As we approach February, Fulham are in the most positive place that they have been in for some time. Sure, this seems like a complete repeat as how last season went for the good guys, but the method with how the turnaround occurred was different. The club needed a spark at striker for both campaigns (by way of Chris Martin and “insert false nine here” last season and by way of Rui Fonte and Aboubakar Kamara this season) and whenever Ryan Sessegnon consistently played up front, but Fulham were a consistently good attacking unit that needed to just be more clinical in 2016/17. Hence, why you didn’t see Craig Kline and Slavisa Jokanovic go after many guaranteed starters in that January window as Cyriac and Thanos Petsos only played 158 minutes combined for the club. Both were out the door before you know it.
This campaign, the club seriously needed to improve their underlying numbers and the way they played in order for them to get back into the playoff places. Denis Odoi is now a part-time center back. Fonte and Stefan Johansen are apparently not wingers and center forwards. Who knew? Tom Cairney has gone from playing 4,119 of the maximum 4,140 league minutes in 2016/17 to being constantly checking if his knee ligaments won’t explode at any second. And at minimum, that kid Sessegnon just so happens to be a future Premier League wide player in training.
The point is, this year’s Fulham has produced almost the same results, but they are a different team with different XIs and different tactics. That’s why this January transfer window is a little more unique. With that, three players came in and, unlike Petsos and Cyriac, bring track records that are familiar to the English public and should see them contribute instantly. Let’s take a look at who they are.
With Targett, Fulham are getting a unique fullback that started with the all the potential in the world (sound familiar?). However, things haven’t been great for the former Southampton man. His playing time for the club has been reduced from 13 starts and 1,071 minutes in the Premier League for 2015/16 to just 167 minutes this campaign before heading to Craven Cottage. Already, Targett played a key part in Fulham’s comeback win over Barnsley last weekend with his second half performance. If he continues to play the way he did and continue to receive more game action from Jokanovic will do him and his new team a world of good. The good news is that Fulham can easily slot him as the first choice left back now that Sessegnon is playing further forward and with Odoi slotted towards the center of defense. At 22 and with plenty of historical data collected for him already, proof is there that Targett should improve as a footballer and be a key asset for Fulham with his well-rounded ability in the tackle and crossing ability.
Next up, we go from one potential prodigy needing to turn good to another. This time, he comes as a striker with a reputation of poor off field conduct. But at 23, Mitrovic still has plenty of room to prove that he has what it takes to be a consistent performer in the English game. In his two full seasons with Newcastle, he scored 11 non-penalty goals off of 133 shots. A sub-10% conversion rate is not that great for a potential star up front, but shooting well over three times per contest certainly is. If he can improve his on-target ratio to the mid 40s instead of his current career rate of 37.2%, the Serbian International can be able to me a much more consistent scorer. Until then, expect him to be a center forward equivalent of Sone Aluko whenever you see him in action.
Lastly, if you have been paying attention to my Three Players to Watch pieces this season, Christie should be a familiar name this season. Automatically, he should be able to improve Fulham’s passing from an effectiveness standpoint and will be another danger man for the club with the ball at his feet. I suggest you ignore his hefty dispossession rate of 1.40 times per 90 minutes, because that will always be overshadowed by his 2.50 successful dribbles per 90 minutes.
Sure, radars that I have created throughout the season can certainly be better at analyzing ball retention for each player, but that will be a project to be accomplished for another time. Until then, embrace such a player that is willing to go at people no matter what the cost.
The real question now is why did Jokanovic sign a successful starting right back from one club when we already have one in Ryan Fredericks. Consider that the 25-year old Fridericks has already played a career high 2,520 minutes of league play this season. There was chat throughout last season of him being burnt out as Fulham’s run towards a playoffs place moved forward. While I don’t think that’s the case this time around, I do think having strength in numbers is key.
Along with that, there were rumors of Fredericks leaving Fulham for a lower-tier Premier League side as he is completing the final year of his contract. Meanwhile, Christie is under contract until 2021 with a year-long club option. If anything else, there is long-term stability down that flank no matter who plays there in the coming seasons.
Out: Yoann Mollo, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Michael Madl, Jordan Graham, Rafa Soares
Before we go, let’s take some time to look back at the players that have left the club this transfer window. While Madl and Sigurdsson have left for some undisclosed transfer fees before their respective deals were completed in June, the rest left due to terminations of their contracts or loan agreements. Simply put, this quintet only stepped on to the pitch for a combined 305 league minutes this season. That’s not even close enough to determine if any of these players are talented enough. I personally don’t make such judgements unless they play one-quarter of the league campaign or more (in other words, over 650 minutes per player as of now).
At the end of the day, it’s about seeing an opportunity and taking advantage of it. For Mollo and Graham, it was quite baffling why they came to Fulham in the first place. This is not any fault of the player alone, but more as to why the club decided to bring them over when they already had strength in numbers at the attacking midfield positions. With Sheyi Ojo, Floyd Ayite, Neeskans Kebano and Sessegon already out there, who were Mollo and Graham expected to supplant?
However, the trio of Madl, Sigurdsson and Soares was a different story. Fulham were at a place where they lacked depth at fullback and seriously could have used Soares after he recovered from his ankle injury. But with Odoi and Sessegnon playing there instead and with Targett now in the fold, there was never going to be a place for him. Again, since he did not receive game time, it’s unfair to make a judgement as to whether he was a genuine bust or not.
While Sigurdsson’s place in the team was gone as soon as he went on loan to Rubin Kazan this summer after a series of bad performances in 2016/17, Madl still had something left in the table. However, the Austrian International’s fate was sealed after a miserable outing against Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup and he has struggled to even get on the matchday squad since. I wish all that have left Fulham the best of luck because all have proven before to have a chance to make an impact somewhere in European football.