Can Fulham stay in the Premier League next season as Championship promotion beckons

0
19


The victory champagne should be nicely chilled, having been on ice for an awful long time now.

Fulham should finally be able to uncork it over the Easter weekend as they return to the Premier League in about as straightforward a manner as the notoriously demanding Championship will allow.

If Nottingham Forest lose at Luton Town on Friday lunchtime and Fulham then win at Derby County that evening, they’ll be home. Otherwise, a win over the Rams and also Preston North End on Tuesday will do it.

Fulham have been head and shoulders above everyone else in the Championship this season

Fulham have been head and shoulders above everyone else in the Championship this season

Manager Marco Silva has got his side playing with panache and the goals have flowed

Manager Marco Silva has got his side playing with panache and the goals have flowed

Fulham could be promoted on Friday if Nottingham Forest lose at Luton and they beat Derby

Fulham could be promoted on Friday if Nottingham Forest lose at Luton and they beat Derby

Marco Silva’s team won’t surpass Reading’s post-2004 rebrand points record of 106, set in 2005-06, but they can bring up a century with a maximum of 18 points from their remaining half-dozen games.

Fulham have already racked up 94 goals from 40 matches and they should surpass the Royals’ record tally of 99 goals from that same campaign. Indeed, a goal glut from here may see them beat Manchester City’s 108 from 2001-02.

Aleksandar Mitrovic has excelled and stands on the brink of a second-tier scoring record

Aleksandar Mitrovic has excelled and stands on the brink of a second-tier scoring record

Their deadly striker Aleksandar Mitrovic will certainly fancy his chances of scoring the five more goals he needs to overtake Guy Whittingham’s post-1992 second-tier record of 42.

He’s already smashed the 33 by Brentford’s Ivan Toney that set a Championship record last season.

Fulham have been ruthless, stylish and consistent in equal measure. Both Blackburn Rovers and Reading have taken 7-0 pastings on their own ground. Bristol City and Birmingham City were hit for six in the space of four days. They’ve scored four or more goals on 10 occasions.

Silva’s commitment to attack has made this Fulham side a far more entertaining watch than the Slavisa Jokanovic-led promotion side of 2017-18 and Scott Parker’s 2019-20 vintage. It explains why this Fulham will go up as champions rather than fighting through the play-offs.

But the Craven Cottage regulars will be forgiven for already looking forward to next season and whether their yo-yo club can finally establish themselves in the top-flight again.

It’s become even more imperative now that west London rivals Brentford are staying up for a second season and the £80million Riverside Stand – with its £1,000 season tickets and rooftop swimming pool – nearing completion.

The question now is whether Fulham can stay in the Premier League - unlike the last two campaigns in the top-flight in 2018-19 and 2020-21

The question now is whether Fulham can stay in the Premier League – unlike the last two campaigns in the top-flight in 2018-19 and 2020-21

The redevelopment of the Riverside Stand will boost the capacity of Craven Cottage

The redevelopment of the Riverside Stand will boost the capacity of Craven Cottage 

Fulham fixtures 

Friday Derby County (A)

Tuesday Preston North End (H)

April 23 Bournemouth (A)

April 26 Nottingham Forest (H)

May 2 Luton Town (H)

May 7 Sheffield United (A)

Ahead of their 2018-19 Premier League season, owner Shahid Khan sanctioned £100million of spending on new signings but they still finished second bottom, some 10 points adrift of safety.

When they last came back up, amid the Covid pandemic in 2020, outlay was more modest, with a greater reliance on loan signings. The frugal approach didn’t work either, they finished 11 points shy of Burnley in 17th.

So are they good enough to stay up this time around?

Clearly much will depend on Mitrovic, a man of prodigious scoring feats in the Championship who has been a flop in the Premier League with returns of nine for Newcastle in 2015-16 and just 11 and four in Fulham’s two seasons.

It may be better this time around. After all, the 27-year-old has plenty of top-flight experience in the bank but he just doesn’t seem able to bully Premier League defences like those in the Championship.

Equally, Fulham don’t really have anyone else as a senior centre forward and would be well-advised to sign one in the summer even if it risks upsetting the Serb. If Mitrovic picks up an injury, they are seriously diminished.

Craft and creativity from the flanks has been a Fulham hallmark for some time now and they’re not short of options. Whether they’re Premier League calibre is another matter.

Harry Wilson, who cost £12m from Liverpool, has enjoyed an outstanding season with 11 goals and 15 assists. The Welshman will relish a first proper crack at the Premier League after his Liverpool career faded into EFL loan spells.

Harry Wilson has excelled in Fulham colours since joining the club from Liverpool for £12m

Harry Wilson has excelled in Fulham colours since joining the club from Liverpool for £12m

Left winger Neeskens Kebano has also performed well this season but his contribution to the last Premier League campaign was minimal and he was ultimately loaned out to Middlesbrough.

Ivan Cavaleiro also struggled to make the step up last time and has seen his effectiveness this season hampered by a groin injury.

The point is, Fulham place a great emphasis on flying wingers but none of the present options are proven in Premier League football.

19-year-old playmaker Fabio Carvalho has enjoyed a superb breakthrough year but is bound for Liverpool in a deal initially worth £5m that could rise to nearer £8m.

Fabio Carvalho's impressive season has led very quickly to a big club move with Liverpool

Fabio Carvalho’s impressive season has led very quickly to a big club move with Liverpool

Fulham will finalise a £6.3million move for Shakhtar Donetsk star Manor Solomon this summer

The Portuguese is clearly on a good trajectory and Fulham have been wise to insert a future sell-on clause but it won’t help them now.

They have already invested the Carvalho money in the £6.3m signing of Manor Solomon, the Israel international winger, from crisis-hit Shakhtar Donetsk.

Just as important, if not more so, next season will be keeping goals out. Fulham have kept 15 clean sheets this season and conceded only 35 times, the joint-best record in the league.

Neco Williams has looked the part in Fulham's defence while on loan from Liverpool

Neco Williams has looked the part in Fulham’s defence while on loan from Liverpool

But their Premier League ventures have been messy at times. They shipped 81 goals in 2018-19, a shocking return but they improved this to ‘only’ 53 last season.

Jean Michael Seri, Harrison Reed and Nathaniel Chalobah shield the defence well but Silva will have to get the balance right and it could well tilt towards a more conservative approach to avoid the midfield being overrun and it could be to the detriment of Fulham’s identity.

Right-back Neco Williams has slotted in nicely since arriving on loan from Liverpool in January and his brimming confidence was in evidence in the win over Blackburn, when he almost chipped the Rovers keeper from his own half.

Jurgen Klopp may have other ideas but perhaps Fulham could secure another season from Williams.

United States international Tim Ream and Tosin Adarabioyo have formed a strong central defensive partnership and both will be raring to have another crack at the Premier League.

That especially applies to Ream, who was demoted to the bench for much of last season after Ola Aina and Joachim Andersen arrived on loan and Parker went three-at-the-back.

But there’s no avoiding the fact there is a considerable gulf in quality between the Championship and the Premier League.

Many of the current squad have learned this from bitter experience. This time around, Fulham may opt to keep a winning side together and hope for the best rather than interfere too much.

But reinforcements will still be required in many areas to boost squad depth. Otherwise, Fulham may well find themselves praying there are three worse teams than them on their latest Premier League adventure.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here