Rewind back to May and everything was magnificent at Fulham. A place in the Premier League secured after beating Aston Villa in the play-off final. The summer brought anticipation and excitement with a spend of over £100M on players including Jean Michael Seri, Andre Schurrle and Aleksandar Mitrovic. However, fast forward to the present day and Fulham find themselves rooted to the bottom of the Premier League after just 1 win in their 12 matches. They have the worst defence in the league and an attack which is rather dry. The likeable Serb Slavisa Jokanovic did a magnificent job at Fulham during his 3 years but a lack of Premier League experience, poor performances, a 6-match losing streak, a lack of adaptability in tactics and an unsettled team with constant change ultimately cost him his job.
The man whose replacing Jokanovic is ironically the man who brought the Serb to English football in 2000. Yes, dilly ding, dilly dong is back in English football. Claudio Ranieri makes his return to England for the first time since his departure from Leicester. Since that triumphant spell, Ranieri spent a season in charge of French club Nantes guiding them to mid-table but an argument and breakdown in relationship with the Nantes owner saw him sacked back in May. Fulham owner gave Jokanovic the dreaded vote of confidence but clearly, he felt a change was necessary and going for an experienced Premier League manager could be a wise move but Ranieri has plenty of work to do.
Fulham’s big problems are clearly at the back. A constant changing back 4 and goalkeeper changes have seen Fulham not keep a clean sheet and have the worst defence in the league. 31 goals in 12 matches is simply not good enough and Ranieri must find a solution and fast to make Fulham more compact and solid defensively. Their defensive stats don’t make good reading either.
Tackles per game: 15.4 = 14th
Interceptions per game: 10.8 = 12th
Shots conceded per game: 16.3 = 3rd
Conceded goals from open play: 23 = 1st
Counter attack goals conceded: 2 = Joint 2nd
These are not good reading and Ranieri must quickly sort their defence. Ranieri must also decide which keeper to go with. Spaniard Sergio Rico has played the greatest number of matches with Marcus Bettinelli who was magnificent in their promotion campaign demoted to the bench and feeling unhappy. Jokanovic’s constant defensive changes have meant Fulham lacked a consistent backline this season. The likes of Dennis Odoi, Tim Ream and Ryan Sessegnon have struggled in adapting to the Premier League and new signings Alfie Mawson and Maxime Le Marchand cannot find a place in the team consistently. The pressure is on Ranieri to improve Fulham’s defensive frailties and fast otherwise their chances of avoiding relegation will be extremely slim.
Attacking wise Fulham have only notched 11 goals in their 12 matches with 4 of those coming in their sole victory against Burnley. 10 of their 11 goals have come from open play with just 1 from set pieces and certainly Ranieri must try to get more goals from set-pieces as they are key moments in any game of football. Their stats show their problems offensively
Shots per game: 12.3 = 13th
Shots on target per game: 3.8 = 14th
Dribbles per game: 7 = 13th
Ranieri clearly has work to do in the forward areas with Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored nearly half their goals and they must tap into his abilities more if they are going to stay up this season. But he cannot do it all on his own with goals not being spread around the team very well. Only Mitrovic, Andre Schurrle, Jean Seri and Ryan Sessegnon have scored in the Premier League this season and that isn’t good enough. Ranieri must get his ideas across quickly to get Fulham going this season and his opening fixture is a crucial home game against fellow strugglers Southampton. Ranieri and the fans need a performance from the players to really ignite their season and a win over a rival could spark them into life.
Ranieri’s appointment at Fulham was meant with general positivity and the likeable Italian knows he needs results and fast to save the Cottagers season. The fans will no doubt demand more from the players due to the excess spend in the summer and arguably they should be doing better but as many promoted teams know the transition from Championship to Premier League is tough and takes time but unfortunately, time isn’t an option in football anymore as Jokanovic found out. Claudio Ranieri has yet to battle relegation in England having been successful at Chelsea and Leicester, but this could be his toughest assignment yet. Keeping Fulham up would be another terrific achievement in an already illustrious managerial career which has seen him manage some of Europe’s biggest clubs. He is ready for a fight and he will install that fighting mentality into the Fulham players and he will get them going but he needs a positive run of results to install that belief into the Fulham fans. Ranieri may just bring back buying pizza should Fulham gain their first clean sheet of the season in the next few weeks and its certainly an incentive for improvement. Fulham need to save their season and Ranieri will be confident he can deliver safety for the Cottagers but it will be a rollercoaster ride full of classic Ranieri comments and excitement.