This is always one of the hardest parts of writing the offseason plan. Deciding on the players you want to leave is fairly easy. Looking at the current squad and putting them into positions can be depressing, but it’s not particularly challenging. Trying to figure out what the team needs though, that can be difficult. Especially when the team needs a lot.
This task becomes even harder when we really have no idea how the team is going to play. The roster requirements for a team playing two strikers are different than a team playing one striker. Playing a back three with wing backs means the number and kind of center backs you target might be quite different. The wide midfielders in a classic 4-4-2 are much different than those in a 4-2-3-1 or even a diamond 4-4-2. Ideally you want a roster flexible enough to shift styles if needed, but you should have a default way of playing that maximizes the value of the players rather than trying to shoe horn players into a system.
So, what exactly does Fulham need?
The current goalkeeper depth chart is Bettinelli, Joronen, and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. While it wouldn’t bother me to see Bettinelli be the starter, having Joronen as the primary backup isn’t optimal. If you believe in the future of Joronen, sitting on the bench and playing with the U21 squad probably isn’t ideal. A loan to a League One club would probably be much better for him. Also, as the last three years have shown us; you’re going to probably need to rely on your backup goalkeeper from time to time. If Bettinelli were to get hurt, are you comfortable with Joronen playing for a long time in his absence? Who is your backup in that case? Someone from the academy. That’s why signing a goalkeeper is probably a requirement. The only question is, do you sign someone with the intent of pushing Bettinelli? Do you sign someone you think will probably win the job himself? Or do you sign someone who will be content to be a backup?
You’re probably as sick of reading about it as I am of writing about it. But the fact remains, Fulham’s defense was abysmal. The signings that Fulham needs really depend on how Slavisa decides to play, and who leaves the club. Assuming that Amorebieta and Bodurov leave as expected that would leave the center back depth as Madl, Ream, Stearman, and Grimmer. If you plan on playing three center backs, you only have one for cover. If you're going to play two centerbacks, you could possibly get away with signing one. If you are playing three at the back, you'd need two center backs at least. To me, two is the number Fulham need. It's enough to play three at the back at times, and more than enough cover to play with two centerbacks. The biggest question remaining is do you think Ream or Madl can be the starter? Are you looking for clear upgrades? But centerback isn't the only defensive position of need in defense. Fulham need depth at right back, and someone who can play left back. Fulham may be addressing depth at right back and left back with Denis Odoi. If he's depth on the right and the backup on the left, you can afford to let Jazz Richards go. The team would still need to sign a starter for the left though.
We’re assuming Fulham are going to be playing two central midfielders at all times. This is true in a 3-5-2. It’s true in a 4-2-3-1. It’s true in a 4-3-3. About the only formation where it isn’t the case is a diamond, in which you’d need three. Scott Parker, Lasse Vigen Christensen, and Ryan Tunnicliffe aren’t a bad three. The problem is that Tunnicliffe and Christensen have injury histories and Parker is old and will struggle to play 90 minutes. I think you would need to sign at least two players to provide cover at central midfield. They don’t need to have it be their primary position, as Fulham also need help in attacking midfield. In a 3-5-2, there will be one attacking midfielder. In a 4-2-3-1, you’re going to have three. Fulham’s signing of Floyd Ayite fills one of those roles. Tom Cairney fills one as well. Ross McCormack can fit into an attacking band of three as well. After that, you’re looking at unproven guys like Sean Kavanagh and George Williams; or moving a fullback up to play as a winger. You’ll probably want at least two more players to fill that attacking band. However, you if you can find someone who can play in the attacking band and also drop back deeper when needed (LVC can already manage this); it might be possible to fill two positions with one player.
Even though Moussa Dembele is gone, our forward depth remains fairly strong. Assuming McCormack stays, he’s going to start. The question is whether he’s playing further back in the attacking band or partnered up top with someone else. Cauley Woodrow is probably ready to take a bigger load. Matt Smith is still kicking around and has his usefulness. Floyd Ayite can play up top, as can George Williams. That doesn’t mean that Fulham couldn’t use some depth. If they’re going to be spending most of their time with two forwards, a signing is imperative. If they’re going to be more of a 4-2-3-1, a depth signing would be welcomed but not life or death.
After all of that, what have we learned? Fulham still need to make at least nine signings. They need a goalkeeper, left back, two center backs, fullback depth, at least three midfielders, and a forward. One of those positions may be soon filled, but there’s still a lot of work to do. In part four, we will examine possibilities we could see at those positions.