We conclude our analysis of the newly promoted teams with a detailed look at the Fantasy prospects for Fulham, who defeated Aston Villa in the EFL Championship play-off final.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side make a return to the Premier League after a four-year absence, following their relegation from the top flight in 2013/14. The Cottagers had enjoyed a 13-year spell in the English top tier before their demotion.
After a play-off semi-final defeat to Reading in 2016/17, Fulham began this season with something of a hangover. Winning only four of their first 17 games, the west London side fell to 17th in the Championship table, though were still only six points off a play-off spot at that point.
A remarkable 5-4 away win at Sheffield United, who were then in second place, kick-started Fulham’s season, with Jokanovic’s troops later embarking on a 23-match unbeaten run between December and April. That superb form in the second half of the season bettered their late surge in the previous campaign, when losing only two of their final 17 fixtures to seal a sixth-place finish.
A 1-0 victory over Reading with four matches to go had briefly elevated Fulham to an automatic promotion spot, while victory over Birmingham City in their final league match would have seen the Cottagers finish runners-up.
Alas, their undefeated chain of results – the longest such run made by any Championship club all season – came to an end at the worst possible time, with the Blues’ 3-1 win at St Andrew’s condemning Fulham to a second successive season in the play-offs.
Jokanovic’s side weren’t to repeat their failings of 2016/17, however: a 2-1 aggregate win over Derby in the play-off semi-finals paved the way for victory over Villa at Wembley.
CS = Clean sheets
Over the course of their 46 matches, Fulham scored more goals (79) than any other Championship club bar Wolverhampton Wanderers (82). Their goal difference (+30) was also second only to Wolves (+33), though the Cottagers’ defensive record (46 goals conceded) was bettered by five other teams.
Fulham’s home record was the division’s fourth-best, with only Sheffield Wednesday and Bristol City leaving Craven Cottage with three points. Their away form, which included 12 victories, was bettered only by champions Wolves, meanwhile.
All of the above, of course, factors in Fulham’s early-season struggles. Isolating the second half of the 2017/18 campaign makes for much better reading: Fulham (56) racked up ten more points than any other Championship side (Millwall were next best with 46), while no team scored more (50) or conceded less (17) in their final 23 fixtures.
Fulham’s last home defeat came in late-October, while the 3-1 loss to Birmingham on the final day of the season was their first away reverse of 2018.
The Cottagers had the highest average possession percentage (57.6%) among all Championship clubs, while their pass completion was also unsurpassed in the division (82.9%). Brentford and Norwich were the only sides to make more key passes than Fulham (10.6 on average) per game.
Just nine of Fulham’s 79 goals came from set-piece situations this season (only Nottingham Forest and Birmingham scored fewer), while there were no direct assists from a corner. The Cottagers’ average of 0.6 chances created from a corner per game was worse than all other Championship teams bar Burton Albion.
Fantasy managers who like their defenders to score highly on the Bonus Points System (BPS) will also be disappointed: Fulham’s average of 8.3 interceptions per match was the worst in the Championship, while their rate of 2.9 shots blocked per game was the fourth-lowest. Their mean of 25.9 clearances per game was, however, the fourth-highest figure in the division.
The Manager – History
A defensive midfielder in his playing days, Jokanovic won domestic titles in the former Yugoslavia (with FK Vojvodina and FK Partizan) and then with Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga, this last success being the Spanish club’s only league title win to date. The FR Yugoslavia international also played two seasons for Chelsea towards the end of his playing career, making 39 league appearances.
Jokanovic began his nomadic managerial career with former team Partizan in 2007, leading the Serbian giants to back-to-back domestic doubles in his two seasons with the club.
Leaving the club by mutual consent, Jokanovic emerged three years late at Muangthong United, replacing Robbie Fowler as manager. The Serb led the Thai club to their third league title, remaining unbeaten throughout the 34-match season.
Brief, unsuccessful spells with Levski Sofia in Bulgaria and Hercules in Spain preceded Jokanovic’s appointment at Watford in October 2014. The Hornets had, by that point, already seen off three managers – Beppe Sannino, Oscar Garcia and Billy McKinlay – despite lying third in the Championship table.
A four-match losing sequence in Jokanovic’s second month in charge at Vicarage Road raised questions about his appointment, but the Serb won 19 of his remaining 27 league fixtures with Watford to steer them to an automatic promotion spot.
That run included two 5-0 wins over Fulham and Charlton Athletic and a 7-2 thrashing of Blackpool, with Watford showcasing the kind of attacking football that we have seen at Fulham this season. Jokanovic’s preferred formation was an offensive 3-5-2, with at least two of Troy Deeney, Odion Ighalo and Matej Vydra up front. Deeney and Ighalo both hit 20+ goals in Watford’s promotion-winning campaign.
A dispute with the board led to Jokanovic’s exit soon after, with Maccabi Tel Aviv securing his services for the next six months.
After leading the Israeli club to the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, Jokanovic departed for Craven Cottage in December 2015, steering the then-struggling Championship club to safety before securing a play-off spot in his first full season in charge.
The Manager – Tactics
Jokanovic has favoured a 4-3-3 formation this season, with the emphasis on ball retention and aggressive pressing when out of possession.
The Serb eschews the long ball where possible: no Championship side completed fewer long balls per game than Fulham (59) in 2017/18. Fulham were also ranked 24th for aerial duels contested (a mean of 1549 aerial duels per match, almost half of Cardiff City’s league-high average of 3057), further highlighting Jokanovic’s aversion to a more direct approach.
Contrast that with their other passing statistics: Fulham made more passes (an average of 540.4) and short passes (487) per fixture than any other side in the league. Only Burton and Norwich created fewer chances from crosses per game (1.8), meanwhile, underscoring Jokanovic’s distaste for high balls pumped into the box.
Fulham’s short-passing game begins at the back. In his 20 starts, David Button completed more short passes (17.1) and the fewest long passes (3.9) per game among all Championship goalkeepers who made more than one appearance. Ironically, Button’s distribution was the reason cited for Marcus Bettinelli’s return to the first team midway through the season. Bettinelli’s mean of 12.1 short passes per game was lower than Button’s but still among the best in the Championship.
Centre-backs Denis Odoi and – especially – Tim Ream are comfortable on the ball, while Fulham’s full-backs Ryan Fredericks and Matt Targett are encouraged to get forward as much as possible.
Kevin McDonald is the workhorse in a midfield three that also contains the more creative Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen, who look to supply their wingers – the exciting Ryan Sessegnon being one – with incisive through-balls from deep.
Aleksandar Mitrovic has been a huge success following his loan move from Newcastle United, though Fulham have not resorted to peppering the 6’2” Serbian striker with long balls. Only two of Mitrovic’s 12 league goals were headers. The ex-Anderlecht forward does, however, provide some much-needed physicality to the otherwise slight Fulham attack, using his brawn to hold up the ball and bring his more fleet-footed colleagues into play.
The Promoted Squad
All appearance, goal and assist information is for the regular 46-match season and excludes play-off data.
David Button (20 starts)
The ex-Brentford custodian started the season as Fulham’s first-choice goalkeeper but lost his place after the 3-1 defeat to his former club in December. The one-time Tottenham Hotspur academy player hasn’t featured for the first team since Bettinelli replaced him between the sticks and will possibly move on this summer, with Jokanovic’s desire for a ball-playing goalkeeper likely to force him into the transfer market.
Should Button stay at Craven Cottage, then bench duty is about the best he can hope for.
Marcus Bettinelli (26 starts)
A product of the Fulham youth system, Bettinelli had to bide his time for an extended run in the first team, having spent a large chunk of the previous two-and-a-half seasons as understudy.
Bettinelli kept a clean sheet in his first match in goal this season, a 1-0 win over Birmingham, and went on to register a further 11 shut-outs between then and the end of the season. Clean sheets against Derby and Aston Villa in the play-offs bolstered his total to an impressive 14 in 29 starts.
A pass success rate of 67.8% was second only to Brentford’s Daniel Bentley among goalkeepers in the Championship this season and an important statistic at that: Jokanovic’s insistence on playing out from the back means that his goalkeepers must be adept with the ball at their feet. Button’s pass completion rate was 66.1%, by way of comparison.
While Bettinelli has seemingly seen off Button’s challenge for the goalkeeper’s jersey, there is a strong chance that he will face fresh competition next season as his manager wheels and deals over the summer.
Ryan Fredericks (44 starts, 7 assists)
Another product of the Spurs academy, Fredericks’ excellent performances at right-back led to his nomination in the EFL Championship Team of the Season.
With the right-wing role one of the most unsettled positions in the Fulham side this season, Fredericks’ consistency and creativity from full-back was crucial on that same flank.
Fredericks supplied seven assists in all, only one less than Stefan Johansen’s squad-high of eight. His total of 43 key passes made at a rate of one every 91 minutes does not, however, compare favourably to the most creative defenders in FPL this season: the averages of Kieran Trippier (48 minutes per chance created) and Ben Davies (51) provide some context.
Goals are not Fredericks’ strong suit: in three seasons and 106 league appearances with Fulham, he has yet to score a goal. Just three of Fredericks’ 25 shots were on target in 2017/18.
Fredericks’ future may lie elsewhere, however: West Ham have been strongly linked with a move for the 25-year-old defender, who is out of contract this summer.
Matt Targett (17 starts, 1 substitute appearance, 1 goal, 2 assists)
A January loan signing from Southampton, Targett’s superb displays at left-back have had the added bonus of freeing Ryan Sessegnon from his defensive responsibilities and allowing the teenage prodigy to play further forward.
Targett scored his first ever senior goal in the 1-1 draw with Bolton Wanderers in February, but it is his assist potential that will possibly catch the eye of Fantasy managers ahead of next season. Although he was the creator of only two goals in his 18 appearances, Targett made a key pass every 47.2 minutes (a better average than Kieran Trippier’s, mentioned above) and was the occasional taker of corner-kicks.
Fulham will likely be pushing to sign the England U21 international on a permanent deal this summer.
Tim Ream (44 starts, 1 goal)
Comfortable on the ball and fond of a heart-stopping Cruyff turn away from an approaching striker, the American centre-half has been a revelation at the heart of the Fulham defence this season.
His average of 58.3 passes per game was second only to Cairney in the Fulham squad, though his goal threat is minimal: his opener in the Boxing Day win over Cardiff was one of only two shots on target he could muster all season and only his third goal in his ten-year professional career.
Ream would appear to be the first-choice centre-half going into 2018/19 and, should Fulham carry their end-of-season defensive form into the next campaign (the Cottagers kept seven clean sheets in eight home matches between mid-January and mid-April), could be a budget, bench-filling option at around the £4.5m mark.
A modest rate of Clearances, Blocks and Interceptions (CBIs), coupled with his lack of goal threat, does somewhat diminish his appeal: Ream averaged a CBI only once every 11.4 minutes, a figure worse than both his fellow Fulham centre-backs this season and some way short of Sol Bamba’s mean (a CBI every 8.7 minutes) for Cardiff this season.
Denis Odoi (30 starts, 8 substitute appearances, 1 goal)
A versatile defender used across the Fulham backline this season, Odoi ended 2017/18 playing at centre-half alongside Ream, having displaced Tomas Kalas in March.
At 5’9”, Odoi is an unlikely choice at centre-back and it remains to be seen whether he is given the chance to prove himself there at Premier League level.
Odoi’s average of a CBI every 11.3 minutes marginally trumps his American central defensive partner, while a tackle success rate of 77.4% was better than both Ream and Kalas.
Like Ream, Odoi’s goal threat is limited, though the Belgian did add to his one league strike with the winner in Fulham’s play-off semi-final victory over Derby.
The former Lokeren defender does have a tendency to accumulate cards: Odoi was dismissed in the defeat to Brentford in December and then again in the play-off final win over Aston Villa, meaning he will miss the start of 2018/19 through suspension.
Tomas Kalas (29 starts, 4 substitute appearances, 1 assist)
The Chelsea defender spent his second successive season on loan at Craven Cottage and seems keen on a permanent move across west London, though having signed a new four-year deal with the Blues in the summer of 2017, Fulham would have to pay a sizeable fee for his services.
A hip injury suffered in March meant Kalas lost his place to Odoi at the heart of the Fulham defence and was never to regain a starting berth, but until that point the Czech Republic international had been a regular in Jokanovic’s side.
Like Odoi and Ream, Kalas’ offensive returns will not particularly excite Fantasy managers: his one goal this season came from his only shot on target, a statistic indicative of both his team’s weaknesses at attacking corner-kicks and Jokanovic’s aversion to aimless high balls pumped into the opposition box.
A CBI every 11.1 minutes bettered either of Fulham’s other centre-backs, though that average wouldn’t trouble the market leaders in FPL (Shane Duffy recorded a CBI every 7.6 minutes for Brighton and Hove Albion this season).
Kevin McDonald (42 starts, 3 goals, 1 assist)
An unsung hero who does the bulk of the dirty work in the Fulham midfield, McDonald made a telling contribution to his side’s promotion push, though it is not one that Fantasy managers would be particularly intrigued by.
Stationed in a defensive midfield role, McDonald made more recoveries (331), more tackles (83) and more successful tackles (53) than any of his team-mates this season.
The 29-year-old Scottish international did chip in with three goals in 2017/18, one of which was a fortuitous deflection off his backside in Fulham’s 2-0 win over Leeds in April.
Oliver Norwood (22 starts, 14 substitute appearances, 5 goals, 3 assists)
Promoted for the second successive year following a triumphant 2016/17 campaign at parent club Brighton, Norwood made the bulk of his 22 starts for Fulham in the first half of his season-long loan.
Used only as a substitute from mid-February onwards, Norwood nevertheless remains optimistic of a permanent move to west London over the summer despite his lack of starts and the Seagulls rejecting a bid from Fulham in the January transfer window.
Three of Norwood’s five goals came from the penalty spot this season.
Tom Cairney (30 starts, 4 substitute appearances, 5 goals, 5 assists)
Fulham’s match-winner in the play-off final, Cairney was one of three players nominated for the EFL Championship Player of the Season, eventually losing out to team-mate Ryan Sessegnon.
Cairney is arguably Fulham’s most gifted player on the ball, an assertion backed up by his passing statistics this season: no Championship player who made more than ten starts had a better passing success rate (91.3%) or made more passes per game (79.5).
Like Ruben Neves for Wolves, Cairney’s excellent passing ability from deep doesn’t necessarily translate into assists.
The Scottish international’s 4.2 long passes per game was the highest average made by any Fulham player this season, while his rate of 0.3 through balls per game was second only to Brentford’s Romaine Sawyers in the Championship this season: all of which suggests Cairney could “assist the assister” as often he claims the three points himself.
A total of 64 chances created at a rate of one every 46.3 minutes was, however, second only to Stefan Johansen in the Fulham squad this season.
Five league goals represented Cairney’s worst return since 2014/15, with just 15 of his 53 shots hitting the target: a rate that could harm his BPS prospects.
Twelve goals in 2016/17 does suggest that, unlike Neves, he still has the capacity to be a credible goal threat from the centre of midfield.
Stefan Johansen (43 starts, 2 substitute appearances, 8 goals, 8 assists)
The former Celtic midfielder backed up a total of 11 goals in his debut season for Fulham with a further eight strikes this campaign, while also finishing as the Cottagers’ leading assist-maker.
No Fulham player created more chances (92) than the Norwegian international, whose rate of key passes (one every 39.5 minutes) was also a high among his team-mates, though some way short of the averages of Mesut Ozil and Cesc Fabregas (who both created a chance once every 26 minutes) this season.
Johansen had more shots on goal (80) than any Fulham player this season, though 49 of these were from outside the penalty area and only one came from inside the six-yard-box.
Set-piece deliveries are another tool in the box-to-box midfielder’s locker: Johansen will take his fair share of corners next season, while he scored spectacular free-kicks against Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest earlier this campaign.
Johansen’s total of 12 yellow cards was, however, the most picked up by any Fulham player this season.
Sheyi Ojo (18 starts, 4 substitute appearances, 4 goals, 2 assists)
The Liverpool youngster arrived on a season-long loan last August to much excitement, but largely failed to deliver on his promise.
One of several players deployed on the right wing this season, Ojo hit a purple patch between November and December when he scored on four occasions.
Having fallen out of favour and indeed been omitted from the matchday squad from early-April onwards, Ojo will almost certainly not be making a return to Craven Cottage next season.
Aboubakar Kamara (8 starts, 22 substitute appearances, 7 goals, 1 assist)
The July 2017 signing from Amiens was largely an impact player throughout the campaign, but ended the season as Jokanovic’s first choice on the right flank.
Ostensibly a striker, the French forward scored five goals in December and January but had to play second fiddle to Mitrovic following the Serb’s loan move from Newcastle soon after.
Jokanovic turned to Kamara to fill that problem right-wing spot in the play-off wins over Derby and Villa, with the Frenchman’s display of pace, power and trickery winning him plaudits.
Recording a shot every 27.7 minutes, Kamara represents a noteworthy goal threat when he is afforded pitch time – how much he will be given in the Premier League is, of course, a different matter: Jokanovic will surely look to strengthen that right-wing position and likely make Mitrovic’s move permanent up front.
Floyd Ayite (23 starts, 5 substitute appearances, 4 goals, 2 assists)
The Togolese attacking midfielder played in several positions across the frontline this season, including in that troublesome role on the right flank.
A rate of one chance created every 53.6 minutes was the best average among Fulham’s wingers this season, though some way short of Johansen’s mean of a key pass every 39.5 minutes.
Ayite’s average of a shot every 36.1 minutes was bettered, however, by Kamara, Ojo and Neeskens Kebano.
Neeskens Kebano (10 starts, 16 substitute appearances, 3 goals, 3 assists)
The DR Congo winger’s time at Craven Cottage may be coming to an end this summer.
Though he made 26 appearances in all this season, Kebano’s last start for the Cottagers was in their 1-0 win over Birmingham in December.
Kebano’s contribution in the second half of the season amounted to nine cameos from the bench and a brief substitute appearance in Fulham’s 1-0 defeat to Derby in the play-off semi-final first leg, before he was omitted from the matchday squad altogether in their final two fixtures.
Lucas Piazon (14 starts, 8 substitute appearances, 5 goals, 4 assists)
Like Kalas, the Chelsea winger spent his second successive year on loan at Craven Cottage and could be set to make the switch permanent this summer.
A fracture of the fibula in August curtailed his involvement this season, with the Brazilian midfielder subsequently spending four months on the treatment table.
Since his return to fitness in December, Piazon has been one of Jokanovic’s preferred options on the right wing, though he lost his first-team place for Fulham’s three play-off matches.
Given that Piazon made so few appearances, five goals and four assists represent a decent attacking return – but his underlying statistics tell a different tale. The Brazilian U23 international’s number of expected goals was only 2.04, with his average of a shot every 58.5 minutes the worst ratio among Fulham’s wide-right players. Piazon only made a key pass once every 68.8 minutes, meanwhile.
Ryan Sessegnon (45 starts, 1 substitute appearance, 15 goals, 6 assists)
Appearing in every single league game this season, Sessegnon’s superb performances earned him the EFL Championship Player of the Year award.
Featuring mostly at left-back in the first half of the season, it was the capture of Matt Targett from Southampton in January that allowed Sessegnon to shift forward and showcase his attacking attributes from the left wing.
Sessegnon finished the season as Fulham’s top scorer with 15 goals, a tally that included a hat-trick in the 5-4 win over Sheffield United in November and three braces in the space of four matches in January.
Fantasy managers will be enticed by the 18-year-old’s attacking returns this season, though it must be said that Sessegnon has out-performed his underlying statistics. An expected goal return of 9.91 is perhaps a compliment to Sessegnon’s finishing abilities, while the teenage sensation only managed a shot every 72.1 minutes this season.
Of course, these averages include the 19 matches that Sessegnon featured in as a full-back. That mean would also partially explain the fact that he only made a key pass every 77.7 minutes.
Sessegnon’s inclusion in our Fantasy squads will therefore surely be influenced by Jokanovic’s transfer activity in the summer: should Targett – or another left-back – sign permanently, then Sessegnon will resume next season a left-winger and be a significantly more attractive prospect.
One BPS-related caveat, however: Sessegnon’s pass success rate of 75% was the lowest among Fulham’s regular outfielders.
Rui Fonte (16 starts, 11 substitute appearance, 3 goals, 2 assists)
Fulham’s most expensive signing of the season has been something of a flop. A £3m capture from Braga, Fonte has not made a league start since mid-February and only featured for a total of 30 minutes in Fulham’s final 15 fixtures.
The Portuguese striker will either move on in the summer or be a bench-warmer next season at best.
Aleksandar Mitrovic (15 starts, 2 substitute appearances, 12 goals, 1 assist)
One of the Championship signings of the season, Mitrovic arrived on loan from Newcastle in January and hasn’t looked back.
Mitrovic averaged more shots per game (four) than any Championship player this season, registering an attempt on goal once every 20.3 minutes. Harry Kane (16.3) was the only first-team striker to better that average in the Premier League this season.
The Serbian forward’s impressive goal return was in stark contrast to his previous Championship campaign with the Magpies in 2016/17, when he scored only four goals.
His selfless hold-up play as Fulham’s sole striker comes at a cost to his Baseline BPS potential: Mitrovic was dispossessed on average twice per game and made 3.6 poor touches per fixture, the worst means in the Cottagers’ squad.
The Potential Targets
Several of Fulham’s dealings in the transfer market this summer may well involve players who played for the Cottagers this season, with the likes of Matt Targett, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Lucas Piazon and Tomas Kalas earmarked for permanent moves after their successful loan spells.
Right-wing is an obvious weak point in Jokanovic’s squad, with Piazon’s permanent capture not perhaps the definitive solution to that problem position.
A new right-back may well be required imminently, meanwhile, with Ryan Fredericks’ move to West Ham said to be near to completion.