Where Fulham need to improve for 2017/18

In spite of its eventual disappointment, there was much to be merry about for Fulham fans throughout the 2016/17 season.

We showed the Championship – the cruel, unforgiving Championship – that it is possible to play your way into promotion contention.

That we were undone by the rigid tactics of a dogged Reading side is incidental – we played consistently with beauty, finesse and not a little bit of spirit.

It wasn’t enough, though, to get us over the line. And, as the opening of the transfer window begins to loom, you have to worry about the future of a significant number of our better players.

Tom Cairney has been attracting attention for some time now, as has Ryan Sessegnon. Marcus Bettinelli supposedly has his suitors.

Marcus Bettinelli Fulham
Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli is reportedly interesting Championship side Bristol City

And let’s not forget the myriad temporary deals that provided such support throughout the campaign, from Tomáš Kalas through to Lucas Piazon. Come August, there’s every chance we could be looking at a squad depleted.

You’d hope it won’t come to that.

Permanent deals for Piazon and Kalas have been discussed and retaining Cairney isn’t unfathomable – the player clearly loves it in South West London. And, if his old pal Matt Smith remains local, there’s every chance their cutesy bond could save us a significant loss.

Regardless, in the face of uncertainty, Fulham must spend. Spend to improve the squad. Spend to plug the gaps. In many ways, spend simply because everyone else is doing so, too.

We could do with a goalkeeper, that’s for sure. David Button proved an ineffectual signing, in the end.

His statistics actually show him as one of the best ‘keepers in the league but as anyone who’s seen the 28 year-old live will attest, his penchant for the ridiculous and particularly poor distribution make him a weakness more than a strength.

Of course, Bettinelli stood in towards the end of the season and excelled. I, for one, wouldn’t be aghast at the idea of him retaining the number one jersey for another year.

That’s not to say there aren’t better alternatives out there, though, and we’d be foolish not to pursue them.

At centre back we’ve been blessed with a surprising number of options this season. Kalas, Tim Ream, Michael Madl and Ragnar Sigurðsson have all had their moments.

But, as has been so very Fulham over the past few seasons, none have shown the kind of consistency required by a table-topping team. Retaining Kalas would be huge but bringing in someone alongside him may be even more important.

Depth in midfield could be a problem, but Slaviša Jokanović’s (blessed) refusal to rotate a central trio of Cairney, Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald means the likes of Lasse Vigen Christensen and Jozabed – who return from loan – remain truly untested.

Jozabed Sánchez Ruiz RC Celta de Vigo Fulham
Jozabed, pictured on loan at RC Celta de Vigo, could potentially play an important role next season at Fulham

Where money needs to be thrown the most is up front. With Chris Martin – chastised by many, loved by few, but ultimately a key cog in much of what we achieved last season – and Cyriac returning to their parent clubs, Cauley Woodrow is our leading viable striker.

With a tactical setup that exploits pace on the wings we need a strong, physical presence up top who can hold up the ball and bring others into play. They need to be good in the air, too, and as a focal point for our attack, ruthlessly clinical.

Basically, we need the perfect centre forward.

Automatic promotion would not be off the cards if we can invest wisely and keep our key figures – not least Jokanović himself.

It’s all a very big ask, of course, but you don’t get far without a bit of ambition.


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