It is safe to say that Fulham and Norwich supporters have gone through highs, lows, highs, and lows again in the past decade. An unprecedented number of promotions out of the EFL Championship paired with relegation from the Premier League in the following season has led to these two football clubs being named “yo-yo” clubs.
In the past 10 seasons, Fulham and Norwich have been relegated a combined six times. The last time they were both in the EPL at the same time was in the 2013/14 season where they finished 19th and 18th, respectively.
Consequently, they have been promoted from the EFL Championship a combined six times since the 2011/12 season. In each of the past five seasons including this most recent one that is finishing up, the three promoted teams to the EPL from the Championship have included one of these clubs.
The “yo-yo” clubs have earned quite the reputation which has got many football fans already saying, “They couldn’t could they” when thinking of the prospect of yet another relegation and promotion for next season.
But focusing more on the London club, what are the real possibilities for the SW6 team?
On Monday afternoon at the Cottage, Fulham thrashed promotion playoff hopefuls Luton Town with a 7-0 victory which secured their inevitable EFL Championship title with one game left in the season.
Performances from young star Fabio Carvalho who is all but officially on his way to Anfield and Aleksandar Mitrović who notched a brace to become the highest-scoring player in a single season in the modern era of the EFL Championship with 43 goals made the night a comfortable and celebratory one.
The question remains ahead of this upcoming Premier League season; should the Khan ownership be looking at a goal of safety or aim higher in hopes of replicating a season similar to that of newly-promoted Brentford FC?
Transfers, Transfers, Transfers
Whatever the answer to that question is, it should not rely heavily on its transfer business in the summer.
After defeating Aston Villa in the promotion playoff finals at Wembley in 2018, Fulham spent an impressive $125 million on incoming players. This turned out to be irrelevant as they were relegated that season with a handful of their new signings flopping in the process.
So how should the whites stop this exhausting pattern?
Firstly, the board should invest smartly, not excessively. Work smarter, not harder. They may still spend upwards of $50 million on transfers this summer, but it should be on only three or four key starters.
One of the positions of improvement should be in the backline. Tim Ream and Tosin Adarabioyo shared a brilliant center-back pairing this season with 18 clean sheets, both being in the top three in the squad for minutes played and starts, and Tosin earning a spot on the EFL Championship Team of the Season.
Regardless, during the 2020/21 campaign, neither of them showed that they were incredibly reliable at the next level. In this case, Tosin Adarabioyo should be the one to stay in the starting XI to start the season, while Tim Ream should be a backup for that position. Signing a reliable, solid, and proven center-back is crucial to stop Fulham’s lackluster defensive record in recent EPL seasons.
Secondly, Fulham live and die by Aleksandar Mitrović. If he can translate his EFL Championship form to the Premier League, they will be safe for another season in the top flight. If not, as seen before with only 14 goals across Fulham’s past two EPL seasons, they will struggle again to find safety.
Investing in a partnering forward for Mitrovic is key to relieving the pressure off of him to provide goals for the team. Harry Wilson and Fabio Carvalho complimented Mitro perfectly this season with their clinical ability in front of goal. With Fabio leaving, and Harry Wilson still not as proven in the EPL, signing a goal-scoring forward with pace should do the trick with unlocking Mitrovic’s threat. This will take some of the attention off the Serbian and make defenders think twice about double-teaming him.
Marco Silva’s Premier League experience with Hull City, Watford, and Everton should provide stability for Fulham this upcoming season.
In the past, Fulham has had managers without any Premier League prowess. Slaviša Jokanović and Scott Parker were both effective in the Championship, yet they faltered in the Premier League where players’ talent could tear apart their game plans.
Marco Silva has Fulham playing a style of football that could suit the transition to the big league, along with some risks.
With a possession-based style, the likes of Harrison Reed and Jean-Michael Seri drop deep to receive and switch the ball around the park involving the backline and fullbacks. This turns into a sort of single pivot as the other two midfielders then push up higher and leave the defensive midfielder always with one or two forwards on his back.
The risk is that with half of the XI up the field higher, a mistake at the back could lead to Fulham being wide open for a counterattack.
Fulham is also very capable of counterattacking themselves. With the speed of their wide players Wilson and Carvalho, they were able to move the ball up very quickly and play off of Mitrovic as a hold-up striker.
This will be crucial to use in matches against top-of-the-table sides like Manchester City and Liverpool who may look to pen Fulham back deep and play the ball around. This reason is also why signing a fast forward is important as Mitrovic does not possess the pace to lead a counterattack, leaving only Wilson able to do so.
Without the knowledge of transfers and who else will be promoted and relegated, it is looking better for Fulham to achieve safety this season than the last.
The variables that are concerning include Mitrovic’s reliability in production, defensive solidity against more clinical opponents, and signings that hit the ground running.
Marco Silva’s safe hands, Mitrovic coming off of his best season ever, and much of the squad being at a Premier League level already will all lead to a season full of relief and survival at Craven Cottage…hopefully.