After a compelling start to the season, Fulham find themselves misfiring on the pitch in recent games. Since losing to Birmingham, Fulham have struggled to cause a real threat against relegation candidates Burton Albion & Wigan Athletic.
While Fulham continue to dominate the possession game, it appears there is a lack of real cutting edge in the final third in recent games. Despite the club recruiting some talented attacking midfielders this summer, Fulham could only manage one shot on target against Wigan Athletic on Saturday. Not only that, but Fulham could only muster 5 shots in total for the 90 minutes, which is disappointing to see.
Despite recruiting Chris Martin on deadline day, Fulham have struggled to find goals as freely as last season. Even though Martin boasts an incredible record in this division, I would like to see him or Smith become more mobile. Even if this meant dragging the central defenders a little, to create avenues for the midfielders to burst into. In some games we have been crying out for that sort of movement in the final third, and if that becomes more apparent, then I would love to see young Cauley Woodrow get the chance. Woodrow’s work ethic is second to none and he isn’t afraid to make them runs for others. Yes, he’s not the finished product yet and it would be a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders to deliver, but after his pre-season and cup performances, I have no doubt he could deliver.
Despite misfiring, we have recorded two away clean sheets in last two games away from the Cottage, so that’s a positive way to look at things. It’s also pleasing for the fans to see that Ragnar Sigurdsson has taken his chance in the side. The Icelandic summer signing has looked very dominant in my opinion, and his arrival will definitely provide Jokanovic with a selection headache. It could also put pressure on Dennis Odoi, with Tomas Kalas providing competition at right-back while Ryan Fredericks is still injured. Kalas as a right back is definitely an option in the next few weeks, and is a role that the Chelsea defender played regularly during his loan spell at Middlesbrough last season. Then again, Jokanovic favoured Kalas and Sigurdsson against Wigan, so the Serbian is clearly experimenting early doors.
Although there are many different ways to look at our possession dominance this season, it still is early days and with players still settling at the club, it will only get better. The more they train under Jokanovic’s guidance, the better it will get. The biggest positive for me this season is the fact that there is a clear game-plan and identity to our side now, something that has been lacking for the past three seasons. Under Symons & Magath there was clear doubt within the squad in terms of the roles they were asked to do, but at the start of this season, it’s clear the players are more confident within themselves to deliver what is asked of them from Slavisa.
Going forward, I would like to see Tom Cairney operate in that number ten role behind the forward, as he truly is a joy to watch with the ball at his feet. Despite the midfielder operating on the right hand side this season, I feel he’s much better suited to a central role where he can have willing runners either side of him to feed. Otherwise, he will struggle when doubled up on as he has to cut inside from the right, due to his reliance on his left foot making him fairly predictable for defenders. Although Cairney has been slightly disappointing in recent games, should Jokanovic build the side and system around him, the possibilities are endless as in my eyes. Furthermore, Tom Cairney is arguably the best or at least one of the best five midfielders in this division. A very talented playmaker with a wand of a left peg and a tremendously good role model too for the academy players breaking through to look up to.
Jokanovic did provide Jozabed with the chance to shine in the number ten role against Wigan and while he has shown some early promise, I’d like to see Kebano and Aluko either side of Cairney to provide some raw pace on each wing. While, I could argue and debate numerous different tactical ideas it’s just another pleasant reminder of the quality this year’s players possess and there’s plenty of options that could be explored.
Fulham now face Bristol City two times in a week and despite playing against the same club twice, expect two different fixtures. With Jokanovic’s faith in youth for the cup games, I’d expect him to field another young side when we face Bristol City on Wednesday. They haven’t let anyone down when given the chance, and if they are getting game-time in the senior games, they will also be more likely to sign longer term deals when they can – preventing early exits to bright talents, like we have previously suffered. Even though the unbeaten streak has come to an end, there is still plenty to smile about as a Fulham fan. The club have a fresh set of youngsters bursting into the scene and there seems to be a good atmosphere around the club again. After a successful summer, the transition is fully underway and with time it will only get better.
There will be a few rough patches in the early seasons while the squad gels, but in the long-term, we should be in a much better position.
Thank you for reading and your ongoing support – You can tweet your thoughts and feedback to me; @ABronsSmith
The Craven Corner will feature in Saturday’s match-day programme when Fulham face Bristol City at Craven Cottage