FIXING FULHAM FC
Scott Parker is a bold, charismatic man, who should be credited well for bringing a demotivated Fulham FC back to the English Premier League. Fulham were 5/2 odds on to be promoted in 19/20. Yet now, the odds for Scott Parker’s sacking stand at 9/4.
Not everyone is a gambler, so to translate; Scott Parker is the most likely manager in the Premier League to be sacked. Using Oddschecker, we can see across every betting site that is running ‘Next Manager to be sacked’, Parker is number one likeliest. This is not only a reflection of the dedicated statistical analysis by the bookies, but the public mood.
Fulham FC have been in appalling form. To many it feels like Deja-vu. Just like in 2018, Fulham have been promoted and brought in a lot of new faces. If a Fulham fan last season were to be told that in a years’ time, they would see Ruben Loftus Cheek, Ola Aina and Ademola Lookman lining up in white and black, they would be ecstatic.
However, it is not working. Infact, after six games, Fulham are in worse shape than they were at this stage in 18/19. Rather than a comfortable 5 points from an available 18, Fulham sit bottom with a single point to their name.
The Fulham FC conundrum is fascinating. There are plenty of players in the recent starting 11s who have looked awkward, unsuited and demotivated. Yet nearly all of their signings have been on the radars of some of Europe’s elite. There is a Europa League level side buried beneath a muddy, tactically confused surface.
Here is a tactical fix to the club. A way to line up the squad, that suits the most talented players in the squad. A way to provide service to Aleksander Mitrovic, to bring the best out of Anguissa, and a plan to protect Alphonse Areola in goal.
PLANNING PARKER’S PLAYSTYLE
Before picking the players, a solid formation and tactical basis must be chosen. Thankfully for casual readers, there is no need for a deep tactical discussion for the players. Fulham FC are in a relegation dogfight, and there is no time to implement radical change. Instead, a strategy must be chosen in order to get goals now.
With Fulham FC conceding the most in the league, fixing the defence is a priority. The best way for this is implementing a three-at-the-back. David Moyes has managed to bring West Ham 8 points, 2 clean sheets and the 4th best defensive record in the league using a back three/five. It makes sense the, for Fulham to add another defender to pack the box and deny opposition players’ space.
Fulham FC have completed the most accurate crosses in the league out of any club this season. Yet Aleksander Mitrovic has scored just 2 goals. Now, crossing should remain a large tactical aim for Fulham. When you have a dominant striker like Mitrovic, he feeds off that service.
Fulham have had just 3 shots from fast attacking situations, or counter attacks. They must attack with greater urgency. As Palace showed at the weekend, Fulham’s dominance of the ball means truly little for goal output. They maintained 65% of possession and 16 shots, but 6 of those came from outside the box. Fulham are 6th for possession in the league, but 19th for shots inside the 6-yard box. Fulham should look to attack at a greater speed and look to maintain less of the ball.
Now the basis is sorted, it is time to pick the players to fit into this system, and account for their quirks and traits.
MENDING THE MESSY LINEUP
As established, Fulham FC have several top-level players in the squad. The playstyle outlined so far is geared towards getting the best out of those individuals, like Mitrovic, Loftus-Cheek, Lookman and Anguissa. Some players simply pick themselves. The Goalkeeper, Alphonse Areola is selected as he is a top-quality keeper. Due to injury issues, the CBs also pick themselves.
Moving into the wing backs though is where things get interesting. Playing with three-at-the-back means Ola Aina can operate as a right wing back. Previously playing for Torino at Serie A, Aina is used to playing at wing back in a three/five system. He is a player who likes to bomb forward, something we saw against Palace already. This system will allow Aina to push forward more and take more risks.
On the left, the decision was tricky. Fulham FC spent nearly £2 million on Antonee Robinson, a young American full back. While Robinson is a talented attacking defender, senior left back Joe Bryan is the more suitable pick. In the Championship last season, Bryan averaged more crosses p90, and got 7 assists. Robinson managed just 1. This is key in feeding Mitrovic.
In midfield, a level of balance was needed. Zambo Anguissa is 4th in the Premier League for successful dribbles p 90 (3.3 WhoScored). However, he has been situated as a CDM twice this season, and against Palace he was tasked more with covering for Aina, as the young Nigerian pushed forward. That is why next to him, Mario Lemina will sit deeper. Lemina in his time at Southampton, was continuously making over 5 defensive actions per 90. In other words, his presence will allow for Anguissa to be more creative and dribble even more.
Lookman, Loftus Cheek and Mitrovic all of course pick themselves. However, the formation will be key to their success. Lookman enjoys operating between the lines, as he works best with space. As seen against Sheffield United, Lookman enjoys running at defenders from deeper positions. In a LF position, he will be able to drift wide or centrally. Ruben Loftus Cheek is a versatile player, who can drop deep but also stay upfront with Mitrovic, as a taller target man. This can allow Fulham to flip in to a 3-4-1-2, with Lookman complete freedom over the pitch.
Lined up like this, Fulham FC will have the experience in defence to soak up pressure, and with an extra defender they can deny opposition players safe. The wing-back format allows Ola Aina to push forward more, a player who will be key in creativity from wide for Fulham.
In midfield, the presence of Lemina combined with the overload of defenders behind him, Zambo Anguissa can push forward and excel with his exceptional dribbling ability.
In attack, the front 3 will have more space to operate in. Rather than a 4-4-2, or a 4-2-3-1, where Mitrovic could become isolated and Lookman denied space, this gets the best out of both. It can also allow Loftus Cheek to be used either as a target man, or even dropping in to midfield to become a 3rd midfielder.
This set up should be perfect for Fulham FC and Scott Parker. It is up to him to make the tactical changes necessary to avoid another embarrassment for a previously prestigious Premier League club.