It’s safe to say Fulham are entering a very strange part of their season. After a disappointing performance at home to Tottenham this weekend, what does the future hold for Jokanovic’s men?
I don’t think anyone was truly expecting Neeskens Kebano to start as the lone forward against Spurs, and in fairness it was a massive ask considering he has rarely featured all season. The game plan was obvious from the opening fifteen minutes with the midfield hitting long-balls hoping to get the Congolese attacker in behind Alderweireld and Vertonghen, but it didn’t have much luck. With the side lacking much creativity in the final third, Spurs began to dominate the game and time after time the left-hand side of the defence in Scott Malone and Tim Ream looked vulnerable. While, I’m a big fan of the style of football Slavisa Jokanovic has brought to the team, we still suffer defensively. Our full-backs aren’t good enough going back, and even though Malone has scored plenty of goals this season, he’s in the side to keep clean sheets more than anything and needs to make sure he does the basics right. Although, Denis Odoi didn’t have the best of games, he was the better performing full-back for Fulham on this afternoon.
But this is where we need to look towards a ‘Plan B’, something that Jokanovic has struggled to do implement all season. Even though we have the level of quality to out-pass teams in this division, there has been too many times this season where we have simply got to the final third and passed the ball sideways. Without, Chris Martin in the side we lack a focal point, and when Fulham get to the opposition's area, they are trying to play too cute between the lines rather than getting it wide and delivering the ball for the forward in the box. Against Spurs this happened time after time, and our attacks were easily snuffed out and Spurs regained their tempo. On the upside, we’ll never face a team as good as Spurs unless we get promoted, but it was a learning curve for all involved on how to play ‘stylish football with attacking full-backs’. But, we shouldn't be afraid to adopt an 'ugly' approach if things aren't going our way. If that means we have to play more structured and direct football then so be it, teams don't get awarded points for style, and if we want to improve, sometimes we have to win a game by trying something new.
What hasn’t gone unnoticed in our recent fixtures is the lack of Chris Martin and although I’ve mentioned his presence in the paragraph above, he still has a vital role to play in this side. Yes, he has been a controversial character since Christmas, but considering the club allowed Cauley Woodrow and Matt Smith to leave this winter, Martin is our only viable target man in the squad – He gives us another dimension in attack. Martin has the ability to hold the ball up and bring our attacking midfielders into play, and it’s this system that brings the best out of our midfield. This dimension to our attack is lost, if we play with a smaller forward or an attacking midfielder as our number 9. While, the likes of Floyd Ayite, Neeskens Kebano and Cyriac may be talented athletes, they are a complete different style of forward to Martin, and love him or hate him, we’re a better side with the Scot leading the line. When Martin is playing with his back to goal, we’re much more efficient and if that isn’t working, then Jokanovic should look at switching to a two forward formation to help provide some support upfront. With a more diminutive forward playing alone, we are forced to try and turn centre-halves or hit the ball to too long, which in all honesty, hasn’t worked whenever it has been tried. With Fulham crying out for a ‘Plan B’, the club need to come together surrounding the situation with Martin, and forget about it as we have a very good chance of being promoted, if we accept the qualities of what we’ve got. Martin was the best option on the bench in recent games and has gone unused. Yes, we’ve won our last 2 league games 3-2, but they are both fixtures we should have won by a more comfortable margin.
In the last few entries of this blog, I’ve stressed the importance of the next 4-6 months at the club. We have an incredibly tough set of fixtures between now and the end of the season and a lot could change depending on where the club finishes this year. If we are promoted, then we’ll have to go on an impressive run and luck must be on our side. Even then, if we got promoted, a host of new contracts would have to be offered to key figures and at least £30-50m would have to be invested into the side.
But, at the start of the year I stated that if we finished in the top 10 it would have been a successful season. Now, many of the readers may think I’m being pessimistic or they make think differently, but we are a club in transition. We must remember that Slavisa Jokanovic joined us just over a year ago, and we’ve had to completely change personnel from the squads built by Felix Magath & Kit Symons, so we are still settling.
Development of Motspur Park has been completed and the plans for a stadium expansion are still underway with Shahid Khan continuing to improve the club’s assets. While we didn’t ‘splash the cash’ in January, it will be an incredibly important summer should we remain in the Championship. Slavisa Jokanovic still has a lot to prove, despite the upturn in performances this season, but with contract talks ongoing with himself and the board, sorting his future sooner rather than later will be a great boost to everyone involved. It will also allow more time for the board to prepare for the summer business, working with the manager to highlight targets and where the squad can be improved depending on our finish.
More importantly, there are a host of players we need make sure stay at this club for the next 2-3 years. The likes of Tomas Kalas (albeit on loan), Tom Cairney, Ryan Sessegnon, Stefan Johansen, Kevin McDonald & Ryan Fredericks to name a few who are probably our most valuable assets and fixtures of our team’s core and spine. If we can keep the majority of this squad together for at least the next 18 months, there’s no reason why we can’t get promoted from the Championship and return to the Premier League. We are blessed right now we some outstanding talent and with the right managerial setup and backing from the board, Fulham could have a very bright future on the horizon.
After being knocked out of the cup by Tottenham, Fulham have to make sure that they bounce back with an away victory at Bristol City on Wednesday. With Bristol City possessing the likes of Tammy Abraham, a goal machine at this level, Fulham need to record their third straight league win and put pressure on the chasing pack for promotion. Despite our cup exit, there’s still plenty to be optimistic and excited about at Craven Cottage. So keep the faith and let’s see if we can make something special from this season.
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