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Loftus-Cheek feels Fulham have made ‘massive progress’

Ruben Loftus-Cheek believes Fulham have made ‘massive, massive progress’ since the start of his loan spell at Craven Cottage – and can’t wait to get back amongst the action against Manchester United tomorrow night.

The England international had to watch the derby defeat by his parent club Chelsea from the sidelines, but feels there are plenty of positives the Whites can take from both that game and the draw with Tottenham into the meeting with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s side. Loftus-Cheek told FFCTV that those performances have really helped raise the confidence of the squad:

I think we did very well. Going away to Spurs is not an easy game. Going behind after starting well and them scoring a very good goal, to keep playing the way we did and go up another level in the second half, get the goal and we thought we could have gone on and won the game very comfortably. That performance was fantastic for the team as a whole and good for confidence for myself.

You want to keep the momentum going, but obviously Fulham couldn’t play me against Chelsea. But I watched them and I thought the boys were fantastic. Up to the sending off, we were doing really well, had chances to score early on. You can’t fault the boys in that game and hopefully we can carry on this form into the next game.

I want to get going, get back on the pitch and keep this momentum going with the team and with myself. I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t think we are going into these games with big teams thinking it is going to be a really difficult game. We are giving these teams a tough time – we are hard to break down and good going forward. I think we can see these games as a chance to get points. That’s just how we feel at the minute.

I think defensively we’ve made massive, massive progress. As a team, we’re so hard to break down, so hard to score against. The fans watching can see how diligent we are in our defensive work and how we work for one another as a team. I think now we need to be more clinical in front of goal. I think we can get that down and keep the defensive side, we’ll be a very difficult team to play.

Mitrovic fit for United return

Aleksandar Mitrovic could return to Fulham’s starting line up against Manchester United after recovering from a hamstring injury and returning to training.

The Serbian striker, who has struggled for form and fitness of late, has participated fully in this week’s training sessions at Motspur Park after missing the derby defeat by Chelsea having injured his hamstring in the FA Cup victory over QPR. Fulham boss Scott Parker told his pre-match press conference that he expects Mitrovic to play a key role in the club’s survival bid:

“He hurt his hamstring against QPR but he’ll be back tomorrow night. He’ll be the first to say this season has been a struggle in terms of form. He can help us win matches. At present I’ve gone with other people but this is a Premier League squad with healthy competition. Top players thrive on that pressure and competition. Mitro will do the same. He needs to to get into this team and more importantly score goals like I know he can.”

Parker will also be able to include Mario Lemina in his matchday squad after the on-loan Southampton midfielder shook off the after effects of coronavirus and returned to training, but will have to do without Terence Kongo for ‘a few weeks’ after the Dutch defender suffered another injury setback.

“Terence Kongolo has picked up a knock but it’s nothing too serious. He’s the only one really. He got a bit of knock in training the day before the Chelsea game and felt his hamstring. When players have had long lay-offs there’s a balance between work and not getting injured again, and he’s not been lucky.”

Parker, who reiterated that he was ‘immensely proud’ of his side’s efforts having been reduced to ten men against Chelsea, is now targeting victories as Fulham look to move away from the relegation zone in the coming weeks.

“That’s the next big challenge for us really. We’ve been able to stay in games, give ourselves a platform and be more solid as a team. The fine margins of this division means we need to take our chances. When you look at the numbers in an attacking sense we’re holding our own. But we need to turn draws into wins. We’ll keep pushing and get on the end of some good results.”

The Fulham head coach will also like more additions to his squad, especially in forward areas, to boost their survival aspirations.

“It’s a difficult window. We have one recognised striker in the building in Mitrovic. We understand where we’re a bit light but I also understand this a tough window. Time’s not on our side. We’ll work relentlessly hard to try and improve our attacking play to get on the right end of results.”

Fulham eye Dia deal

Fulham are the latest Premier League side to join the race to sign Reims striker Boulaye Dia, according to reports in France this evening.

The 24 year-old forward has scored twelve goals in eighteen league games for Reims this season and currently leads the Ligue 1 scoring charts. The Senegalese international had been widely tipped to move to Olympique Marseilles, but an overseas switch seems more likely given the crippling affect of the coronavirus pandemic on French football finances. West Ham also hold a longstanding interest in Dia, but the Hammers are also considering a number of other targets to replace the recently departed Sebastien Haller.

Le10Sport reports that both Fulham and Crystal Palace have been in touch with Dia’s representatives to gauge the player’s interest in a potential move to London and understand what sort of terms he would be requesting. No official approach has been made by either party, but both are expected to table offers well before the close of the transfer window.

Fulham’s need for striking reinforcements is well established, with Scott Parker using his post-match press conference following Saturday’s defeat by Chelsea to urge the club to conclude a deal for a new forward well in advance of the transfer deadline. The Londoners have also been linked with moves for Dwight Gayle and Josh King in recent days, whilst reports this afternoon claimed that they had failed in an ambitious attempt to bring Moussa Dembele back to Craven Cottage.

Dia has scored 24 goals in 69 games since making his professional debut for Reims in October 2018. His fine form for Reims earned a first international call-up to the senior Senegal squad last year and Dia made his debut in a 3-1 friendly defeat to Morocco. Reims, who are reportedly struggling to be able to pay their first-team squad beyond the end of this month, are believed to be holding out for a fee of around £15m for his services, with a number of European clubs rumoured to be tracking the striker’s progress.

U23s triumph at Palace

Goals from Fabio Carvalho, Sylvester Jasper and Jean-Pierre Tiehi secured the perfect start to the year for Fulham’s under 23s as they won a five-goal thriller at Crystal Palace this afternoon.

Colin Omogbehin’s side made the perfect start in the seventh minute after enjoying the better of the early exchanges. Talented England youth international Fabio Carvalho opened the scoring in magnificent style with a beautiful chip finding the top corner after he had seized on some sloppy home defending from Sam Woods. The Whites were denied a second by a fine reaction save from Oliver Webber, but they soon doubled their lead with a wonderful move.

Jayden Harris worked clever one-twos at pace with Carvalho and Tiehi before threading a through ball between the Palace defence to release Jasper. The in-form winger made light of the acute angle – clinically converting the chance with a modicum of fuss. But for all the sublime quality of Fulham’s flowing football, some worrying defensive naivety allowed the Eagles back into a game that looked well beyond them.

A clumsy challenge from Lesley Duru on striker John-Kymani Gordon earned the hosts a spot-kick, which Sion Spence comfortably converted, and after Tiehi had seen a predatory finish chalked off for offside, the Eagles levelled just before the break. Woods won possession high up the pitch, fed Spence and the skipper’s smart lay-off allowed Brandon Pierrick to skip inside and fire past a helpless Luca Ashby-Hammond.

The young Whites would have been incredibly disappointed to go in level at half-time and it took just five minutes of the second half for Fulham to forge ahead once more. Tiehi eventually got the goal another excellent all-round performance merited when Carvalho seized on a poor Palace pass to surge away from inside his own half and his perfectly judged pass allowed the French forward to guide home his eighth league goal of the season.

Palace pressed for an equaliser with Pierrick’s deflected shot bringing a smart stop from Ashby-Hammond, Harlem Hale sending a volley wide and Ashby-Hammond making a sublime stop after dashing off his line to deny Pierrick in a one-on-one. The Whites managed the remainder of the game impressively and the win sees them climb above their south London rivals in the Premier League 2 table.

CRYSTAL PALACE U23s: Webber, Taylor, Hannam, M. Boateng, Hobbs, Baghuelou (Hale, 60), Kirby (Giddings, 60), Woods, Gordon (Matthews, 71), Spence, Pierrick. Subs (not used): Russell, Watson.

FULHAM U23s: L. Ashby-Hammond; Duru, McAvoy, Larkeche, Murphy; Davis, Harris, De Havilland (O’Neill 45); Carvalho, Jasper, Tiehi. Subs (not used): Abraham, Mee, Biereth, Benjamin.

Fulham failed with Dembele bid

Fulham failed in an audacious attempt to bring former forward Moussa Demeble back to Craven Cottage earlier this month, according to reports this afternoon.

Football Insider reports that the Whites were keen to entice Dembele back to England using the carrot of Premier League football, but were simply unable to match the wage package offered by Atletico Madrid. The 24 year-old was formally announced as an Atletico player earlier this week, joining on an initial loan deal that will become a £30m permanent deal in the summer.

Scott Parker has spoken of the importance of bringing in additional forwards during the January transfer, given that he is currently deploying Ivan Cavaleiro as a striker as Aleksandar Mitrovic struggles for both form and fitness. The Fulham boss suggested over the weekend that he wants reinforcements quickly, but the Londoners have only been linked with possible moves for Newcastle’s Dwight Gayle and the Bournemouth striker Josh King.

Fulham’s unlikely pursuit of Dembele, who joined the club on a free transfer from French giants Paris Saint-Germain at the age of sixteen, highlights just how desperate they are to land a reliable striker to power their survival bid. Dembele, who was a regular scorer for the club’s academy sides, eventually went to score 19 goals in 64 senior appearances before joining Celtic for a nominal fee once his Fulham contract expired in the summer of 2016.

Parker aims to avoid deadline day rush

Scott Parker wants Fulham to secure new arrivals as soon as possible in order to avoid a deadline day rush.

Fulham have been playing catch up for most of the season largely as a result of delayed recruitment in the summer transfer window, something Parker obliquely referenced in his post-match press conference following Fulham’s narrow derby defeat to Chelsea on Saturday:

We were three or four games in before we did a lot of our business and a lot of points were at stake really. So, of course, we’d like to try and get the business in early because it gives you an opportunity to work with the player, gives them a quicker time to settle in, and obviously you don’t miss as many games.

We understand the difficulties of this window and it is a short turnaround but I’d like to do business early, I’d like to get players in. Hopefully we can get some help because we do need it in certain areas.

The Fulham boss has already spoken about the importance of adding a striker to his squad. Aleksandar Mitrovic has missed the last two games with a calf problem picked up in the FA Cup win at QPR and Ivan Cavaleiro, who has filled in as a makeshift centre forward, missed a glorious chance just before half-time to put the Whites ahead against Chelsea.

How full is Fulham’s glass?

This might rank as one of the most frustrating weekends since Fulham rejoined English football’s elite. The Whites’ narrow defeat against Chelsea was infuriating enough, but the outcome would have been hinted at by the history books and the complexion of a competitive contest was radically altered by Antonee Robinson’s rash challenge on the stroke of half time when Scott Parker’s side were having their best spell of the game. What made the derby reverse all the more galling was the fact that fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion and Brighton and Hove Albion had already picked up impressive away wins, leaving Fulham just a single point above Sam Allardyce’s new charges, four points from safety and five behind Albion.

How terminal that position is remains to be seen. It is important to acknowledge that in this, a season like no other, there is still plenty of football to be played. We are yet to hit the halfway point of the campaign – and Fulham, after weathering a coronavirus outbreak within their own squad, have at least one game in hand on all of the teams around them. The main reason for hope is that Parker’s side look unrecognisable from the callow outfit that was swatted aside so easily at the start of the season, having switched their shape and acquired a defensive diligence that is keeping them in games until the very end. Recent results, with determined draws against the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham, suggest that Fulham can compete against the division’s top sides, and Parker’s men have crucial clashes against both Brighton and West Brom to come before the month is out.

On the flip side, Fulham have only recorded two victories – already the wins against West Brom and Leicester seem a long time ago – and stringing wins together is the only way to mount a successful survival bid. The need for three points grows with every week, especially with our relegation rivals grabbing surprise triumphs here and there. Parker’s switch to three at the back might have made his previously leaky defence more solid but he has sacrificed some potency at the other end of the pitch. They have only scored three times in their last five league matches and are desperate for striking reinforcements, something only highlighted by Ivan Cavaleiro’s glaring miss against Chelsea.

So, as the conclusion to the January transfer window moves into sharper focus over the next fortnight, getting attackers in – arguably in time for those showdowns against the Albions – becomes pivotal to Fulham’s safety bid. Without high quality back up to an alarming out-of-form Aleksandar Mitrovic at the very least, Parker’s side will probably continue to fluff their lines in front of goal. Cavaleiro toils manfully up top but he’s far from a natural finisher or the nippy number nine that this system requires. The usual links to Dwight Gayle and Josh King have resurfaced in the last week, but we must hope that negotiations to land a forward are carrying on quietly behind the scenes.

It essentially comes down to how positive you feel. Is Fulham’s glass half full, or half empty? The optimists will point to Parker’s bravery in switching to five at the back and the fact that the best teams in the land have struggled to breach Fulham’s defence in the past few weeks. His achievement in knitting together an entirely new back three, as well as the masterstroke of deploying Bobby Decordova-Reid as a roving wing-back, certainly shouldn’t be understated. But goals win games and Fulham aren’t scoring enough of them. A gap has started to open up between the Whites and safety at just the wrong time – so if you are pessimistic in nature, the signs of another demotion from the top flight, are probably all already flashing. Parker is probably accruing a decade’s worth of managerial experience from his first job – but it will rank as one of the best achievements in top flight history should he guide the Whites to safety.

Fulham rejoin King chase – but may wait until summer

Fulham have rejoined the race to sign wantaway Bournemouth striker Josh King but appear to ready to wait until the summer to conclude a free transfer, according to a report in the Sun this morning.

The Norwegian international, who has refused to sign a contract extension with the Cherries, seems to have priced himself out of a possible move to Everton by demanding £120,000-a-week. The size of his salary demands has led to the Toffees considering moves for other attacking targets as they would consider him an addition to their squad rather than a key player.

Fulham, who are desperate for striking reinforcements in January as they continue to struggle for goals in the Premier League, are watching develops with interest as the 29 year-old forward is also being monitored by Newcastle and Aston Villa. All three of those sides are said to be willing to wait until June when King would be available for free, with King open to that option himself as he eyes a contract similar to the one that his former team-mate Callum Wilson secured at St. James’ Park last summer.

King played in Bournemouth’s disappointing defeat at the hands of struggling Luton yesterday – making just his tenth appearance of the season for Jason Tindall’s side. His only goals came in a 4-1 defeat of Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup last weekend when he bagged a brace. The former Manchester United trainee has scored 52 goals in 181 games since signing for Bournemouth in May 2015 and he has seventeen goals in 51 caps for his country.

Defeat ‘tough to take,’ says Andersen

Joachim Andersen admitted Fulham’s derby day defeat was ‘tough to take’ after a gallant display saw the Whites match Chelsea for much of the ninety minutes at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

The Danish defender, outstanding at the heart of the Fulham back five again, was disappointed that his side walked away without a reward for another diligent defensive display, especially considering how well they had coped following the dismissal of left wing-back Antonee Robinson just before half-time. Andersen told FFCTV after the final whistle that he felt Scott Parker’s gameplan had worked well in the first half:

I felt that in the first half we started well, but in the middle of the first half we sat down a little bit too much and they had the ball a lot but I didn’t feel like they created big chances. I felt that we were comfortable and in the last part of the first half, we played some really nice football and had a big, big chance. So, with a little bit of luck, we are 1-0 up but, of course, the red card changed a lot.

He was not concerned with Chelsea having a lot of the ball and said that Fulham have been working hard on their defensive shape at Motspur Park:

I think it is normal when you play against good opponents and that’s what we’ve been good at. In the recent games, we are comfortable at being behind the ball and be ready to counter – and when we can, play some nice bits. Today we showed that we can do that.

Attention swiftly turns to another tough test against Manchester United with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side heading to London for Wednesday night’s fixture:

Luckily, we have one more day to prepare, but of course, it is a huge opponent as well and I think they are quite similar to Chelsea. Again, we have to switch on and we have to be ready. We need to get some points and Wednesday is a good chance.

Andersen insisted that the Fulham squad has a strong spirit and that belief remains high despite the end of their six-match unbeaten run.

I think it is really, really good the way everyone is fighting. Since I came, I feel everyone wants to be involved, everyone wants to play, everyone wants to show their qualities. It is unbelievable how much the offensive players [put in] – they work so hard and that makes it easier for us guys at the back, so I’m really happy with everyone.

Leipzig slap £15m price tag on Lookman

Fulham will have to pay £15m to turn Ademola Lookman’s loan spell from Red Bull Leipzig into a permanent deal, according to a report in the Sun.

The nippy winger has starred in his loan spell at Craven Cottage and Fulham boss Scott Parker hinted last week that he would be looking to conclude a deal to bring him back to London permanently. The ex-Everton winger has shrugged off the disappointment of a pitiful Paneka penalty that cost Fulham a point at West Ham earlier in the season to become one of the first names on Parker’s teamsheet in a reshaped Whites line-up.

Lookman opened his Fulham account with a stunning individual goal at Sheffield United and grabbed the crucial opening goal in the Whites’ surprise away win at high-flying Leicester City. The 23 year-old has also added three assists and his form has meant that Leipzig will look to claw back as much of the £16m they paid Everton for his services in July 2019 following a successful loan spell in Germany.