It always felt like a team of Fulham’s quality and experience would be in the conversation for promotion again last year. But the manner in which they achieved this feat under Marco Silva was unprecedented. A certified yo-yo club ever since their promotion back to the Premier League in 2018, 2021-22’s album felt seminal.
The Cottagers went up in style, scoring 106 league goals on the way to being crowned champions. With Aleksander Mitrovic setting a new Championship goalscoring record with 43 league goals, Fulham could not have reached the Premier League more convincingly, but how do they make it stick?
You first must start with the enigma that is Mitrovic. Arguably the most prolific forward in the history of the second division, the majestic Serb has seemingly fallen into the all too popular category of strikers who are too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. Messrs Jordan Rhodes, Nahki Wells and Dwight Gayle can all attest.
Whilst his ability in the second division has never been doubted. Mitrovic is still yet to consistently reproduce this form in the Premier League. He scored just three goals in 27 games last time Fulham were in the topflight. Fulham intend to keep Mitrovic, so the question is, how does Silva take the attacking burden off the former Newcastle man?
Marco Silva’s side have returned to the top-flight in stunning fashion, but can they avoid the fate of Norwich and Watford and remain in the Premier League?@WillFowler5 chats to @SarsonKelan on the latest Tactics Room episode. https://t.co/dngp6QX0z3 pic.twitter.com/orWUoNzkUH
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) May 30, 2022
Harry Wilson and Fabio Carvalho did an excellent job of complimenting Mitrovic last season, with the pair contributing to 50 goals between them – ironically the same amount that Mitrovic managed on his own (43 goals, 7 assists). But with Carvalho moving on to Liverpool, Fulham are in the market for another wide man. Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Manor Solomon is close to joining the club, though there have been difficulties in getting the deal over the line.
22-year-old Solomon is an agile winger who can move as quickly with or without the ball. Faints, ball rolls, and nutmegs are the Israeli’s currency, and he will demand the ball whenever Fulham are in possession. As is the case with many players of Solomon’s skillset and stature.
There is a question about his ability to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League. Former Everton man Bernard struggled to make a lasting impact on Merseyside due in part to his slightness. It’s very easy to go missing amidst all the noise and commotion of the Premier League.
Silva’s team are incredibly easy on the eye, but he has still yet to shake the reputation that he can’t coach a defence. Fulham had the third-best defensive record in the Championship last season, but whether that translates to a league that is averaging the highest goals per game ratio (2.82 GPG) since its inception in 1992 is unclear.
The acquisition of Neco Williams on a permanent deal would represent a promising start for Fulham. Williams impressed on loan from Liverpool last season, with his technical ability allowing him to combine seamlessly with Fulham’s wide men. A strong defender in 1v1 situations, he thrives where many of Fulham’s defenders struggle. Though at £20 million, Fulham should keep their options open.
American full-back Antonee Robinson will also be a vital cog in Silva’s defence, with his physicality allowing Fulham to break out of pressure and instigate attacking combinations out wide. Unlike last season Fulham know they will not have much of the ball, and the technical limitations of some of their defensive options means Robinson’s ability to push out of a press and offer an outlet will be crucial.
One defender who does possess quality in possession is Tosin Adarabioyo. The former Manchester City man can break the lines or go long and exploit space in behind, and his composure in these situations will be important when Fulham are looking to take the game to the opposition and build pressure. All three of the teams relegated from the Premier League last season struggled with capitalising when they were in the ascendancy, surrendering points when they really ought not to.
Not much has changed in midfield for Fulham. They are still the same neat and tidy options whose vulnerabilities were laid bare two years ago. Whilst they represent good depth in the Championship, Fulham’s midfielders have each, to varying degrees, failed to make the cut in the Premier League.
Harrison Reed and Nathaniel Chalobah are Silva’s two most experienced players in this regard, having made a combined 99 Premier League appearances. Whilst, now 31-year-old Tom Cairney has been trying to crack the topflight ever since he debuted for Blackburn Rovers in 2010.
Joao Palhinha is firmly on Fulham’s radar, and it appears they have beaten Wolves to his signature. As well as acting as an upgrade on Fulham’s current options in midfield, Palhinha would fill the void left by the outgoing Jean Michael-Seri.
Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek shone for Fulham when they were last in the Premier League, and with their West London rivals looking to move players on this summer, they could secure a cut-price deal for the Englishman. Fulham need reinforcements in the centre of the park, and Loftus-Cheek would provide plenty of thrust for a team who will need to adapt to a more counter-attacking style of play.
Ultimately Fulham are the most well-equipped out of the three teams promoted from the Championship last season to stay up. In Mitrovic and Wilson they have two attacking talents capable of winning games on their own, whilst Adarabioyo proved his worth alongside Joachim Andersen last time Fulham were in the Premier League. This, is however, a squad lacking top-level experience, and intelligent investments need to be made to turn this side into one that can hold its own in the Premier League.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Srdjan Stevanovic / Getty Images