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Can Fulham maintain their style of play in the Premier League?

What can the past tell us about Fulham’s future?

Fulham FC v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

So along with giving you the whole coverage with regards to Fulham football club, I’d figure I’d start a weekly feature that will hopefully answer one of the questions that are in a good chunk of the minds of Fulham supporters everywhere.

So with that in mind, I’d figure to take a look at what might happen if Fulham were to follow the trends of recently promoted sides past to determine if they will be able to use the same attacking brand of football like they did under the previous two seasons. Watching an entertaining team is always fun. Watching that same entertaining team win all the time, like, oh I don’t know, almost 23 times in a row, is even more fun. You know what’s not fun? Losing.

And unfortunately, Fulham will be dealing with much more than usual now that they are in the Premier League. This isn’t to say that the club are not good enough more so than it was downright inevitable that the quality of competition was going to be much tougher. Look no further than this week’s opponents in Tottenham as an example of a team that will almost surely not allow Fulham to play the way they would like to play. Which leads us to the question that is on most supporters minds?

Can Fulham really be able to play the exact same way like they did in order for them to stay up in England’s top flight? For just the sake of this exercise, I have only based “style of play” off of two statistical categories alone: percentage of time of possession and percentage of completed passes. Barring exceptions, the team that keeps and knows what to do with the ball at their feet usually is the better attacking and more eye-catching side. For both statistics, I have compared promoted sides from 2013/14 to 2016/17 and saw how they performed the season afterwards to see if there was a definitive trend.

All data from whoscored.com

We first start with possession and, for the most part, the better teams in that category tend to correlate with how well they performed in the Premier League within this group. That being said, of the 10 promoted Championship Clubs during this four-year span that kept the ball 50% or more of the time, only one of them went on to do so the first year they came up towards the Premier League. That would be Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side that had the ball 56.4% of the time during their Championship title run in 2014/15. That being said, the average possession from recently promoted teams tends to drop 6.5 percentage points when transitioning from one league to the other.

Meanwhile, Slavisa Jokanovic’s 2017/18 team put up a whopping 57.8% possession this past Championship season. If you were to base that data point off of what that 12-team sample trendline expects, Fulham are expected to hold onto the ball 49.1% of the time this season. While a complete downgrade, that would put them ninth-best if the Premier League operates the same as it did last campaign.

All data from whoscored.com

Along with needing time on the ball, questions will arise about whether Fulham can pass their way out of more trouble in the Premier League. After all, the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs are considered the kings of pressing football and that would surely mean more turnovers and less mental fortitude than what was seen in the Championship.

Like possession percentages, teams that perform well in passing are better adjusted for what’s to come in the Premier League. Fortunately, the decrease in passing ability is not as bad as ball retention as there has been an average drop of 2.5 percentage points in that department. That said, the differences between outcome and average in passing is much greater than the fluctuation you see from the average in possession.

Thus, for what it is worth, this chart has predicted that Fulham will go from being a team that completed passes 83.1% of the time to 78.3% of the time. That is still quite a respectable number and that would have seen them being the best passing team outside of the top six in English football last season.

For those looking for a laugh, guess the one club that has generated the two worst possession and passing stats among all recently promoted sides in the last four campaign and stayed in line with how poor they were in those two categories the season afterwards. Go on! I’m not giving you anymore hints...

Now all of this data comes with a caveat. First, ONLY 12 FOOTBALL CLUBS ARE IN THIS DATASET!!! Always remember to fear the sample size monsters. Unfortunately, name any football stats company and 2013/14 is almost guaranteed to be the furthest season in which you can find detailed statistics for the Championship. Now within those small sample sizes, the correlations (also known as how closely related last season’s data is to the next season’s data, which is the square root of R2) for passing and possession are both above 67%, which is pretty darn good considering the circumstances.

Along with that, not all promoted sides are created equal with how they handle their senior team and managerial staff. Of all these teams were looking at, four of the twelve went on to lose their manager after their first year in the Premier League and five of those twelve went straight back down to the Championship. Surely, Slavisa will be back at the Cottage by the time 2019/20 rolls around.

So yeah, there’s my attempt explaining what will happen to Fulham as an attacking unit. While it is not using a “football man” to determine this answer, it is an attempt that will at least start some conversation.

So what are your thoughts on this, and what do you think the next talking point should be for next week? Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts on the comment section below.