Southampton's trip to Fulham on Saturday will mark Claudio Ranieri's first game in charge of the hosts. Tactics writer Sam Tighe analyses the squad at the Italian's disposal, and the changes he is likely to implement when Saints visit Craven Cottage...
In what was a whirlwind simultaneous sacking and hiring statement, Fulham replaced Slaviša Jokanović with Claudio Ranieri just before this most recent international break, meaning Saints travel to west London this weekend to face a club under new leadership.
How much work the Italian will have managed to get done since taking his first training session seven days ago is unclear.
In theory, the international break is the perfect time to reload and spend additional time on the pitches, but in reality your best players depart to represent their countries, leaving you without the key tenets you’re likely to rely on come Saturday.
That leaves us in a state of complete unknown as to what Ranieri’s Fulham will produce at Craven Cottage this weekend.
How many of his ideas will have transferred through? How quickly can this squad adapt to a man who feels like the polar opposite of Jokanovic in many ways? Will it look like an amalgamation of two styles, a halfway house, as they continue to adjust?
The flat 4-4-2 blueprint Ranieri utilised at Leicester City doesn’t feel like it can work at Fulham; they just don’t have the squad for it.
Club captain Tom Cairney doesn’t suit a box-to-box role in a midfield two and will likely have to be placed behind the striker, meaning the shape becomes more 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 than anything else.
Changes could materialise in wide areas too. Neeskens Kebano (zero Premier League minutes) and Floyd Ayité (four league substitute appearances) combined for just shy of 3,000 minutes last season but have barely been utilised this term. The speed they can provide from the flanks might just suit Ranieri’s intended new look.
What we can expect is a certain percentage of shoring up. Ranieri’s ability to coach defensive lines and structure is likely what made him such an attractive candidate to owner Shahid Kahn.
N’Golo Kanté present or not, the Italian won a Premier League title (and kept 15 clean sheets in the process) with Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs playing most games.
His Nantes team were masters of the 1-0 win before things fell apart, winning eight games by that scoreline in a four-month period at one stage.
A quick look at Fulham’s position in the table (20th) and goals conceded tally (31, the worst in the league by a distance) tells you why the west London club might consider these statistics as particularly impressive reading.
Looking past the stats, Ranieri himself summed up his approach to football via a golden quote: “First, you need to lock the door of the house. If you don't, the robbers get in and they take everything. Once you have locked the door, then you can organise and decorate the house the way you want."
Should this Fulham team come to resemble Ranieri in totality over time, we can expect Leicester City-style low-block defensive football with a fierce counter-attacking threat – also known as the complete opposite of Jokanović’s possession-hungry, rotation-based style.
We might have to wait a while for that transition to occur, though, and in the meantime? Not a soul on earth can be 100% confident in what the Whites will serve up this weekend.