While a number of big clubs have always plied their trade in the top division, many recognisable sides haven’t had that luxury of constant safety.
Fulham are one of those teams that have been branded as a ‘yo-yo’ club in recent years, with the Whites suffering relegation in their last two seasons in the Premier League. The west London outfit finished 19th during the 2018/19 campaign, before going down in 18th two years later.
However, Marco Silva’s side look like they have learnt the lessons this time around and have began the season in brilliant form. The Cottagers currently sit sixth heading into the international break, having picked up 11 points from a possible 21 so far.
So, with that in mind, Mirror Football have taken a look at four mistakes Fulham have rectified this term from their past two experiences.
One possible reason why the Whites have started the campaign superbly is that Silva has kept a similar side to the one that won the Championship last season. Nine players from the promotion-winning side started Fulham’s opening day 2-2 draw against Liverpool, with Joao Palhinha and Andreas Pereira the only exceptions.
In recent weeks, Bernd Leno, Issa Diop and Willian have come into the XI but Silva has seemed to stick with those already at the club, rather than completely change the side. That is something that happened in both of the Whites’ last two top-flight campaigns, with the Fulham hierarchy panicking and bringing in as many players as they could to try and stay up – inevitably concluding with lots of changes each week.
But Silva has placed trust in the players that got them into the Premier League and it’s a strategy that has worked thus far. He has also stayed loyal with the 4-3-3 formation for most of their matches, with two out and out wingers and three central midfielders.
After the draw against Liverpool, Fulham picked up another important point away at Wolves, before securing their first victory of the season at home to local rivals Brentford. They almost caused Arsenal a major scare at the Emirates before Mikel Arteta’s side ran out 2-1 winners. Another 2-1 defeat at Tottenham was sandwiched either side of victories over Brighton and Nottingham Forest last time out.
There were question marks raised when Fulham spent over £100m on 15 new players – a record in the Premier League era at the time. But some of the signings made no sense, with some on loan while others joined on a permanent deal.
Jean Michael Seri, Andre Zambo Anguissa and Alfie Mawson were amongst the big-money arrivals, but it is safe to say not many succeeded at Craven Cottage. The Cottagers had no rhythm and it felt like they were making a number of changes every week to keep everyone happy.
Meanwhile, it could be argued that the Cottagers didn’t do enough business in summer 2020 when they returned to the top-flight. Fulham spent just £33m and the vast majority of their additions were loan players, such as Mario Lemina, Ola Aina and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Although some loan moves can work, others sometimes go the opposite way with question marks raised about their commitment to the cause. That was a remark hit at a number of Fulham players that season as they returned straight back to the second tier.
This time around, it feels as though Fulham have got a nice blend between quality, youth and experience in the squad. Palhinha arrived as their most expensive addition at around £18m, with Pereira, Diop, Leno, Kevin Mbabu and Carlos Vinicius, Willian, Daniel James, Manor Solomon, Laywin Kurzawa and Shane Duffy completing their summer business.
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Although it may seem a lot of new players, at least half of them have Premier League experience under their belt and pedigree of what it’s like to play in a top division. It is a strategy that has worked out so far, with the Whites flying at the moment.
A lot was made of Fulham’s defensive record during the 18/19 season, as the Whites conceded 81 goals from their 38 matches. It was the most any side let in that season – an even worse record than Huddersfield who finished 20th.
They improved drastically in 20/21, conceding just 53 goals. However, Fulham sacrificed most of their offensive threat to ensure they were better defensively.
Former boss Scott Parker dropped Aleksandar Mitrovic and played five-at-the-back to make them more solid. But it felt like they have little to no balance in the side – something Silva has seemed to change.
Although the Whites have conceded 11 goals from their opening seven matches, they have played Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Brighton and have either beaten those teams or kept the scoreline relatively respectable. Fulham are a better defensive team all over the park and defend from the front, with Mitrovic pressing more than he’s done before and the signing of Palhinha has allowed them to be better in transition from defence to attack.
This isn’t to mention how much Tim Ream has improved since he was last in the Premier League. The USA international has been one of the Whites’ best players this season and has led the back line superbly alongside Tosin Adarabayo.
One of the most bizarre decisions Parker made in 20/21 was completely dropping Mitrovic from the Fulham side. The Serbian was frozen out by the former Chelsea midfielder and decided to play Ivan Cavaleiro up front instead in a more fluid front three. But the Whites would score just 27 goals that season, with Sheffield United only posting a worse return (20).
Parker’s exit in summer 2021 must’ve been a relief for Mitrovic and Silva got him back to his best. The 28-year-old scored 43 goals in 44 league matches last term – the most ever in the second tier – breaking Guy Whittingham’s previous best of 42.
There was fresh optimism amongst the Fulham faithful that Mitrovic would improve on his three Premier League goals last time out – and even surpass his personal record of 11 back in 18/19. It is safe to say the forward has looked reborn.
He already has six goals in his first seven matches and currently sits joint-second on the Golden Boot chart behind Erling Haaland, who has netted 11 times. Mitrovic started the season impressively, scoring twice on the opening day against Liverpool, before netting against Brentford, Arsenal, Brighton and Tottenham.
Although Mitrovic didn’t score against Forest on Friday, he was involved in all three goals, drawing defenders towards him and leaving space for others to get into scoring positions. He will no doubt also have one eye on the World Cup with Serbia set to face Brazil in their opening group game.