Scott Parker’s Fulham face a difficult run-in as they bid to ensure Premier League survival. The Cottagers have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks but it could be too little to late for the west London club.
Scott Parker’s Fulham Could Be Unable to Stay Up
Last Time in the Premier League
Their last season in the top flight was an unmitigated failure and ended in relegation.
They spent over £100 million on transfers over the course of the season, brought in expensive loan signings and came in with high hopes.
Alarm bells had begun ringing early on. They hired the Premier League-winning manager Claudio Ranieri to help stop the rot, but even he could do nothing.
A run of nine successive defeats sealed Fulham’s fate, landing them unceremoniously back in the Championship.
Return to the Premier League
Following relegation, the enthusiasm was gone. The pomp and circumstance completely faded. Their new head coach, Scott Parker, was seen as a cheap option and led some to believe an era of mediocrity beckoned.
An opening day defeat at Barnsley only appeared to confirm the Cottagers’ fears. However, consistent form and a late-season surge put Fulham in the playoffs. After seeing off a stout-hearted Cardiff City side, they faced Brentford in the final.
Their London rivals certainly went in as favourites, but a magical brace in extra time by Joe Bryan ensured them a return to the top flight at the first time of asking. Scott Parker had answered his critics.
But, this was merely his first challenge. To avoid a repeat of 2019, Parker still had a lot of work to do.
Scott Parker’s Fulham Struggle in Premier League Return
Early in the new campaign, it was apparent that Fulham did not have the defensive setup required in the Premier League. They shipped ten goals in their first four games, losing all of them.
Fulham weren’t just lacklustre at the back; their defence was the subject of national ridicule. The structure was non-existent, they had little awareness and seemingly no desire to prevent goals from flooding in.
Credit to Parker, he identified the problems of this defensive strategy and set about making changes. For their next fixture, he changed the system to a back four, with Parker electing to use more traditional fullbacks.
Their next league game was another loss, but only by a solitary goal. Fulham’s chances still looked remote, but this was comparative progress.
Fulham’s most frustrating moment of the season came during added time of their game against West Ham United. Following a very late goal by Tomas Soucek, Fulham were given a penalty and a chance to turn their fortunes.
Instead, Ademola Lookman daintily chipped the ball right into Lukasz Fabianski’s hands. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but of all the times to attempt a Panenka, this wasn’t it.
However, this would prove to be part of a crucial turning point.
Fulham’s First Win
In November, Fulham finally collected a win at the expense of West Bromwich Albion.
This game proved Fulham had quality in their ranks, even if they didn’t always show it. Uncharacteristically, they were comfortable out of possession and surged forward with intent when the opportunity presented itself.
Aleksander Mitrovic was an effective focal point up top, while Zambo Anguissa broke up West Brom’s play in midfield and nullified their potential threats.
At the end of the month, Fulham faced a strong Leicester City team, who at this point were considered dark horses for the title. Not only did Fulham get the three points, but they also looked good in doing so and fully deserved their win.
Previously in the season, Leicester had annihilated Manchester City 5-2. Against Fulham, they could only manage one. Quite an improvement from two months previous.
By reconfiguring his side to soak up pressure, Parker was able to extinguish Leicester’s narrow attacking plan and break with regularity.
Fulham scrapped their patient possession approach that worked in the Championship and began working on a counterattacking system much better suited to the Premier League.
Change in Tactics
Fulham’s home game against Liverpool was such a contrast to their early season form that it was difficult to believe they were the same club. Liverpool were poor, yes, and lucky to salvage a draw, but Fulham were excellent.
They moved the ball directly, gave Liverpool little time to breath and fearlessly ran at their makeshift defence. Here, it seemed evident that Parker was a manager not afraid to do his homework. He had clearly studied Liverpool exhaustively, allowing him to set up his side that perfectly counteracted their weaknesses.
This level of managerial determination is impressive. It’s also necessary, given the difficulty of the task he has at hand.
However, against Tottenham Hotspur, Parker shrewdly changed his style back to how they began the season. Mourinho’s teams allow the opposition to hold the ball, making economic use of it and breaking with surgical precision.
With this knowledge, Fulham were able to be more patient and in time unlocked Tottenham’s defence. Another display of smart tactical planning by the former England international.
Unfortunately for Fulham, they didn’t win this game. In fact, since beating Leicester, they went winless for another 12 matches in the league. They were seldom dominated, but old mistakes they had been making at the season’s dawn were creeping back in.
They often looked toothless going forward and didn’t have the strength in defence to hold onto their generally narrow leads.
That’s not to say Fulham have a poor squad. It’s far from great, but they do have some quality players whose strengths are exemplified within their system. Bobby Decordova-Reid, Ivan Cavaleiro and Lookman are solid attacking players, aided by a repurposed Mitrovic who now sits deeper.
From the evidence of this season, Scott Parker looks like a promising coach. He’s willing to learn from his mistakes and is committed to what he does.
Furthermore, Fulham do have some great players. The notable examples are Zambo Anguissa and Alphonse Areola, two high-quality footballers who will remain in the elite level even if Fulham don’t.
However, are these factors enough to keep Fulham afloat? No.
Fulham have a very tough fixture list towards the end of the season. They’ve had some good wins this campaign, but have also dropped points in key games. This would not be too fatal, were it not for their dreadful run mid-season.
It is difficult to see Fulham overtaking the teams directly above them (Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion). Steve Bruce may have received flak from various angles this season, but grinding out results that matter is his speciality. Fulham play Newcastle in the season’s final game, a game where Bruce’s vast experience could be pivotal.
Meanwhile, Brighton have been desperately unlucky as of late. They create chances and play wonderful football, but their results don’t reflect this. Luck is a fickle thing and it can change in a second.
Relegation may not be such a bad thing for Fulham. They’ll lose players, sure, but they’ll receive a parachute payment, adding to their already large transfer budget.
Even if they fail to stay up this season, Scott Parker’s Fulham are in safe hands. He’s young, hungry and eager to learn – everything a new manager should be.