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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 38 vs. Newcastle

More Good News As Premier League Football Closes On Fulham

Brighton & Hove Albion v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images

So Scott Parker is now the head honcho at Fulham. But really, the title is “head coach” and not “manager”, so that changes the narrative a tiny bit. Still, with three wins in his last four games in charge, Parker has done enough to show that he’s not a terrible coach and he can get a squad playing a cohesive. That alone deserves him a chance. It just so happens that Fulham’s board have decided to keep him rather than potentially be proven wrong by letting him succeed somewhere else.

At the end of the day, the Khans and Co. decided to go the simple route by picking continuity rather than go for a bigger name to guide them towards a quick retool back to England’s top flight. The concerns, though, come from multiple angles.

First, do we truly know if Parker’s own brand of football that can last 46 games in the Championship? Yes, ““togetherness” and “playing with passion” go a long way, but tactical nous and knowing how to break down an opposition will reign supreme in the long run. We just haven’t seen Parker tested in that regard since Fulham have little to play for since his caretaker appointment.

Next, what happens to Parker once the chips are down? How will he handle the pressures of getting his team back to their best after some underachievement, or a rash of injuries, or even worse, a significant lack of confidence in the stands and dressing room? We knew Kit Symons and Claudio Ranieri folded like a beach chair when those doubts were presented to them. As for Salvisa Jokanovic, he eventually handled adversity, but this was without a lot of kicking and screaming along the way. Scott Parker seems like a mild-mannered person that knows how to instill that calmness and confidence into his side, but the hair-pulling will happen and it’s up to him to make sure that demeanor doesn’t change and keep everything in order in the process.

Speaking of Kit Symons, how much evidence is there really of first-time managers completely working out? Gary Monk might be the best case scenario, but we have seen even recently with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Darren Moore that there is not plenty of success in 2019 or in the future. If anything, an experienced head would have been much better off coaching this lot, but we only need to look at this season to find out that that isn’t a guarantee either. At the end of the day, Fulham got the best man for the time being. The club became a poisoned chalice once again, as it did five years ago the last time the club were relegated. However, don’t be crying back home if Scott Parker’s charm wears out and we are crying for something different again.

Lastly, we go full circle and talk about the “head coach” position. When a title like that gets presented to the man who is supposed to be deemed the “manager”, one has to wonder how the structure of the club is going to be. The obvious fact is going to be that Tony Khan is just not going to give up his de-facto director of football role anytime soon. As a result, does Scott Parker even have the proper voice at the club? Or is he a proverbial puppet in Khan’s constant failed transfer experiments.

We won’t know every question until the end 2020, at the earliest. But for now, there is some stability being brought in to the club via coach and captain. That isn’t nothing to celebrate for while a meaningless game of football of football will play out. Will we see more minutes from 16-year old record breaking debutant Harvey Elliott? Will we see more than one Sessegnon on the pitch? Will this be the last time we say good bye to some of Fulham’s better players like Aleksander Mitrovic and Ryan Sessegnon as they look to stay at the highest level of the game? All will be answered in due time.

But for now, let’s enjoy one last contest before the summer shines through. Here are three players to watch from Newcastle.

Ayoze Perez

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Considering how horrifyingly yet necessarily conservative Rafa Benitez has set up his team over these last two seasons, you wonder how Ayoze Perez was able to get to 11 Premier League goals. Welp, converting close to 21% of his shots into goals would surely do the trick. Even if the 25-year old has found a way to convert at a solid 14.5% over his five-year stay at St. James’ Park, this season seems to be quite extreme. Add in the fact that his shot rate has plummeted to 1.68 per 90 minutes and you can see the fears of Perez’s regression coming into 2019/20.

Now the Spaniard has played more as a wide midfielder more so than a secondary striker this season. However, when an attacker plays further back, you expect dribbling, defensive or passing numbers to increase. That hasn’t happened at all and one has to wonder how Perez and Solomon Rondon can gel at their most cohesive for the betterment of the team.

Isaac Hayden

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Next, there really hasn’t been anyone in Newcastle’s midfield that has been a consistent presence all season. Tom Cairney’s former rival, aka Jonjo Shelvey, has only played 854 league minutes due to a thigh injury and both Mohamad Diame and Ki Sung-Yeung are beginning to show their age. That leaves us with Isaac Hayden cleaning up the mess and for the most part, he’s been okay.

That’s not a lot of praise considering Newcastle don’t keep the ball at all, but they do know how to fly around with a challenge or ten. That’s where Hayden has started to leap frog Diame in Benitez’s eyes thanks to his 112 defensive actions in just 1,795 league minutes. He proved his worth in the Championship back when he was a holding midfielder at Hull and in his first year at Tyneside. But now he’s finally delivering at Premier League level at age 23 and only the best is yet to come for him.

Matt Ritchie

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Lastly, you may think that Hayden was the leading defensive contributor in midfield. But those defensive stalwarts all season have actually been newcomer Fabian Schar at center back and this former winger turned fullback. That’s right, Matt Ritchie has come from being a goal poacher at Bournemouth to being a Trent Alexander-Arnold copycat at Newcastle.

Okay, that was truly an exaggeration, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that consistently delivers one successful cross for every four attempts throughout his measured career. Add in 119 defensive actions to his account and you can see how Benitez moved him over to a wing-back/reserved fullback role this season. Who knows if this experiment will continue, but it has given a new lease on life for the 29-year old Scotsman.