Nickname: The Cottagers
Home Ground: Craven Cottage
Trophy Room: N/A
Manager: Slavisa Jokanovic
Fulham has made it back to the English Premier League after a 4-year hiatus in the English Championship. The Cottagers have won the promotion to the English Premier League by eliminating Aston Villa in the English Championship Playoffs.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side played inspired soccer, especially in the second half of the season, which saw them climb from the mid-table position that they were occupying to a spot taking them to the playoffs. Fulham’s trademark was attractive attacking soccer, a novel approach in the more traditional English Championship.
I have prepared an overview of main Fulham storylines and a short preview for the upcoming English Premier League season.
Previous Season Summary
Finish: Newly Promoted (3rd in the English Championship, Qualified through Playoffs)
Fulham entered the 2017/18 English Championship season with ambitions to at least qualify for one of the spots that will lead them to the Playoffs and a chance to fight for the promotion to the English Premier League.
Slavia Jokanovic joined the club as a manager in the summer of 2015, the same season he has led Watford to promotion to the English Premier League. Watford unexplainably decided not to keep Jokanovic and went in another direction. Fulham wasted little time and snatched up Jokanovic.
It took him a few years to implement his system and bring in the players that are the right fit, but Jokanovic has brought Fulham back into the English Premier League. And to think that it all started with a series of bad results.
Fulham opened the 2017/18 English Championship season with three straight draws and a loss, failing to win a game in the opening month of the season. They finally reversed the trend by beating Ipswich 0-2 at Portman Road.
Fulham’s offense struggled to get going in the early season and was the main cause of the inconsistent results that marked the calendar during that time. The things got really bad in October and early November went another 6 games without a win, pushing them all the way down to 17th place in the Championship.
This was as low as Fulham would get though, as they started showing signs of improving form, especially in the offense, as November went on. Then something happened just before Christmas. Fulham suddenly clicked and went on an unprecedented run in their club history.
Fulham put a string of 23 games without a defeat, winning 18 games while drawing 5. The amazing run of form has catapulted The Cottagers up the English Championship rankings, landing them on the 3rd place just as the season was approaching to a close.
Fulham did finally lose 3-1 in the last game of the season to Birmingham City, but the result had little impact on their promotion hopes, as they have already qualified for the English Championship Playoffs.
In the Semi-Finals, Fulham faced Derby County. They dropped the first match 1-0 at Derby, only 3 days later to win 2-0 at home and progress to the Final at Wembley where they would meet Aston Villa. The Cottagers beat Aston Villa 1-0 at Wembley and celebrated the return to the English Premier League.
Jokanovic has imposed a quick passing and free-flowing system at Fulham, which saw their offense flourish, especially in the second half of the season. Fulham’s offense was ranked 2nd in the English Championship with 79 goals scored, just 3 less then the 1st placed Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Key Additions and Departures
Fulham’s roster currently looks a bit bare, as a large number of players have left the club in the offseason on a free transfer or their loan contracts have ended. This was an expected move, as the Cotaggers are trying to upgrade their roster so they can be competitive in the English Premier League as well.
Fulham have been quite busy in the offseason so far, already signing 5 players to bolster their squad. The key signing was the Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was on loan at Fulham last season and was the key piece in their promotion puzzle. Mitrovic will cost Fulham GPB 22 million, with clauses for the fee to grow to GBP 27 million.
In addition to Mitrovic, the Cottagers have signed Nice star central midfielder Jean Michael Sari for GBP 27 million in order to strengthen the midfield and his teammate Maxime Le Marchand, a center back for a fee of GBP 3.6 million. Spanish Goalkeeper Fabri was also brought over from Besiktas for a GBP 5.4 million fee, as a replacement for David Button.
The icing on the cake was the signing of Andre Schurrle on a loan contract from Borussia Dortmund. The German winger/forward is a versatile offensive weapon that should help Fulham’s offense thrive even in the English Premier League.
Such additions had to be balanced by a number of departures. Fulham have lost their goalkeeper David Button to Brighton, for a GBP 4 million fee. Right back Ryan Fredericks has also left Craven Cottage and joined West Ham United on a free transfer. So, did the attacking midfielder George Williams who joined Forest Green on a free transfer.
All signs are pointing that Fulham are not done in the transfer market. The roster still has holes that need to be filled especially on the defensive side. One of the most prevalent rumors is that Fulham is close to signing 23-year-old right back Kevin Mbabbu from Young Boys, in the effort to bolster their defense.
The same goes for the 22-year-old left back Matt Target from Southampton. Targett has already spent the last season at Craven Cottage and played a key role in Fulham’s promotion to the Premier League. Neither of the transfers is official yet, but they should be finalized in the coming weeks.
Finally, Fulham have been in talks with the recently relegated Swansea City to acquire the services of their star center back Alfie Mawson. The rumored fee for the transfer is GBP 25 million. This could potentially give Fulham a brand new starting back four, consisting of Kevin Mbabbu, Matt Targett, Maxime Le Marchand and Mawson.
Fulham seem determined to field a roster whose ambitions will be much higher than just avoiding relegation this year. If their plans in the transfer market are completed, they might just be one of the surprise teams of the season.
Style of Play
Slavisa Jokanovic is one of the 3 foreign managers to win promotion to the English Premier League from the English Championship. He is also the only foreigner to do it with two different teams. He did it with Watford in 2014 and last season in Fulham.
Jokanovic felt wronged and underappreciated at Watford and their reluctance to offer him a new contract after securing them promotion to the English Premier League. He chose an adventure to Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv but after only 6 months and qualifying for the group stage of UEFA Champions League, Jokanovic was lured back to England by Fulham, who gave him a 3-year-contract.
Jokanovic’s teams play attacking soccer with the focus on possession and quick passing as they build from the back. The main formation that Jokanovic has used during his stay at Watford and now Fulham is the 4-3-3 and its variation the 4-3-1-2.
After arriving at Fulham, he managed to rescue the club from relegation in his first half-season. In his first full season, Fulham managed to qualify for the English Championship playoffs but failed to win promotion to the English Premier League. The following season, he managed to overcome the last hurdle and bring back Fulham into top-flight.
While at Fulham, Jokanovic’s teams have played the most attractive football in the English Championship and were nicknamed “The Manchester City of the Premiership”. The Cottagers have scored 85 and 79 goals in the two full English Championship season under Jokanovic.
The focus of the 4-3-3 formation that Jokanovic uses is on building attacks from the back with as many as 7 players heavily participating in the offensive movements. All 3 forwards are primarily focusing on the attack, with the wide forwards also playing the role of creator and the central striker is the target man. The fullbacks run wide up the field into open space, as well as two of the central midfielders.
The holding midfielder and two center backs are the only players whose participation in attack building is quite limited and are under strict defensive assignments. Defensively, the focus is on pressing across the pitch in the effort to regain possession as quickly as possible. This does leave his sides vulnerable to counter-attacks but Fulham have improved from allowing 57 goals in his first full season, to 39 during the last one.
Due to heavy physical demands on the players in such an intense pressing system, Jokanovic and Fulham have invested a lot of time and effort into getting the squad fit and ready for those challenges. Fulham have been one of the fittest teams in England since Jokanovic has joined them two-and-a-half years ago.
2018/19 Season Expectations and Predictions
Fulham are entering the 2018/19 English Premier League season still on a high from their terrific campaign in the English Premiership. They have been branded as the most exciting club to watch outside of the top-flight and are eager to prove their worth among the elites.
Slavisa Jokanovic has already announced that Fulham will still pursue their playing style and try to transfer their prolific offense and attacking brand of soccer to the English Premier League. This can be a double-edged sword as the level of competition is much higher and it might exploit their defensive deficiencies.
The key to Fulham’s successful season in the English Premier League will be the ability to keep their defense competitive. It is easier said than done, as they have added a number of new players at the position and it will take a bit of time to build chemistry. Premier League offenses are much more potent than the ones in the Championship and Fulham will have to keep up.
Fulham made significant investments into their roster during this offseason, spending almost GBP 60 million on new additions. If the rumors are true, Fulham are not done adding talent to their squad and they are expected to spend another GBP 30 million for the services of Swansea City center back Alfie Mawson and Southampton right-back Matt Target.
The start of the season will bring a mixed bag of fixtures for the Cottagers, as they will play hosts to Crystal Palace and Burnley, while traveling to Tottenham, Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion. Fulham will have a perfect chance to see how they stack up with title favorites like Manchester City and Tottenham, while fighting for points and position with their competitors.
The real challenge will be the constricted schedule in December when the Cottagers will play 7 games, including the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and their Championship rivals Wolverhampton. If they are able to emerge from that period unscathed and with a decent amount of points, the rest of the season should offer less worry.
Outside of March, where they will face Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Leicester City, Fulham should have a really favorable schedule in the second half of the season. If Jokanovic is able to integrate the new additions into the team smoothly and they play with the same effort and flair, like the last season, there is no reason to think that they will be in any danger of being relegated.
That being said, a safe mid-table finish should be Fulham’s reality as of now. Jumping to a higher level of competition always leaves a toll on the team. In addition to that, Jokanovic will have to transition all the newcomers into a successful team concept. As it stands, I believe that Fulham will finish 12th.