10 goals conceded in three games, co-owner Tony Khan apologising on Twitter and just six days to sign the defenders so desperately needed… Fulham’s Premier League return isn’t going well but is it any wonder after only 39 days of pre-season?
- Fulham’s defending was atrocious during Monday’s 3-0 home loss to Aston Villa
- The match was followed by a Twitter apology from co-owner Tony Khan
- Khan pledged to deliver new signings at centre back before the window closes
- Defensive problems look set to once again be the main issue in Premier League
- Fulham can be excused as they had just 39 days to prepare for top-flight return
It didn’t take long for Twitter to swing into action in the wake of Fulham’s 3-0 loss to Aston Villa.
There was another viral mash-up in which the words of manager Scott Parker were set to a tune by The Streets.
But more significantly, there was an extraordinary intervention by Fulham co-owner Tony Khan on the club’s efforts in the transfer market.
So what’s going on at a club whose return to the Premier League has started badly to say the least?
It was a night to forget for Fulham as they lost a third straight game on their top-flight return
Manager Scott Parker looks dismayed on the sidelines at another shambolic defensive display
What did Tony Khan have to say?
Within minutes of the final whistle, Khan, the son of Fulham owner Shahid, tweeted an apology to fans for the dismal performance.
He then added that the club had been trying to strengthen a defence that has now conceded 10 goals in their first three Premier League games.
Khan said two centre back targets had contracted Covid-19, a deal to bring in another on a free had fallen through and there was ‘another issue’ with a fourth set of negotiations.
Khan then promised there would be signings in the final week of the transfer window as well as ‘better efforts from this squad.’
Fulham owner Tony Khan has issued an apology on Twitter after the club’s latest heavy defeat
Khan took to Twitter to apologise and promise new signings within minutes of the defeat
He later posted a second message apologising again and emphasising there would be improvements.
In the meantime, Khan responded to a couple of replies from Fulham fans to his original tweet.
He shut down one suggestion that Fulham take new Chelsea signing Malang Sarr on loan, saying Premier League rules prohibited it.
Khan also hinted that talks over at least one of the (unnamed) players suffering from Covid weren’t necessarily over.
Whatever, time is fast ebbing away for Fulham to make the necessary improvements at the back.
Aleksandar Mitrovic and Tom Cairney look dejected during a disappointing night for Fulham
How did Parker react to the comments?
Well, Khan’s intervention was certainly unexpected and can be interpreted as a move to quickly quell some of the fan criticism that followed such a poor performance.
He clearly wanted to show efforts have and are being made to sort things out at the back.
Parker certainly won’t turn down some new recruits in defence and it’s very clear that Fulham need them.
But he stopped short of saying that Khan’s words were helpful.
Parker looks on ruefully as his Fulham team collapsed to a 3-0 loss to Aston Villa on Monday
Fulham summer window arrivals
Anthony Knockaert (Brighton, £10.5m)
Harrison Reed (Southampton, £5.85m)
Kenny Tete (Lyon, £2.9m)
Antonee Robinson (Wigan, £1.9m)
Ola Aina (Torino, loan)
Mario Lemina (Southampton, loan)
Alphonse Areola (PSG, loan)
‘Tony’s the (co-)owner of the football club, and he is a director of football and obviously he feels it’s his responsibility and it is in terms of bringing players in, so that’s obviously where it is,’ Parker said.
‘Helpful? Yeah, I’m not sure. But that’s up to Tony, really.’
Parker went further in another press conference on Tuesday, saying: ‘It’s not something I agree with it, it’s not something that is helpful.
‘The one thing I’m disappointed with is that he apologised for the performance. The other bits, it is what it is.’
There had been news earlier on Monday that Fulham’s move for Sassuolo’s Brazilian centre back Marlon had fallen through after a failed medical.
But when asked specifically about Marlon, Parker said: ‘Honestly, I wouldn’t know. I think the people in the places to be at the football club make those decisions.’
So it confirms Khan and his team are still very much in charge of recruitment strategy with minimal input from Parker.
With increasingly disgruntled Fulham fans knowing this already, it perhaps explains Khan’s rush to apologise.
So Fulham haven’t signed any defensive players this summer?
That’s not strictly true as they’ve brought in the right back Kenny Tete from Lyon and left back Antonee Robinson from Wigan.
But as their shocking performance against Villa showed, the glaring weakness that needs to be urgently addressed is at centre back.
Denis Odoi allowed Jack Grealish to run between him and Michael Hector to open the scoring for Villa after just four minutes.
Odoi didn’t cover himself in glory for Villa’s second, either, as Conor Hourihane was allowed a close-range finish.
John McGinn clipped a lovely pass onto the run of Jack Grealish for the opening goal
The visitors doubled their advantage in the 15th minute with Conor Hourihane’s tidy finish
Conor Hourihane’s free-kick from the left was poked into an open net by Tyrone Mings
And their third, just after half-time, was a dismal failure of the offside trap as Tyrone Mings ran through to poke home a free-kick.
This is hardly an isolated incident. Fulham lost 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day and shipped four at Leeds United last weekend.
We may only be three games in but Fulham are already bottom of the table and one bookmaker is already paying out on them to be relegated.
So there are echoes of their last Premier League season?
Absolutely. It was a defensive frailties mainly to blame for Fulham’s relegation in 2018-19. They conceded 81 goals – the most in the division.
Odoi and Tim Ream played the majority of games then so little has changed.
You simply don’t get away with the kind of lapses in defensive concentration that can go unpunished in the Championship.
In the Monday Night Football studio, Jamie Carragher didn’t hold back in his criticism of Khan and Fulham.
There have been reminders of Fulham’s last Premier League season in their first three games
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher slammed frail Fulham and club owner Tony Khan
‘It never works, it always ends up in tears,’ Carragher said.
‘He’s a clown, getting involved with that. Just shut your mouth, get on with it, keep your head down.
‘I’m more certain of Fulham going down than Liverpool winning the league. What we saw there was actually unbelievable.’
As well as setting himself up for criticism come the end of the window next week, Khan’s tweets have only alerted selling clubs to Fulham’s desperation meaning they’re more likely to charge a premium.
What has Parker done to try and solve the problem?
Fulham’s manager did try a tactical tweak on Monday night.
In their opening two league games of the season, Parker went with the 4-2-3-1 formation used towards the end of their promotion-winning campaign.
Against Arsenal, Ream and Hector played at centre back with Odoi on the right side. Against Leeds, Odoi partnered Hector in the middle with new arrival Tete at right back.
For the Villa game, Parker switched to a 3-4-3 system with Odoi, Hector and Ream at the back plus wing backs Joe Bryan on the left and Tete on the right.
Michael Hector (right) gets a shove from Villa’s Ezri Konsa in Monday night’s match
Unfortunately, the team seemed baffled with Villa able to kill the contest inside the first 15 minutes and midfielders Tom Cairney and Frank Anguissa so consumed with defensive responsibility they couldn’t do anything going forward.
It was certainly clear that a more stable defensive foundation is needed before Parker tries the set-up again.
Is there any mitigation?
Yes, plenty. It was always going to be difficult for Fulham given the tight 39-day turnaround between their play-off final win over Brentford and their Premier League opener against Arsenal.
After giving the players some down time, Parker only had a couple of weeks on the training ground to get across his ideas for the tricky season ahead. There was only time for one pre-season match.
So it’s going to take a little bit of time for them to readjust to life in the Premier League but given the defeats so far, things could quickly become a little demoralising as they did two years ago.
There’s also the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that is keeping crowds away from stadiums and wiping out matchday revenue.
Craven Cottage isn’t the biggest stadium but the windfall that usually comes from promotion to the Premier League won’t be as big this season as in the past.
Fulham’s play-off final win over Brentford was on August 4 – their first Premier League fixture was only 39 days later on September 12
What are Fulham’s ambitions though?
That’s an interesting one. The last time they won promotion, Khan spent big in an effort to compete.
Over £100million was paid out for the likes of Anguissa, Alfie Mawson, Jean Michael Seri and a permanent deal for Aleksandar Mitrovic.
It was a disaster. Neither Slavisa Jokanovic nor Claudio Ranieri could fit these square pegs into round holes. By the time Parker came in as caretaker boss, relegation was a certainty.
Can Fulham turn it around?
Premier League unless stated
Thursday Brentford (A)
Carabao Cup fourth round
Sunday Wolves (A)
October 17 Sheffield United (A)
October 24 Crystal Palace (H)
October 31 West Brom (H)
Fixture dates subject to change
Having learned a lesson and with Covid squeezing the budget, Fulham have been more cautious this time.
There’s been an outlay of only £25m so far with the permanent signing of Anthony Knockaert from Brighton for £10.5m the biggest spend.
That could well change if Fulham can get those defensive targets over the line this week but the expenditure will be nowhere near 2018 levels.
But the example of Norwich last season suggests being prudent in the transfer market doesn’t make you competitive in the Premier League.
Fulham, like Norwich and West Brom, seem destined to be a yo-yo club. Too good for the Championship but not good enough for the top tier.
That seems good enough for the owners, though. One Fulham fan replied to Khan saying: ‘Our fans love this club dearly yet you seem happy to let us become a yo-yo club for financial gains.’
To which Khan replied: ‘While absolutely nothing I can say would make up for tonight’s performance, frankly we would’ve absolutely killed to be a yo-yo club when I took it over after finishing 20th in the Championship.’
Khan’s reply about being happy to be a yo-yo club will have alarmed some Fulham fans
While nobody is denying Fulham’s progress since the low of that season, let’s also not forget they became a Premier League mainstay between 2001 and 2014, and reached a European final 10 years ago.
After a Carabao Cup visit to west London rivals Brentford on Thursday, Fulham do have a run of games against Wolves, Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and West Brom that can – indeed must – yield some points.
The immediate focus must be on the defence, however.
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