All season, let alone today over here at Cottagers Confidential, there has been constant debate as to whether Slavisa Jokanovic should stay as manager and see this season through. Or should he get sacked in hopes that a change in manager can stem the tide of horrible defending and poor results. In this piece, we discuss the reasons for the latter of those two arguments.
Lack of a cohesive system
If you were to look at any of my game previews, I have stated that what is out on the pitch simply isn’t working anymore. The defense has been run ragged every weekend with the fullbacks constantly told to be pushed too far up. The attackers surrounding Mitrovic are just not gelling properly to provide a constant threat at goal and the midfield is out of sorts with the absence of Tom Cairney and the ineffectiveness of everyone else. In short, you know you’re failing as a manager when you can’t turn a Championship playoff winning squad, plus over £100 million of new recruits into something substantial in the Premier League.
I’ve suggested before that a 3-5-2 could be Fulham’s best formation. Jokanovic has only used that once and it led to a 5-1 drubbing to Arsenal and Cyrus Christie being ordered to mark his opposite FULLBACK. Even then, Fulham’s ball progression and cohesive attack just looks so predictable right now with little threat going forward. If you were to take Andre Schurrle’s four goals (in spite of 1.95 expected goals) and Mitrovic’s five goals, only Jean-Michael Seri and Ryan Sessegnon have scored in the Premier League for this club. That’s not efficient at all and it completely goes against what Jokanovic was instilling into his team over the past two seasons. Besides Joe Bryan, everyone in the first team are healthy and ready to go, but the results are staying the same.
Turnover in the Coaching Staff
One of the more underrated issues surrounding the club is that the same coaching staff that won the Championship playoff last season haven’t been completely a part of this current iteration of Fulham football club this season. Stuart Gray was a real mainstay during the club’s dark years as head coach and he even took over as caretaker boss between the departure of Kyt Symons in 2016 to the hiring of Jokanovic.
However, in stepped in Scott Parker as a new member of the coaching staff and supposedly took over as head coach. Without hesitation, Gray resigned before the season even started and it has been all chaos ever since.
Along with that, there seemed to be a difference in opinion with how Fulham’s goalkeeping was going to turn out. When Fabri arrived this Summer, it was believed that this was under the advise of coach Jose Sambade Correira, who was a part of the Spaniard’s development while at Deportivo La Coruna and Besiktas. But once Marcus Bettinelli reclaimed being Fulham’s number one, Correira left without notice and in came Luca Squinzani without even a press release from the club! The Italian arrives with experience coaching Juventus’ youth team and, eventually, first team goalkeepers, but I don’t think it was that difficult coaching Gianluigi Buffon. That is my expert opinion. His latest position was over at Al Sadd in Qatar. With all due respect to Al Sadd, that’s not really a place to get enough experience as a top flight goalkeeping coach within such a quick turnaround.
Usually, when you have so much instability in your backroom staff, it’s almost a guarantee that the performances worsen as well. Add in the fact that two key figures are coming to Fulham with not enough experience under their belt and you wonder why Jokanovic is craving for something much better around him.
Their strength has somehow become their weakness
And because of that, Fulham are just not implementing Jokanovic’s system the way it properly should. In the previous two seasons, Craven Cottage was constantly entertained by a mobile back four, especially out wide, with a midfield that is guaranteed to dictate the tempo of any match. Along with that, their attack was full of committed dribblers out wide with a target man bossing everything around him up front.
If anything, only that final piece to Jokanovic’s puzzle has been a consistent success. Otherwise, that midfield of Tom Cairney, Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald has no longer been such a back bone to the club as it was during their Championship success. This was a bit predictable as Johansen was viewed as someone that just couldn’t compete defensively at Premier League level and McDonald was no longer young enough to stop teams in his tracks like he does a tier below. That lead to the signings of Jean-Michael Seri and Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa to hopefully stem the tide of this potential issue.
Instead, Seri has no where near been effective enough with him mainly playing as a part of a double pivot instead of as a box-to-box number eight that was deemed the next Xavi. As for Anquissa, the former Marseille man just hasn’t gotten enough game time to prove his worth. And when he has, he’s seen as a bit too clumsy with the ball at his feet (despite leading the club in xG Buildup per 90 minutes) and not one to have the same nous as a more experienced player to handle a holding midfield role at Premier League level (despite what his past radar tells you). And did I mention already that Tom Cairney missed significant time to injury again?
Yeah, that’s not great at all over here at Craven Cottage.
Stubbornness in working with what is in front of him
It’s been the theme all tenure for Jokanovic. When things go against him, the man in charge digs his feet in the ground even harder and demands that things will work out. It looked like things weren’t working out in 2017/18 before a turnaround started around this time last season after the sacking of Craig Kline. But that wasn’t until Jokanovic looked like he did whatever he could to sabotage the club with some of the dumbest lineup decisions we’ve seen in a while. Johansen up top? Rui Fonte out wide? Five-foot-nothing Denis Odoi at center back? The latter worked out somehow, but that’s beside the point.
Fulham just aren’t built to make a 4-3-3 work at the moment and there are a multitude of games to prove it. But instead of reverting to a different system that works for everyone, Slav decides to dig his heels even harder and maintain that his footballing philosophy works. Good on him to have standards and morals, but it’s been said countless times that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again.
And this comes from even his relationship with the board. Even with the sacking of head data man Kline, it’s beyond obvious that everything short of complete control of recruitment is Jokanovic’s only way of doing business. Instead, Fulham’s board haven’t backed down and the results have worked out when you pay attention to the summer of 2016 and the January 2018 transfer windows.
However, there were examples of Fulham just playing a bit of pin the tail on the donkey in hopes that one of them would land on the bullseye. In other words, the statistical radars of Calum Chambers, Luciano Vietto and Andre Schurrle didn’t bring “instant success” to mind. Along with that, what on Earth is going on in goal?! It just seems like Jokanovic time and again wants to put an end to Marcus Bettinelli’s career with the introduction of David Button, Fabri and now Sergio Rico. Whether that is as a result of the board or Jokanovic demanding to pick out their iteration of their number one for the club is up in the air, but now Fulham are stuck with three goalkeepers with senior level experience and with no desire sitting on the bench.
Again, this might be an issue with the board more so with the manager himself, but surely Jokanovic has to be looking at what is going on throughout the rest of European football and realizing that others have to take over in the role of recruitment and other facets of the club. It’s why the rebuild of Arsenal has taken so long since the turn of this decade and why Chelsea (I know, I know) have been so successful despite so much turnover in the dugout. I mean, just look at how things have worked out at our next opponents, Liverpool, now that a board and manager are working in the same concert.
This is what Fulham have been demanding to have since the sacking of Mike Rigg. It should be working under Jokanovic without any fuss whatsoever, but for some reason, it’s just been wave after wave of turmoil.
Self Confidence is out the window
As a result of egos getting in the way, five transfers and loanees have come in on deadline day and all of them have needed time to understand their roles within the club. Last time I checked, it’s November 9th and that understanding hasn’t come to fruition at all. As a result, you are seeing divisions in the club between players from the previous campaigns and the players still trying to figure things out. Along with that, Jokanovic has constantly changed his 18-man squad without a sign of consistency in sight. For the exception of a couple of players, no one knows if they’ll be coming into a match as a starter with Jokanovic’s belief that he can play well or with a sense of stress knowing that he might get benched as soon as one bad pass or missed tackle takes place. Nineteen players have gone on to play over 200 Premier League minutes and that number doesn’t seem to decrease anytime soon.
The dreaded vote of confidence
We’ve all seen Shahid Kahn’s post over at the club website and in the program before the previous home fixture against Bournemouth. This comes from a man begging for stability and a fake smile that all is well. But once the camera’s point to him to see his beloved football club ship in another three goals, the expression said it all. These are dark times for Fulham and you should almost never have anyone above you shout that you’re not going to get sacked anytime soon. Because when that usually happens, things get worse pretty fast. Three defeats, no goals scored and six goals conceded later with possibly more to come, only Kahn knows what comes next.