“Fulham are going down. I’ve never been more certain about anything in my life and they need to buy two, maybe three or four defenders. I’m more certain of Fulham going down than Liverpool winning the league.”
Jamie Carragher’s assessment of Fulham three games into the season seems like it could come back to haunt him. Tonight, with three points against Leeds, Fulham could move out of the relegation zone and go ahead of Newcastle and level on points with Brighton. The side that was written off earlier in the season has come back fighting and Scott Parker deserves every credit for this turnaround.
We’ve all seen his brilliant post-match interviews with backing tracks from The Streets, but when it comes to the serious work, the Englishman has improved every aspect of this side. Fulham’s defence, which was the target of Carra’s abuse earlier in the season, is now reformed and despite their expected heavy defeat against champions elect Manchester City, they have now got a platform in place to pick up points with regularity. Before that loss, they’d kept three clean sheets in four games, including a win at Anfield and a must-win game at home to basement club Sheffield United.
In Alphonse Areola, Joachim Anderson and Tosin Adarabioyo, the Cottagers now have a strong spine in their back-line who know they will be playing, if fit, every single week. You simply cannot underestimate the importance of consistency and confidence to a central defensive pairing, something Fulham were severely lacking in the early months of this campaign.
Perhaps the energetic full-backs, often rotated have been the stars of the show in this Fulham back-line. Ola Aina’s flexibility to play anywhere across the backline has allowed Parker to switch between a back three and a back four, while his ability to play at left-back strengthened them when Antonee Robinson was banned for three games. Kenny Tete has shown his ability as a wing-back while Robinson himself has provided both width and an attacking threat in the final third when playing in that same position on the opposite side.
Parker has managed to concoct a reasonably solid defence, something that looked an impossibility as Tony Khan tweeted his frustration in late September. Ahead of them, the ineffectiveness of last season’s top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic has been replaced by the clever movement of Josh Maja, a January signing which could keep them in the top flight along with the attacking talents of Ademola Lookman.
Unlike two seasons ago, these signings have improved Fulham and that’s because they have a steady, sensible figure in charge. Parker was handed a mess of a squad, packed full of big signings on large wages who were destined for the Championship. Once relegation was confirmed, he trimmed the fat of his squad and returned them to the top flight at the first time of asking, something that shouldn’t be underestimated given his lack of managerial experience at the time.
This season was always going to be his biggest challenge, but as it has progressed, he and this Fulham side have improved alongside one another. He may not have the attraction or playing style of his opposite number tonight in Marcelo Bielsa, but Parker, if he keeps this squad in the Premier League against the odds this term, can assert himself as one of the most talented English managers in the country.
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