Electric August gives way to September doubts - Interview
Thursday, 14th Oct 2021 16:32 by Clive Whittingham
Fulham set off at a lick through August but have badly missed a couple of key injuries and won only two of seven through September. We spoke to Konk and Sam James from the Fulhamish Podcast about what to expect on Saturday.
What went wrong last season?
Konk: It wasn’t a great side that got promoted, so we needed to make quite a few signings to have any chance of staying-up. We made some decent signings, but they were made at the last moment, by which time we’d tossed away the first few games. Under Parker we were generally a risk-averse, slow-motion, sideways side, and struggled all season to produce any sort of goal threat. Two wins and nine goals at home, tells you all you need to know. Burnley scored more goals in one game at the Cottage (three) than we did between Christmas and the end of the season. We had a spell in the middle of the season when we were really solid defensively, looked decent and were difficult to beat, but we just couldn’t turn draws into wins or hold onto leads, and then completely collapsed over the last ten games. Still, at least Chelsea didn’t win the Champions League…
Fulhamish: Last season was frustrating for Fulham fans, issues both on the pitch with flat and turgid tactics at home combined with some questionable recruitment decisions ultimately resulted in another disappointing season in the top flight. The failure to capitalise on the huge win at Anfield changed our season, and ultimately we went down with a whimper.
How has the season gone so far?
Konk: It's been a very Championship start to the season - winning games comfortably one week, before losing unexpectedly the next. Which at least makes a nice change from losing expectedly most weeks in the Premier League. Thirteen points and 12 goals from our first five league games, but two wins, three defeats and a draw in our next six. Five points off the top and currently fifth. It's been a mixed bag.
Fulhamish: You can split it pretty much down the middle. Before the September international break was incredible, since then though, the title parade has fallen apart. A mixture of injuries, bad fortune and self-destructive defending have resulted in us losing three of our past six league games, with the last game at Coventry comfortably the worst of the lot.
Fulham league results so far…
I’ve watched a few of your games so far, absolutely brilliant at Millwall I thought, then completely destroyed by Coventry, Middlesbrough at home was fairly dull – what’s the real Fulham this season?
Konk: We have really missed Tete at left-back, and particularly Fab Carvalho; both through injuries. Carvalho had three goals and an assist in five games before getting injured, and with him and Tete in the side, we have a lot more pace, purpose, and finishing ability. I think (hope) Millwall was more typical of our level, and that we'll soon find our rhythm again.
Fulhamish: I think the real Fulham is a swashbuckling team that even in second gear, is a class above most teams in this league. However, bubbling underneath is a mental fragility that seems to struggle a bit with adversity. It is most likely a consequence of bouncing between two divisions for five seasons, but it does mean that whenever we are put in a difficult position, such as conceding an early goal, we do struggle to recover. In five matches this season we have either gone behind, or conceded an equaliser - in none of them were we able to recover any points.
What Has Marco Silva changed from last season and what do you think of him so far?
Konk: With Parker, there was a lot of our centre-backs playing eight thousand balls between them on the edge of the box, whether we were winning or losing. It wasn't much fun. When we've been good under Silva, we have been excellent, played with lots of pace and torn teams apart at times. We've got at teams and kept looking for goals, rather than going 1-0 up and trying to sit on a lead. With injuries and disruptions, we've lost our way a little bit, but I think there's a decent side there.
Fulhamish: The main thing he has done is improve the pace of the side. Under Scott Parker we were a very, very slow team, content with sideways passing, and sitting on single goal leads. This was effective at times in both divisions, but it could make for real lacklustre spectating. Marco Silva now wants the players to always operate at speed, and kill off games with added goals. It means that when we are firing, we are irresistible to watch. The last month has been tricky for him, but now is the time when we will really learn what he's made of. It's sink or swim time.
What summer transfer business did you end up doing and how do you assess your window overall?
Konk: Wilson is a good player, but I'd sooner see him playing a bit more centrally at times. We signed Nathaniel Chalobah from Watford, and he's been successful in this division in the past, Domingos Quina signed on loan from Watford, and we signed a young, raw centre-forward, Rodrigo Muniz from Flamengo. We also signed Paulo Gazzaniga from Tottenham. Of those, Wilson's the only won who's particularly impressed to date, but it's still early days. I was more chuffed with some of the plays we retained: Mitrovic, Tete, Tosin, and Reed.
Fulhamish: It was a decent window in my opinion. Harry Wilson was an excellent bit of business, particularly as Fulham have managed to defer any payments until further down the line, so for now he is effectively a loan with an obligation. He is Premier League quality, and that's what we need if we are lucky enough to get promoted. The other signings have been mixed, with Gazzaniga, Chalobah and Quina all struggling to either impress or get minutes.
However, the biggest success in the window was keeping hold of who we had already. There were several clubs sniffing around for our players, however Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa was the only star player to leave (and even that is just a loan). Holding on to the likes of Tosin, Mitrovic, Reed and Tete are crucial to our chances of automatic promotion.
Ins >>> Harry Wilson, 24, RW, Liverpool, £12.6m >>> Rodrigo Muniz, 20, CF, Flamengo, £7.2m >>> Paulo Gazzaniga, 29, GK, Spurs, Free >>> Nathaniel Chalobah, 26, CM, Watford, Free >>> Domingos Quina, 21, CM, Watford, Loan
Outs >>> Aboubakar Kamara, 26, CF, Saloniki, £3.1m >>> Stefan Johansen, 30, CM, QPR, £600k >>> Marcus Bettinelli, 29, GK, Chelsea, Free (what a fucking world this is) >>> Andre Anguissa, 25, CM, Napoli, Loan >>> Kevin McDonald, 32, DM, Released
Stand out players and weak links in the team?
Konk: Stand-outs: It seems strange to think that there were some Fulham fans wanting rid of Mitrovic. Ten goals and three assists in eleven games; it's great to see him enjoying himself again. He's about as good as it gets when it comes to the Championship. Jean-Michael Seri has been an unexpected bonus, and played really well at times. Wilson has looked very good in patches too, and as before, Carvalho and Tete were playing very well before their injuries.
Weak links: Good honest pros, but ideally neither Ream nor Odoi would be starting, and the lack of footballing intelligence displayed by Cavaleiro stuns me more every time I watch him. I don't understand how someone can continually pick the wrong pass or find quite so many blind alleys to run down. Gazzaniga hasn't been great and a lot of us would like to see Rodak given a run, as we know he's plenty good enough for this division.
Fulhamish: Mitrovic is the obvious answer, he hasn't got out of second gear and has ten goals in eleven matches. I think Jean Michael-Seri has been electric, it only took him four years of being at Craven Cottage, but finally we are starting to see what some of the hype is about. Fabio Carvalho was the big star in August, and his injury has left a massive creative gap in the side. Same could be said for Kenny Tete on the right side of defence. If they are still missing, they're our blind spots, but if they do return, then I honestly don't think there is too much of a weak link.
How do you think you’ll do?
Konk: I'm going to be optimistic and say top two. We have one of the strongest squads in the division, we've destroyed some decent sides at times this season, Mitro should be good for another 15 goals, and with Tete, Carvalho, and hopefully Cairney back at some stage, we ought to have enough over the course of the season.
Fulhamish: I think we'll finish second as we will have too much for most teams at this level. However, it may not be the walkover that many predicted, as I think we are a big 'scalp' in this division, and I'm not sure this group of players are quite ruthless enough to deal with that pressure 100% of the time.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @FulhamishPod, @MrSammyJames
Pictures – Action Images
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