Just when everyone thought this season would be a struggle, Fulham were finally able to collect some points in the Premier League table. Along with that, they did so against an opponent that finished seventh last season and still has Europa League aspirations. When you not only claim victory against such opposition, but do so while tallying four goals on them, plenty of things have to go your way. With the dust settling on this fixture, let’s take a look at the three things that we can conclude upon from all the events that took place.
Mitro might have been on fire, but Vietto and Schürrle really came to play
Slavisa Jokanovic may be blessed to have plenty of options in attacking wide forwards on his senior team squad, but it was a struggle to figure out who would best complement Aleksander Mitrovic for the entirety of 2018/19.
The previous two fixtures just didn’t come close to answering that question and it comes as no surprise that Jokanovic has already tried his third different front three combination. He tried Ryan Sessegnon and Andre Schürrle playing as conventional wide forwards with little success against Crystal Palace. Then, he pushed Sessegnon to the right as an inverted winger (a position Jokanovic tried this summer) with Aboubakar Kamara on the conventional left against Spurs. In both occasions, it felt like Aleksander Mitrovic was stuck on an island and there was no interplay between him and the rest of Fulham’s attack.
Last weekend, however, was the first time we saw Schürrle on his natural position playing as an inverted wing on the left with Luciano Vietto as a conventional wide forward on the right. There were some fears of Vietto maybe not used to playing this way, but what came of it was constant interchanging between him and Schurrle occupying both sides of the pitch. As a result, Burnley’s defense struggled to know which players were going where and the movement created closer distance between midfield and attack, as well as within the entire front line. After the full 90 minutes, Schurrle and Vietto combined for 8 key passes and 14 shots. Clearly, the former will not be as consistent as his 11 shot output he had over the weekend, but if he can maintain an above average workrate, he will surely have a strong 2018/19 and prove doubters wrong. But as it’s been since the 2014 World Cup, Schurrle’s issues have always been related to staying healthy and productive. If he can prove that he can do those two things every matchday, he will be just fine at Craven Cottage.
Yeah, Burnley might be in trouble...
Over the past three seasons, let alone last campaign, Burnley have been famous for somehow overacheiving their expected totals. They have always been a counter-attacking side that was so good at sitting back, soaking up pressure, and a pinch of literally world-class goalkeeping, that it would justify their system enough to achieve their wildest dreams. This season, that’s not happening at all.
Already after three games, Burnley have given up seven goals. Only Huddersfield and West Ham United have given up more (nine each) in this very young Premier League season while three other clubs have as many as Burnley’s league-worst tally of six goals conceded from open play. But as proof of how small this sample size is, their expected goals conceded total has been only 4.42. According to understat, that is good enough for 11th in the league. In comparison, Burnley frustrated opponents in 2017/18 with the sixth best defense in the league based off of actual goals conceded (39) while being tenth best in expected goals conceded (52.18).
Now plenty of this has to do with the fact that there could be strange coincidences with the goals they are giving up. After all, three of Fulham’s goals were considered out of the ordinary. Jean-Michel Seri’s long range effort is something only the best in the world can pull off and we’re still awaiting a first goal from Mitrovic off of his any one of his feet (hey, we got to find flaws in his game somehow). Either way, headers and long range efforts are considered “flukes” in the world of expected goals, so it shouldn’t be the worst outcome in the world for Burnley to right the ship quite quickly if those are the only goals they’ll be giving up all campaign long.
Still, it will be quite fascinating to see how Burnley end up in this season’s Premier League table. Thanks to more fixtures for the Europa League and almost no additions towards a squad that was already considered thin as it is, Sean Dyche’s side may not be able to implement their system with as great of execution as they would like to have. Either that, or they SEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERIOUSLY need to stop playing Joe Hart. With all due respect, the former England number one just went all whacky-waving inflatable tubeman on Mitrovic’s first goal and was constantly intimidated by Fulham’s press whenever the ball was at his feet.
Whichever the reason for Burnley’s struggles, those things will need to get squared away quickly, or this could be a long season for the club.
Maxime Le Marchand has been pretty great
If you were to tell me that Maxime Le Marchand would be among the bigger impact signings of the 12 that came in from the club’s historic transfer window, I would have laughed you right into the River Thames. Fast forward three games later and that is not looking like a farfetched statement. The 28 year-old is currently tops among Fulham players with eight successful tackles, three blocked shots and 26 clearances while also being joint-second in interceptions with five. Along with that, his 87% passing success rate has complemented Jokanovic’s style of play very well in spite of him not being totally involved in Fulham’s attacking portion of their system (his 0.22 xG Chain per 90 minutes is only better than Kevin McDonald and Denis Odoi among Fulham regulars).
However, Le Marchand only has had Joe Bryan as a fellow defender that has gone on to play all 270 minutes in the league so far. The lack of a consistent back four has been among Fulham’s reasons why their output of seven actual goals and 5.33 expected goals conceded is among the worst in the Premier League. Calum Chambers has just not been good enough during his outings while it’s asking a lot for Joe Bryan to be the exact same attacking fulcrum from the back that Ryan Fredericks was from seasons past. But with Alfie Mawson putting in a fantastic shift in last Wednesday’s Carabou Cup win, Fulham could be seeing in upgrade in this department soon.
With the club traveling to Brighton this weekend, this could be the last chance to see Jokanovic make any last adjustments for awhile. That is because Manchester City, a surprisingly good Watford, a Marco Silva-managed Everton, and a more-acquainted Arsenal are next on Fulham’s Premier League plate and that is just not fun for any newly promoted side.