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Fulham could not have wished for a better season to cement their run of five straight campaigns without staying in the same division, winning their first title at any level since 2001 and enjoying an eight-point buffer to third despite losing four of their last seven league games.
Marco Silva’s side were a goalscoring phenom in the Championship. They scored four or more goals on nine separate occasions, scored seven goals half as many times as they scored none and had a run of three matches in January when they scored goals at a rate of one every 14 minutes. Doing that in the Premier League will clearly be harder, but the ability will not vanish over the course of one summer. Their biggest problem in the Premier League last time was scoring goals (27). They got 106 last season in the league alone.
Aleksandar Mitrovic didn’t enjoy his Premier League season in 2020-21, but that was reportedly partly due to a disagreement with Scott Parker. His 43 league goals last season will again clearly not be sustainable after promotion, but he is also in a different place now. At 27 (yes, somehow still only 27) he has grown up and is ready to make up for lost time.
If creativity was also a chronic issue in 2020-21, Harry Wilson intends to be the solution. Wilson is another who has grown and improved over the last two years, and at 25 he was comfortably the best creator in the Championship last season with 19 assists. That combination is Fulham’s best chance of staying up.
There are obvious disadvantages to relying so heavily upon one supreme goalscorer and creator, given Fulham’s history. Mitrovic has scored 69 goals in his last two Championship seasons, compared to 14 in 64 games during his last two top-flight campaigns. Even if he is a more rounded player now than then, the step up in class has diminished the service he receives and so left him a frustrated, isolated figure.
The same is true of Wilson. You get so much more time on the ball in a Championship midfield, where defences often tend to sit deep and roaming midfielders can find pockets of space. In 31 career Premier League appearances, Wilson is yet to register an assist. Opposition managers will know that if they shut him down, they shut down Fulham. Silva’s side averaged 61 per cent possession in the Championship. How will they cope without that share after promotion?
The central defence – with no new recruits at time of writing – is also familiar to Premier League football. Their most regular back four last season – Denis Odoi, Tim Ream, Tosin Adarabioyo and Antonee Robinson – started 64 combined games in their last Premier League season and that defence also contained the excellent Joachim Anderson. Is adding Kevin Mbabu enough to improve that?
The broader point is this: domination in the second tier can often mean nothing after promotion. Norwich got 97 points in 2020-21 (compared to Fulham’s 90 last season) and finished bottom on 22 points.
Surprisingly little, given both our expectations of Fulham and the outgoings. Perhaps this is no bad thing: Fulham recruited a combined 24 players in their last two summers after promotion and were relegated both times. Having this time spent £20m in the Championship, it appears they are trying a different tack.
The signing of Palhinha, a central midfielder from Sporting, is potentially great business. Fulham beat Wolves to his services and Palhinha was in Portugal’s squad for Euro 2020 so that represents a coup. Andreas Pereira is slightly odd, given his inability to impress much during recent loan spells. Expect him to be squad filler. Mbabu will start and can fly down the right wing, but will have to do more defending that attacking.
The rest of the business has been outgoings, and that might well present a problem. Andre Zambo Anguissa, Fabio Carvalho, Jean Michel Seri, Steven Sessegnon, Cyrus Christie, Fabri, Michael Hector and Alfie Mawson have all left. They only played 82 games between them last season, but so many departures will leave a hole in terms of squad depth. Carvalho is the big loss – would working on a late loan deal make sense?
Finally, the loss of Neco Williams, effectively to a survival rival after his loan deal ended, may irk Silva. Fulham only have 11 players who started more than 15 league games last season and have only bought three players.
Silva has managed four different clubs in England and has not stayed at any of them for longer than 60 matches (Everton). The final game of last season with Fulham marked 50, and it’s not outside the realms of possibility that this happy relationship breaks up quite quickly. Fulham kept faith in Scott Parker during 2020-21, but they had six different managers across their two previous Premier League seasons.
Interestingly, The Athletic reported at the beginning of July that Silva was unhappy with the progress made in the transfer market. He and director of football operations Tony Khan had both spoken about the advantages of having extra time because of being promoted automatically (the last two promotions were via the playoffs). If Silva believes that time has been wasted, that might not bode well.
They might get more than the 26 and 28 points from their last two Premier League seasons, but they don’t have enough. 19th
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