Inside Track: Fulham

By SFC Media Mon 25 Feb Saints v Fulham
Photo by Getty Images | Luciano Vietto (left)

Ryan O'Donovan, digital football writer for Football London, gives us an insight into a difficult first season back in the top flight for Fulham...

What’s gone wrong for Fulham this season?

Where to begin? It's been a season of one thing after another for Fulham, but you could probably go all the way back to pre-season to start looking at where it all went wrong.

Having a squad of only 16 during most of the summer hasn't helped, while 12 new signings upset the apple cart massively in the transfer window. 

It took Slaviša Jokanović until November to find a formation that worked with the squad, only for him to be sacked the week after and replaced with Claudio Ranieri who has struggled to have any sort of impact on the side's results. 

Mostly it’s been a combination of a lot of different things, but the team spirit and style of play that got Fulham promoted last season has well and truly been wiped out.

Who have been the success stories of a difficult campaign to date?

Aleksandar Mitrović has been one of the shining lights of the campaign, scoring ten goals for the side. 

He has personified what Fulham should be about at the moment – he fights for every ball and plays with his heart on his sleeve and can cause every team in the Premier League problems. Unfortunately, there's been a heavy over-reliance on him this season.

He's scored around 40% of Fulham's goals, with André Schürrle the next closest to him with six for the season, but under Ranieri he's used more as the target man to build attacks from rather than the focal point he was last season, meaning he's involved more in the battles with the centre halves than he is in the box.

Mitrović (right) has been a constant menace to Premier League defences despite his team's difficulties

What difference have the January signings made to the team?

Out of the three January signings, Ryan Babel has made some impact and looked decent in his opening few games, while he grabbed his first goal in the 3-1 defeat to West Ham on Friday night. 

The other two, Lazar Marković and Håvard Nordtveit, have yet to make an impact having come to the club lacking in fitness. Nordtveit started against West Ham in central defence but didn't have anything more than an average game, while Marković came on for the second 45 minutes and looked alright out on the wing. 

The jury is still out on what impact those two can have for Fulham this season, but with only 11 games left, it will be limited.

What are the repercussions of winning and losing on Wednesday?

I think everyone connected to Fulham knows the repercussions of a loss on Wednesday – it'd pretty much be game over. 

A defeat would make the gap to that final safety spot ten points, and with only ten games left after this one and with Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool all to come at Craven Cottage I would say they can start planning for life back in the Championship.
 
A victory gives some small hope that the Great Escape of 2007/08 can be replicated, but Fulham have failed to build on big wins previously so it would be a glimmer of hope at most.

Ranieri's first match in charge of Fulham was the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage in November

Is Claudio Ranieri expected to stay beyond the end of the season?

His contract runs for another two years come the end of this season and he has said that he would like to remain at Fulham, but I personally don't see it happening myself. 

Fan opinion of Ranieri is extremely low thanks to the style of football we've seen under him, the results and his reluctance to use both Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney.

It's his use of Sessegnon, the man who scored 16 goals last season to get the side into the Premier League, that has alienated fans the most, with Ranieri preferring the experience of Schürrle and Babel to the wonderkid.
 
With relegation looking likely, Fulham will need a manager they can build a philosophy and project around to get them back into the Premier League having learnt from the mistakes of this season, and I don't see that being Ranieri.

What do you expect from Wednesday’s game?

Fulham haven't won away from home all season and I'm not expecting that to change at St Mary's. 

I think it will be a scrappy game between the two as Fulham look to hit Mitrović with the long ball and play off him in the final third, but the defence is such a worry that every team will fancy their chances of scoring against them.

With confidence low at the moment, I think I'd have to go for a 2-1 win for the Saints.

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