Fulham are most football fans’ second club.
Maybe it’s Craven Cottage’s idyllic placement on the bank of the Thames. Maybe it’s the Michael Jackson statue. It’s definitively not the Putney End’s neutral stand, or the clappers.
In the interest of transparency, I’ll come clean early. Fulham are my club. Which makes the start to this season all the more troubling.
Much was made of Fulham’s summer transfer window.
More than £100million was spent following Fulham’s play-off victory against Aston Villa. In doing so, Fulham became the first promoted side to break the £100mil barrier.
Five deadline day signings were the icing on the cake. A cake even Mohamed Al-Fayed, the man responsible for planting an MJ statue outside of Craven Cottage, might have considered too decadent.
So it’s proved. Eleven games into the season Fulham find themselves rooted to the bottom of the Premier League. A 1-0 defeat to previously winless Huddersfield was about as bleak as Monday Night Football gets. In fact, on behalf of all Fulham fans, I apologise to anyone who sat through it.
So what’s gone wrong?
There’s only one place to start- defence. The Whites have conceded more goals than any side in Europe’s top five leagues. Fulham’s back four take pride in parting like the Red Sea whether playing against Sergio Aguero or Bobby Reid.
Of course, this being Fulham, money was spent to strengthen Fulham’s defence. Five of the eleven summer arrivals- Alfie Mawson, Joe Bryan, Maxime Le Marchand, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Calum Chambers- were defensive reinforcements.
But only Fosu-Mensah and Le Marchand, signed from Nice to babysit Jean Michael Seri, have established themselves as starters.
Fosu-Mensah doesn’t lack for effort but he’s struggled to make an impact in the final third of the pitch in the same way Ryan Fredericks did last season, aside from when he’s picking up yellow cards for tackles that would make Paul Scholes wince.
Le Marchand and Denis Odoi have been painful to watch in the heart of Fulham’s defence. They’ve clearly been told to play out from the back but, mainly through a lack of ability and partly due to a lack of options, are constantly caught in dangerous positions.
When you add in their aerial vulnerability, it’s hardly surprising Fulham have failed to keep a clean sheet this season. Every striker in the Premier League will have the date they next face Fulham circled on a calendar. Even Joselu and Christian Benteke.
Mawson’s journey from the fringes of the England squad to a non-existent member of Fulham’s starting XI hint at something sinister behind the scenes.
Jokanovic doesn’t have full control over Fulham’s transfers, which takes us on to the next area of concern.
Players are signed on the back of statistical analysis, although the club claim they don’t buy anyone without also gaining the approval of Fulham’s scouting department. That clash between old school and new school makes many Fulham fans uncomfortable.
How much of a say Jokanovic had in the players who arrived in SW6 this summer remains to be seen. There’s a feeling that he could be leaving out some in a show of defiance.
But, whether signed with Jokanovic’s blessings or not, many of the summer arrivals make little sense.
Take Fulham’s record signing Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, for example. The Cameroon international was signed from Marseille on deadline day for a fee of £30m.
The more the dust settles, the more than move looks ridiculous. Jokanovic recently explained that Anguissa has no experience of playing as the lone defensive midfielder and has only ever played with another team-mate beside him. Hardly ideal when Jokanovic plays with just one sitting midfielder.
That disconnect between what Jokanovic needed and what Fulham signed can also be seen in the fact that Marcus Bettinelli, Sergio Rico and Fabri are all currently fighting to his first-choice goalkeeper.
Fulham spent more than £100m in the summer but arguably only improved in one position. Jean Michael Seri has been an upgrade on club favourite Stefan Johansen, although the Ivorian has looked lost in recent weeks.
Andre Schurrle has been Fulham’s best player but his arrival has seen Ryan Sessegnon move to left-back, where the 18-year-old has understandably struggled in his first top flight campaign.
The saddest part of Fulham’s decline has been the move away from playing attractive, possession-based football.
Jokanovic was unwavering in beliefs last season, whether in a wet and windy trip to the Den or a play-off final at Wembley.
Fast forward a couple of months and possessing, in theory, better technicians, Fulham have transformed into a team with no identity.
Aimless long balls from the back find Aleksandar Mitrovic in increasingly irate shape. He’s fighting a losing battle from the minute the game kicks off.
If we’re going to go down, we should at least go down passing.
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