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Fulham In 2016: What should we expect?

With a talented squad, and a manager who seems to give us some true direction, it's perhaps a shame we can't scrap the previous 25 games and start a new season right now. But forgetting the fact that the play-offs are realistically out of sight and that our league season unfortunately won't go anywhere, we should look forward to an exciting calendar year.

Jokanovic: 'I am not David Copperfield, it will take time'
Jokanovic: 'I am not David Copperfield, it will take time'
Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Before we begin, I think we have to make a few assumptions, otherwise this year is simply impossible to predict. Firstly, we have to aniticipate that come this time next year, Jokanovic will still be our Head Coach - why do I expect this? Well he's said it himself: 

"I come here for working not to fix problems fast. I am not David Copperfield, it will take time." (Jokanovic's post-match conference after the 1-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday)

Secondly, we have to presume that Shahid Khan will still be here come 2017, and finally we should expect that we do avoid relegation this season... If we don't then I give up all hope. Now then, I'd argue that there are 3 main questions we can ask ourselves to examine Fulham's upcoming year in detail:

a) Realistically, where can we finish this season in the league?

This is by far the easiest question to answer - the top 10 should be our aim. With 21 games left and a possible 63 points to claim, we should be looking to get about 35, which seems a plausible and realistic target, which also would show great progress against the 27/75 points we've gained so far.

We would need roughly 52 points to make the play-offs which, let's be honest, won't happen, because we'd have to match and exceed championship-winning form to do so. If we did this, not only would Jokanovic be a miracle man, he'd become an instant club legend.

In terms of avoiding relegation we need just 5 or 6 wins (15+ points) from our remaining 21 games, which should be no trouble for us. I think if we go down this year, we should lose all hope, scapegoat the Michael Jackson statue and tell Khan to go back to America... To be honest it would send our whole club into utter meltdown.

So when we look at an overview of the remainder of our season, play-offs and relegation seem impossible, 12th or below seems disappointing, but anywhere around the top 10, or top 12 and we can really say we've made fantastic progress since Jokanovic took over. Anywhere else (13th-21st) is perhaps a small building block, but it's still quite mediocre.

b) By this time next year, where should we expect to see ourselves?

Surely it's the top 6. We seem to have almost everything in place to be a club that can compete for the Championship play-offs; with a fantastic head coach, brilliant coaching staff and a talented squad, alongside our opportunity to build on our team in the summer, all the essentials seem to be there now.

We all know what's missing though, aside from the transfers to strengthen in some areas, which I'll get to later. Passion, team-gelling and most importantly confidence.

With 11 new signings in the summer, it's not easy for the players to have immediate passion for Fulham, but we need them to begin to show that they want promotion just as much as we do, whether they care much about the club or not.

Additionally, throwing all these players into our starting XI and expecting them all to fit like clockwork is unrealistic, but hopefully we will actually see our players start to gel well and look like they actually appreciate each-other come 2017...

Confidence seems to be an issue which our new boss cannot stress enough. Jokanovic, speaking in his pre-match conference ahead of our FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday, emphasised that his "obligation is to try to find a solution, try to support my team, try and give them confidence, try to give them a way to win the game."

c) How will the squad change throughout 2016?

Now this is where we should all be really excited. Slavisa Jokanovic has an impeccable track record of signing key players at his clubs, especially Watford last season.

He managed to secure the signings of Sebastian Bassong and Odion Ighalo in his first month at Watford, while keeping their essential players, such as Abdi, Anya and Deeney, three players who have gone on to feature this season in the Premier League. And if you haven't heard about the things Odion Ighalo has done since joining Watford then you've been hiding under a rock. He managed 30 league goals in 2015... more than any other player in the Premier League or Championship.

We should also retain hope that Jokanovic can hang onto our young prospects, and he has even publicly stated that he 'did not come here to sell'. Whether he can secure deals with our youngsters like Hyndman and Dembele is yet to be resolved, but we will hopefully see them in Fulham shirts come to end of January.

And lets not forget that we will have opportunities to invest in the summer, as we will no longer be held under the restrictions of a transfer embargo. Not only can our owner, Shahid Khan, splash out some of his $4.4bn (net worth), but also the Financial Fair Play rules are being loosened, so there is less risk involved for us when making transfers.

And of course we are still free to loan players this January, and I would encourage the idea of signing players with an option to buy come June, so we can secure permanent deals for any good loan signings we make.

I can't, unfortunately, talk about squad changes without mentioning the areas we need to strengthen. It's a tough debate really... Wait no, it absolutely is not. If we can introduce some defensive depth we can be comfortable surely come next season. A new, no-nonsense, leader-of-men centre back would do the trick.

Meanwhile, defensively competent full backs would make up for our current players, who are dangerous offensively but can be tough to watch at the back sometimes. Perhaps with more organisation we will see the need for defensive players fall anyway... But we seem to be cursed in the respect that we've conceded 211 league goals since August 2013. Yes, you read that correctly, two hundred and eleven goals.

Overview

It looks promising, I don't think there's any doubting that. The appointment of Jokanovic was approved by 92% of Fulham fans, according to a Twitter poll conducted around the time of his imminent arrival. His ethos will gradually come into effect this calendar year, and as I've heard so many times since he joined: Rome wasn't built in a day. So, if you're a Fulham fan out there finding this one of the bleakest moments in recent decades, you're not wrong, but look upwards, our time will come.

Everything is prospering, and while some of you may say I'm taking this view too far, next season could really be our season. From now until May, we look to progress, and from then we kick on up, eyes on promotion.

But, of course, we are Fulham, so don't be too surprised if we completely mess it all up.