A sense of worry, frustration, discontent, and unease has surfaced around Craven Cottage, as the loyal support of Fulham Football Club shares a common ground in the unknown. Following a transfer window that has seen star striker Aleksandar Mitrović depart for Al Hilal for a reported €52.6 million, reports of interest for 32-year-old Colombian striker Duván Zapata have not gone down well, with many feeling that a lack of forward-thinking will inevitably cost the Londoners their place in England’s top tier.
As we all know, goals win games, and the cost of relegation is a hefty pill for any side to swallow. Mitrović had earned hero status at the Cottage with an astonishing tally of 58 goals over the previous two campaigns. His undeniable presence at the head of Marco Silva’s attacking line was a dominant factor in a tenth-place Premier League finish last season – often a catalyst for the side’s impressive form.
But his departure has left many fearful about who can carry the striker’s quality, with veteran Mexican Raúl Jiménez now the sole option to lead the line. Guided by American billionaire Shahid Rafiq Khan, supporters are noticeably frustrated by an apparent sense of inactivity to part with the hefty transfer fee received for the Serbian.
Despite Fulham’s impressive finish last term, one which supplied a meritorious points tally of 52 – their second-highest from 16 Premier League outings – Silva’s primary goal for the upcoming campaign is to maintain their Premier status. He will have to do so without the man who supplied 25.5% of his goals during last season’s memorable campaign. An opening-day victory away to Everton did supply a welcome sense of optimism amid the dismay. That was short-lived, however, as an underwhelming 3-0 home defeat against Brentford received a chorus of grief.
But as we are all too aware, football is a funny old game, and we are only 90 minutes away from another talking point on any given week. While all in the world of Fulham appeared to be heading south, jubilation took over after a hard-fought point against Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal in North London, and they would follow that up by edging Tottenham on penalties to advance to the next round of the EFL Cup, taking the lead early on via an own goal from Mickey van de Ven and conceding within an hour to Richarlison.
We will now dive into the underlying stats at the club’s disposal and what we can expect from this famous side in its 144th year in existence. The fundamental building block for Fulham’s success last year was their ability to see off the sides in the bottom half of the table. Their consistency was admirable, and they brought that form into their encounters with the fabled big boys of the Premier League. Central to the attacking philosophy was ensuring Mitrović would receive the final ball.
The big man ranked in the top 94 percentile in Europe for shots per 90 minutes, averaging 3.76 per game. He was also in the top 91 percentile for touches in the opposition penalty area, averaging 6.5 per 90 minutes of football. Furthermore, he often supplied a welcome avenue in relieving pressure when accepting a long ball. His aerial battles won was an impressive 4.06 per 90 minutes, seeing him into the top 86 percentile in Europe’s top leagues.
These are big boots to fill and pivotal to Silva’s attacking structure at the club. Jiménez has been a regular name on many FPL teamsheets throughout his career in England, but his horrific injury in November 2020 has understandably tamed the talents of the enigmatic number 9. He arrived in London with three goals from 20 appearances in 2022/23, with many viewing him as an inevitable backup to a new focal point of attack.
When we assess the attributes of the once-great hitman, the metrics do not make for attractive reading. He averaged 2.17 shots per 90 last term, leaving him in the bottom 29 percentile in Europe. His touches in the attacking penalty area came in at 4.71 per 90, seeing the Mexican into the bottom 48 percentile. When assessing his ability to fulfil a target man role, similar to that of his predecessor, he averaged a successful 2.3 aerials battles won per 90, seeing him into the 63rd percentile – when compared to his fellow strikers across Europe.
This Fulham side typically line out with a front three, with the impressive Andreas Pereira pulling the strings in an attacking midfield role. He has flourished in this system since his move from Manchester United and has assumed the title of a pivotal creator within the squad.
The Brazilian was instrumental during his side’s opening-day victory at Goodison Park and supplied the assist for the game’s only goal. It was an end-to-end affair, with the home side squandering several opportunities. Fulham created two shots on target with an xG of 1.56, with the goal coming from wideman Bobby De Cordova-Reid.
An uninspiring home hammering at the hands of Brentford left a bitter taste in many mouths. Like the previous game, the Cottagers attack managed only two shots on goal, with those in attendance growing ever-frustrated with the lack of a youthful hitman to lead the line. An xG of 0.50 made for difficult reading.
The point gained at Arsenal was a welcome surprise for the travelling fans. Yes, the home side gifted their opponents two goals, but they still had to be put away. Silva’s men managed three shots on target during the game, with an xG of 0.55. It was a smash-and-grab performance and a testament to the defensive structure and belief in the dressing room.
Throughout the trio of fixtures played, Fulham have attempted 27 shots on goal, with a success rate of 25.93% on target. Despite that, the side sits four points clear of the drop zone and a solitary position off last year’s tenth-place finish. As I’ve said – football, eh?
De Cordova-Reid has been at the club since 2019 and has made 145 appearances, netting 22 times. He has featured in the front three for all three fixtures this season, having been a mainstay in the squad last term. Welsh attacker Harry Wilson is the final regular in the attacking trio and has been at the club since 2021. He has made 79 appearances and contributed 14 goals, albeit 11 of those coming during the 2021/22 Championship campaign.
This Fulham side may lack the critical cutting edge of a clinical number 9, but a strong supporting cast is battling to nullify the opposition at the other end. Portuguese midfielder Joao Palhinha has earned plaudits from around the continent, and fans are desperate for the club to retain his service. He delivered a staggering performance against the Gunners, and his 87th-minute goal was the cherry atop the masterful display.
Newly acquired Adama Traore offers blistering pace from the bench, with a wealth of Premier League experience in his locker. While his decision-making is questionable, he can change a game with a single counter-attack.
Calvin Bassey moved from Dutch giants Ajax and received his marching orders in his second outing for the side. He has been capped on ten occasions by Nigeria and has also experienced the rough and tumble of Scottish football during his time with Rangers. The 23-year-old is far from the finished product but offers undeniable talent and an unknown ceiling for growth.
35-year-old Tim Ream has been a mainstay at the back and has entered his ninth season at the club. But age catches up with us all, and two quickfire yellow cards against Brentford compounded the misery on the day while offering ample suggestions toward the necessity for experienced defensive acquisitions.
Having chatted with several regulars at Craven Cottage, I was keen to hear their take on the current squad and owner. A common topic has surfaced, and that veers towards the consensus that Mr Khan has a large gaze on his beloved NFL franchise Jacksonville Jaguars.
Furthermore, there is a distinct worry about the club’s scouting network and player recruitment, with a view that warning signs are beginning to surface around every corner. Silva is a tremendous coach and has stated that the club has far too much to do to bolster his squad before Friday’s transfer deadline. There is a genuine worry amongst the fanbase that he will walk away.
The consensus is an overall feeling of bemusement by the apparent inactivity of the board. Time remains for the necessary additions to the side, but actions speak louder than words, and the faithful supporters have fingers and toes crossed for delivery. The Londoners have a week to back their talented manager and supply an avenue for a fair fight toward Premier League survival.
By: Shaun Connolly / @shaunconnolly85
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / David Horton – CameraSport