Fulham Season Preview: exciting football

Fulham might not have won promotion last season, but with Tom Cairney orchestrating every free-flowing move, they played some of the best football in the Championship. Supporter Michael Gregg recounts an enjoyable year for supporters as the club seeks to progress further.

Following pretty much 3 seasons (relegation and two dreadful Championship years) of rubbish it was a breath of fresh air. The main view was that it’s the best football we have seen by Fulham since the Jean Tigana years at the turn of the century. From Christmas onwards we were results wise the best team in the league and saw some outstanding games. Playing catch-up with a fairly small squad of players probably saw us run out of steam once we hit the playoffs, but those last two games should not takeaway how good we were last season.

You were collectively the Championship’s joint-top scorers with 85 goals and yet your individual top scorer netted a relatively modest 12. Does this show that you had depth and quality in lots of different areas?

It’s really a result of how we played. Free flowing passing with interchangeable positions. You look back and think of some the misses and penalties we failed to scare and you wonder should be have got 100. The front six with the quick passing and pace were unplayable at times.

Loanee Chris Martin’s hold-up play seemed to make him the reference point for your attacks last year. Given that your other strikers do different roles, will it be important to replace Martin?

Martin is a divisive player with the fans. Some of us could see how important he was to the way we played. But many did not take to him from the beginning and then following the ‘strike’ because he wanted to go back to Derby, there was no way back for him in the eyes of the vast majority of fans. Personally when he played he held ball well and played others in. We do I think need another striker this season who can do that. We have enough fast, nippy forwards.

Tom Cairney has signed a new four-year contract this summer. Surely you agree that he was among the most creative players in the Championship last year…

I do agree, but I’d say he was THE most creative player. Once Jokaonvic moved him inside and gave him the freedom to roam around you saw the Cairney we only had glimpses of the previous season. And yet I always think he can offer more and this is going to be an even bigger season for him.

Cairney and Stefan Johansen get a lot of credit for their attacking output. Is it the positional discipline of Kevin McDonald that allows those two to shine?

We had been after McDonald the previous summer and he turned out to be the catalyst for which almost every build up started. At times he was almost a CB picking the ball up off the keeper and moving the ball around. Very underrated player in our system.

Scott Malone has left for Huddersfield but Ryan Sessegnon has signed a new long-term contract. Do you expect him to continue his development with first team football this term?

It will be interesting to see which position Ryan plays more at, left back or left sided attack. He still has a lot to learn as a defender and that will come. But I’m sure part of his decision to sign was the possibility of more games. 2nd season for a kid is always difficult so be interesting to see how he pushes on.

Ryan Fredericks was another full-back who had a good season last year. He looks confident in the final third…

Gives us that pace from full back our system requires. He improved his fitness and saw his contributions later in games increase from previous year. If he could improve his final ball he could turn out to be very key to us this season and possibly replace Malone in the assists he offered.

Your only clean sheet after February came against Rotherham. With Marcelo Djalo signing from CD Lugo, do you hope to establish a settled centre-back pairing this season?

It’s a position we need to strengthen. I’m not sure Djalo is here to be a first teamer and most fans would like Tomas Kalas back from Chelsea. If we get him and maybe another one in then we can look at being a bit tougher at the back to score against. But a lot of the goals we let in are down to how we play with defenders outnumbered at times.

David Button started 40 of your league games last year, but a lot of fans don’t appear convinced. Who do you expect to be number one this year?

Rumours are that both our keepers could be moving on, which pretty much answers the question. Button while good at times always looked like he had not one, but two mistakes a game ready to give us all heart attacks. Marcus Bettinelli has not featured in preseason and looks like he is off. I’m not sure the cottage faithful want another season of Button as number one.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I don’t see any one or two teams running away with it. There are possibly 10-14 clubs you could argue will challenge for top 6. If you want a ‘dark horse’ I’ll go Sheffield Utd with momentum of promotion carrying them forward.

Where will you finish? You did say 6th was a possibility last time…

IF we get the 3 players we really need to improve the starting XI then I can see us 3rd or 4th and the lottery of the playoffs again.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Playing purposeful possession football, Fulham create chances at will. Swift full-backs and wide men stretch play, creating space for a midfield with the perfect blend of dynamism and guile. If the Cottagers stabilize at the back and replace Martin’s hold-up play, they could take some stopping. 1st

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