Somehow the good news couldn’t stop ending for Fulham after already suffering relegation. Tom Cairney decided to commit his future with the club by signing a five-year contract that will last until 2024. Add in the fact that the players have bought into the belief that manager Scott Parker is instilling and it could only be positive vibes heading into the Championship, right? Not really, just yet.
I still can’t help but think about what has happened to teams like Middlesbrough and West Brom who decided to keep the whole band together just to try to get back up. Eventually, those respective squads turned stale and are now in a corridor of uncertainty heading into next season. Fulham could be in the same predicament if they don’t get younger, at least. This is a squad that is finally developing a bit of a spine in the back after some stellar play these past few games.
What does need to improve is the play of Fulham’s supporting cast next to Aleksander Mitrovic. Ryan Babel has carried the load greatly, but is there any way the club even brings the 32-year old back on a reasonable contract while dealing with a budget fit for a Championship club? And while Cairney is here to stay, there has almost been no peep of Ryan Sessegnon coming back next season. Even if you were to say that his 2019 is awful, the dude is still 18 years old and is leading a Premier League side in assists. That’s not a feat to scoff at at all, regardless of the circumstances. Surely, Andre Schürrle isn’t coming back and who knows if Neeskens Kebano or an aging Floyd Ayite can contribute at a top level to guide Fulham towards promotion.
There’s loads of questions that need to be answered, but for now, Fulham would like to get one last away win against a very good Wolves side. While the visitors might have caught Everton, Bournemouth, and Cardiff at their worst, I doubt they will be catching any shade of badness on a side gunning for seventh in the table. It’s been a tremendous season for Nuno Santos’ side, though they would like to get a bit more attacking production in the long run. After all, this is only a club that has used 14 players play over 800 league minutes and keeps the ball just 47.7% of the time this season. That will be discussed for another time soon, but for now, their defense is stout and their starting midfield and attack take advantage of their opportunities.
So on that note, who could be three players that will prevent Fulham from capturing a fourth straight victory.
First up is the young Portuguese sensation that we’re still kind of waiting for him to fully break out. That said, Diogo Jota’s nine goals and five assists are still a great total in his age-23 season. His chance creation and shooting rates has gone down significantly since leaving the Championship, but his expected production hasn’t deviated too far from the actual totals he’s put up this season. Those are good signs as Jota could be an even better version of himself heading into 2020 if Wolves make all the right moves in next summer’s transfer window.
Next up is another Portuguese starlet trying to get his feet wet in the Premier League. While five of Ruben Neves’ 10 Portugal Caps have come in 2018, none of them have occured in 2019. If anything, it seems like Joao Moutinho has been stealing the headlines of who’s been bossing the Wolves’ midfield thanks to all his years of experience. But that doesn’t mean that Neves has been a slouch overnight either. The 22-year old has found a way to rack up four goals and three assists per game while still pinging long balls at an elite level and contributing to almost four defensive actions per 90 minutes. Like Jota, the fact that his production hasn’t deviated too much from what levels he was performing back in the Championship are enough to think that Neves can take his game to another level.
Lastly, we take a look at one of the “old-timers” in 27-year old Matt Doherty. Amazingly, the almost one-club man is still producing at a strong level thanks to another four goals and four assists from the right wingback position. In fact, this will be the third straight season Doherty will deliver those same goal contribution numbers or better. Honestly, I’d argue he’s been a better fullback than Seamus Coleman has been and he should be the out-and-out starter for Ireland. For now, let’s appreciate a player that hasn’t missed a beat playing in England’s top flight and actually seams to get better with each and every game.