early emphasis on tried-and-tested Championship stars is an encouraging sign for Fulham fans eager to return to the top flight. And if we get there, maybe the club will heed 2018/19’s lesson and lean more heavily on Premier League regulars.
The last time Fulham were relegated from the Premier League, the club embarked on a summer firesale and were fortunate not to drop down another division. To date, the mass exodus that many might have feared following last season’s underwhelming tilt at the top flight hasn’t happened yet. Indeed, Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic have committed their future to Fulham – despite the drop.
The long-rumoured departure of Ryan Sessegnon hasn’t happened yet, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Daniel Levy is craftily plotting a miserly late raid to secure the teenage winger with minutes left in the transfer window. Today’s suggestion that Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa is close to making the switch to Spain may have raised a few eyebrows, especially as it leaves Fulham woefully understocked in a crucial position. Anguissa might have been a big disappointment last term, but the prospect of seeing him in the Championship was tantatilising – and possibly too good to be true.
We all know just how good Kevin McDonald can be at the base of a midfield. The Scotsman, arguably the true leader of the side that Slavisa Jokanovic guided to such unforgettable success at Wembley last May, has all the attributes to reprise his all-conquering role as a holding midfielder: reading of the game, an uncanny ability to intercept the ball and excellent passing from deep positions, but there is the nagging doubt that Father Time might just have caught up with McDonald. In terms of the senior squad, the only alternative to the former Wolves midfielder would be Ibrahima Cisse, who has scarcely featured for the first team in the past two years.
Parker’s pre-season preparation suggests that he is keen on adopting the 4-3-3 that brought Jokanovic so much success. In that system, the holding midfielder is crucial – both in terms of sitting in front of a fragile back four and giving the likes of Tom Cairney and, even the industrious Stefan Johansen, the license to roam dangerously in the opposition’s final third. With Fulham’s fragile defence, that screening role becomes all the more vital.
A goal differential of minus 47 leaves nobody in any doubt as to why Fulham were relegated. It is, therefore, somewhat surprising that, just over a week away from the big kick off in Barnsley, we are still awaiting defensive additions. Parker has plenty of possibles to pick from in central defence but nobody has made a compelling case to partner Alfie Mawson. Like McDonald, we will have to wait and see whether Tim Ream can reprise his outstanding 2017/2018 form. Even if he managed it, there would be a distinct lack of pace in Fulham’s back four.
The other position that desperately needs strengthening is right back. Fulham struggled to adequately replace Ryan Fredericks when he left for West Ham last summer. Fredericks’ pace was an asset in both boxes and neither Cyrus Christie or Timothy Fosu-Mensah pulled up any trees last season. Christie could be competent back in the Championship, but I feel it is time to bring in a fresh face to provide the proven quality we are currently lacking. Both Steven Sessegnon and Marlon Fossey are fine prospects, but it is asking an awful lot for them to come in and power a promotion push. If Anthony Knockaert is going to line up on the right flank, then right back becomes an even more critical position – as the Frenchman is probably not going to provide all that much protections.
As Frankie wrote earlier, the additions of Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro have sent a serious message to the rest of division. The prospect of a fluid front line of Knockaert, Cavaleiro and Mitrovic is truly mouthwatering – and all three of them have Championship pedigree. Plenty of Championship defenders will be worrying about facing one of the best front threes in the league. Reuniting the three musketeers in Cairney, McDonald and Johansen offers plenty of creativity and grit, which means the defence is the only area left to fortify.
There’s no doubt that Fulham will be entertaining over the course of this season, but a couple of late acquisitions can give Scott Parker the sort of squad depth that should be able to cope with a gruelling 46-match schedule. If a new right back and a centre half sign in the run up to the Barnsley game, then a promotion push is most definitely on the cards.
Fulham could be about to lose Cameroonian international Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa on the eve of the Championship season with reports from Spain suggesting that the midfielder is poised to join Villarreal.
The former Marseille midfielder endured a difficult first season at Craven Cottage, having made a reported €25m move on transfer deadline day. Anguissa struggled to acclimatise to both the pace and the physicality of the Premier League and was found wanting as a lone holding midfielder in Fulham’s system – a role he hadn’t previously played. The 23 year-old made 23 appearances as the Whites were relegated from the top flight, although his performances did improve towards the end of the season when former Fulham captain Scott Parker was appointed as a caretaker manager.
Anguissa, who was part of the Cameroon squad that reached the second round of the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt this summer, had been pinpointed as a potential key player as Fulham plotted a promotion push from the Championship under Parker this term. It is believed that the player himself was keen to assess all of his options this summer and would be open to a potential move to Spain. Villarreal are considered to be in prime position to complete a deal in the next couple of days having been in negotiations with Fulham over the past few weeks and the move could be a loan with an option to buy.
Anguissa’s departure would leave Parker’s squad worryingly light on options to fill the holding midfield role. Veteran Scottish international Kevin McDonald starred as a deep-lying midfielder when the Whites won promotion via the Championship play-offs in 2018, but was a bit-part player upon their return to the top flight. Youth team player Jayden Harris has been handed a couple of appearances during pre-season, whilst Fulham also have Ibrahima Cisse still on their books, although he has struggled to make an impression on the first team in recent seasons.
While this summer has moved slower than many Fulham supporters would like, the business done off the pitch has been with only one target in mind: promotion. Tony Khan began his summer business while the season was yet to finish as the future of Tom Cairney was settled with a five-year deal despite relegation confirmed and two games to go until the season was over. Out of the gates before the window had even opened, Khan secured his next bit of business a month later and it was more in-house dealings as striker Aleksandar Mitrovic also committed himself to Fulham Football Club undeterred by relegation and with that, the Championship was aware that they would be facing one of the divisions best playmakers of recent years and a forward who scored 12 goals in 18 starts in his last period at that level.
Tony Khan’s feeling for the next season was clear before a first signing was seemingly close according to reporting. However, six days later after a week of bubbling Fulham announced the signing of electric Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Ivan Cavaleiro who saw his game time at the club drop in the Premier League due to change of shape. A year prior as Fulham were contending in the play-offs, Cavaleiro’s 21 goals and assists (while playing around 900 fewer minutes) was only bettered for goal contribution by Diogo Jota (22) on the other flank for Wolves. A menacing direct winger with a recent Championship title, excellent form in his previous stint in the division and at 25 still has room to grow; Tony Khan in attracting Jorge Mendes client Ivan Cavaleiro to the football club made the perfect statement of intent with this transfer window and Fulham not only got better for the coming season but should promotion come, they will be better in the Premier League.
Fulham’s attack was already looking menacing but eight days later it turned absolutely ruthless. Anthony Knockaert signed, like Ivan Cavaleiro, on a loan with an option to buy next summer and like that, Fulham’s front four now contained a Championship Player of the Year from just two seasons ago. The French winger pipped Chris Wood (then of Leeds) and Dwight Gayle to the award with 15 goals and 8 assists as part of a Brighton team that didn’t leave the top 2 from the end of October and were just a point behind Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle United. An underlying tone is also that Anthony Knockaert helped Brighton maintain their Premier League status and is leaving the coastal club as their most goal productive wide player from last season.
Four bits of business, two headline retentions and two incomings set the tone for Scott Parker’s Fulham this season. Whilst pre-season has shown evidence of a more direct wing play heavy attack inserted into a possession focused football team, Tony Khan has made this football team stronger, deeper and containing two more players you can take into the Premier League and produce. He’s had his critics (and admittedly, I’ve been one of them) but he’s showing signs of learning, growth and depth beyond spending multimillions. While there is business still left to do, namely within the back four and the centre of midfield, Fulham has roared into not only being promotion favourites but favourites for the Championship title. Scott Parker has been supported to an extent where he has everything to lose in his first full season as first team manager – this team is set up for promotion and whilst a title or promotion will look good on Parker’s record, the offseason business has made it so anything less will be a complete and utter failure.
Anthony Knockaert’s first Fulham goal was the highlight as Scott Parker’s side were held to a 1-1 by Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium this evening.
A much-changed Whites’ eleven began brightly with Knockaert particularly keen to impress on his first start since completing a loan move from Brighton on Sunday. The French winger looked a cut above as he sought to influence proceedings from the right flank, frequently beating his man and venturing infield to dictate play. There was little surprise when Knockaert curled home a majestic free-kick from a central position just outside the box to give the visitors the lead.
Fulham had started sloppily and needed a timely intervention from Cyrus Christie, who blocked John Mousinho’s drive at the back post, to preserve parity after four minutes. Parker’s charges gradually began to get a grip on proceedings and Knockaert’s clever curler, which caught Simon Eastwood out at his near post, signified their sharper instincts in the final third. Fulham might have doubled their lead on the half hour when Malachi Napa’s poor pass allowed Rui Fonte a free run on goal, but the Portuguese forward lacked the composure to beat Rob Dickie and the ball ran out for a goal kick.
With several second string players eager to impress, Tayo Edun’s robust challenge on Tariqe Fosu carried more of an edge that might have been expected from a pre-season friendly. The stand-in left back was rightly booked – and Oxford boss Karl Robinson was far from impressed on the touchline.
The game followed a similar pattern after the break. Knockaert saw a shot blocked before Christie was unfortunate not to double the visitors’ lead when he rattled the post with his left foot after a speedy break. Fulham were leaving alarming gaps at the back and escaped unharmed when Napa somehow lifted a shot over the bar from the edge box, but their reprieve lasted less than a minute.
It was a sloppy goal that would have greatly frustrated Parker and Stuart Gray. Cameron Branagan’s floated free-kick drifted towards a clutch of players and Mousinho managed to get a decisive touch as the ball looped over a stranded Marek Rodak. Mousinho’s muted celebration suggested he was more than a little sheepish about accepting the credit – but it was the spark for a much more open last half an hour.
Knockaert nearly restored Fulham’s lead with another finish finish but an audacious long-range volley just cleared the crossbar, failing to dip enough for a spectacular second. It was the League One side who finished markedly the stronger. James Henry’s free-kick deflected just wide and Tony McMahon almost finished off the move of the net but saw his strike bravely blocked.
Oxford nearly clinched victory with three minutes remaining. Former Liverpool midfielder Brannagan did brilliantly to locate substitute Kyran Lofthouse at the far post and the forward’s left-footed effort squirmed out of Rodak’s grasp, clipping the outside of the post and rolling away to safety.
Fulham will complete their preparations for their Championship season with a final friendly against West Ham at Craven Cottage on Saturday.
The deal for the French winger includes an option to make the move permanent at the end of the season, widely reported to be worth around £10m. Knockaert had found himself squeezed out of the first team picture on the south coast with Albion boss Graham Potter tweaking Brighton’s preferred system and having a number of other options to choose from. The 27 year-old, who has twice been promoted from the Championship, has decided to move to Craven Cottage for the possibility of regular first-team football.
Knockaert, who won promotion from the Championship with Leicester City and Brighton, has scored 33 goals in three-and-a-half seasons in the English second tier. The long-term Fulham target’s last goal for Brighton was a stunning strike at rivals Crystal Palace as Chris Hughton’s side battled to stay in the Premier League. The tricky winger scored 27 goals in 159 goals in three years at the AMEX Stadium.
Knockaert told Fulham’s official website:
It feels amazing to be here. I feel really welcome already. It just feels great to get this done and for me to be a Fulham player. I can’t wait to get started and obviously help the club achieve it’s goal.
The goal is to get back to the Premier League where Fulham belongs. I have come here with the clear intention to get promoted and I want to help in any way that I can.
Knockaert is Fulham’s third signing of the summer following former Wolves winger Ivan Cavaleiro and ex-Chelsea youth team forward Martell Taylor-Crossdale to Craven Cottage.
A second half double from captain Tom Cairney secured Fulham’s first pre-season win as Premier League Brighton and Hove Albion were put to the sword at Aldershot this afternoon.
Fulham had struggled to make much of an impression in the early stages as Graham Potter’s side started brightly and fell behind to a Pascal Gross free-kick midway through the first half. Marcus Bettinelli was penalised for handling the ball outside his penalty area and Gross curled the set play past the Fulham goalkeeper, although Glenn Murray was lurking in an offside position. The goal was awarded, despite the vociferous protests of Aleksandar Mitrovic to the assistant referee.
Bettinelli had already made a couple of smart saves to keep Fulham in the contest. He had to be alert inside the first minute to turn aside a low drive from Jurgen Locadia after the Brighton forward had cut inside Steven Sessegnon. The Fulham academy graduate then got his angles right to keep out Locadia’s first-time effort after Davy Propper had floated a delightful through ball over the Whites’ back four. Bettinelli was left stranded by Gross’s wicked free-kick and Fulham were grateful for an offside flag that denied Glenn Murray a second as headed home at the near post following a short corner.
Fulham had offered little as an attacking force for much of the first period, with their best opening coming courtesy of Neeskens Kebano’s pace down the right. The Congolese winger did brilliantly to beat his man and fashion a cross, but the recovering Martin Montoya arrived to nick the ball off Stefan Johansen’s toes.
Scott Parker opted against making any half-time changes but his side did seem far more purposeful after the break. They grabbed an equaliser four minutes into the second half when Johansen sped forward and fed Cairney on the corner of the penalty area. The Scottish international took a touch to work half a yard of space and curled an outstanding finish into the top corner.
Fulham survived a scarce just after the equaliser when a Gross corner came back off the crossbar, but raced up field to take the lead. Aboubakar Kamara seized on a misplaced pass and showcased his blistering pace down the right, tricking his way past Lewis Dunk into the area. He twice tried to square the ball for Cairney, with Jason Steele foiling his efforts, but the ball broke kindly for the Fulham skipper to finish clinically from six yards out.
Former Fulham defender Dan Burn was then introduced as one of four substitutes for Albion and was immediately in the thick of the action as Parker’s side surged forward. Steele made a couple of excellent reaction saves to deny Joe Bryan and then produced a fine stop to keep out a venomous Mitrovic effort at his near post.
Brighton mounted a late effort to try and draw level but struggled to create clear cut openings. New signing Leandro Trossard had a strike bravely blocked and Fulham successfully defended a late free-kick to record their first win of a testing summer programme. Parker’s side will travel to Oxford on Tuesday night before finishing their pre-season preparations with a London derby against West Ham United at Craven Cottage next weekend.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon (Christie 81), Bryan (Odoi 81), Mawson, Le Marchand; McDonald (Harris 54), Johansen (Francois 81), Cairney (de la Torre 74); Kebano (Kamara 54), Cavaleiro (Ayite 74), Mitrovic (Fonte 81). Subs (not used): Rodak, Opoku, O’Riley.
Brighton and Hove Albion winger Anthony Knockaert is currently having a medical with Fulham ahead of a proposed transfer, according to a Sky Sports report.
Fulham reportedly made an approach to the south coast club last week and a fee of around £15m was quoted for the 27 year-old, who has slipped down the pecking order as Graham Potter rejigs his squad following the departure of Chris Hughton. The Whites are believed to view Knockaert, who has twice won promotion from the Championship, as a proven performer in the league and someone who would add both flair and creativity to their side.
Knockaert has scored 27 goals in 139 appearances for Albion and scored fifteen teams when Albion won promotion to the top flight in 2017. He won the Championship player of the season ahead that year, having already starred as Leicester won promotion in 2013/2014. He would join Ivan Cavaleiro and Martell Taylor-Crossdale as Scott Parker’s summer acquisitions Fulham prepare for their return to the Championship.