Fulham have made a swift return to the Premier League, bouncing back to the top tier of English football after just one year away.
The Cottagers went up after defeating Brentford in the Championship play-off final at the beginning of August and join Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion as the three newly promoted sides in the top flight next season.
What can Fantasy managers expect from Parker and the Cottagers in 2020/21, then?
Our three-part series on Fulham will feature an in-depth examination of their defence and attack but we begin with a closer look at the man in the dugout.
WHAT IS PARKER’S BACKGROUND?
Parker has plenty of top-flight experience from his playing days, with stints of various length at Charlton Athletic, Chelsea, Newcastle United, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham.
The ex-England international called time on his on-the-field career at the age of 36 in 2017, subsequently returning to Spurs to coach their under-18 side.
Moving back to west London in 2018, Parker served as a first-team coach to both Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri in their spells in the Fulham hot seat before taking temporary charge himself when Ranieri was fired in February 2019.
Some improved displays and three successive wins in April weren’t enough to keep the Cottagers up but they were enough to convince owner Shahid Khan to name Parker permanent boss, with the retired midfielder signing a two-year deal.
His first full season as a manager was a successful one, with the west London side never out of the top half from the Championship equivalent of Gameweek 2 onwards.
The Cottagers indeed held a play-off place from late-November right the way through to the end of the season before sealing promotion at Wembley.
WHAT STYLE OF FOOTBALL DOES PARKER USE?
Parker’s preferred tactics, at least in terms of basic formation, are similar to those of Slaven Bilic.
A 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 were Fulham’s most-used set-ups in 2019/20, which were systems the West Bromwich Albion manager turned to in the Baggies’ promotion-winning campaign.
Brandon Kelley explains:
Parker frequently played a 4-2-3-1 last season, with Mitro as the lone striker and Harrison Reed and Tom Cairney as a midfield pivot. On occasion, Josh Onomah would push up to play off of Mitrovic for a 4-2-2-2.
You’ll see a fair amount of overlapping with the full-backs and wide-midfielders, but it has to be said that Fulham haven’t been a particularly fast side since the departure of Ryan Sessegnon. They will struggle to beat many Premier League clubs for pace.
For Parker, it’s all about one thing: possession.
The Cottagers were ball-hoggers extraordinaire last season, registering more passes and short passes than any other club in the English second tier.
Their passing success rate of 83.2% was the best in the Championship and was beaten by just the top four and Arsenal among Premier League sides last season.
Only Leeds averaged more possession than Fulham (58.3%) in the second division of English football last season.
From an FPL (and Sky) perspective, that’s a good thing when it comes to bonus points – although retaining the ball in the Premier League will be a much stiffer test.
Some cynics have suggested that Parker’s crab-like qualities as a player are now apparent in his Fulham team, with there being a lot of passing for passing’s sake and not much penetration at the end of their slow build-up play.
It seems an odd slur given that that they boast the league’s top goalscorer in Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.0m) but the criticism is not completely unfounded, with the Cottagers, despite being ranked first for passes, a lot further back when we assess other attacking metrics.
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Despite the safety-first approach, they did concede on more occasions (48) than Leeds, West Brom and Brentford.
The Cottagers did beat all bar the champions of those teams for clean sheets (17), at least.
If there is one thing that Parker is unquestionably good at, it’s man-management.
The emotional scenes at the end of the win over Brentford were a testament to that, with play-off hero Joe Bryan saying of his head coach:
He’s very good at motivational talking. When he talks, everyone respects it – he’s been there and done it. It’s good to play for a manager you know is speaking from personal experience of being a player.
Always Cheating’s Brandon Kelley indeed told us:
Fulham suffered a number of key injuries throughout the season, perhaps most notably losing Mitrovic for their play-off run.
As a result, Parker has been forced to get more from his second-choice players, and Onomah’s impact at the end of Fulham’s play-off run is a true testament to Parker’s ability to adapt and motivate.
Parker will face a number of different challenges in his first full season in the Premier League, so I suspect he’ll be flexible throughout, especially given he’s too young in his managerial career to be stuck in his ways.
DOES PARKER LIKE A SETTLED SIDE OR WILL HE ROTATE?
Rotation: the scourge of the Fantasy manager.
The likes of Pep Guardiola and Graham Potter make life a nightmare for FPL bosses and team news writers alike and many of us long for a top flight full of Sean Dyches.
The attacking midfield and wide positions look particularly at risk for Fulham, with Anthony Knockaert (£5.5m), Bobby Decordova-Reid (£5.5m) and Ivan Cavaleiro (£5.5m) having made 28 substitute appearances between them.
Always Cheating co-host and Fulham fan Brandon Kelley told us:
Parker will happily rotate but Fulham’s squad won’t be especially deep, so I don’t expect we’ll see rotation among key players like Mitrovic or the entire defensive backline.
It was interesting to see Parker start Denis Odoi at right-back against Brentford in the playoff final, which not many supporters had anticipated, so that does speak to Parker’s desire to pick the right players for the right jobs in the right matches.
On the whole, wide attackers like Knockaert, Reid, and Cavaleiro will be most prone to rotation.
HOW DOES PARKER HANDLE THE PRESS?
A likeable character, Parker gives off the air of an honest sort in his post and pre-match interviews.
Those are the types of managers we Fantasy managers love, of course, especially when it comes to team news.
Always Cheating’s Brandon Kelley echoed those sentiments, although did cite a cautionary tale from the play-offs:
The press adores Scott Parker for many reasons: he’s handsome, he’s well-dressed, he’s humble, he’s English, and he’s generally pretty open and honest at pressers.
Just watch this interview given after the 2-1 Brentford win for a sense of how utterly wholesome he can be.
I believe Parker to be fairly forthcoming. But, you could point to his handling of the press with Mitrovic’s injury during the EFL play-offs as an example of him being less so. I believe that was a special circumstance, though, and don’t expect to see much of that this coming season.
WHERE MIGHT PARKER STRENGTHEN IN THE SUMMER AND WHICH PLAYERS ARE IN DANGER OF LOSING THEIR PLACE?
Fulham likely won’t make the same mistakes they did two years ago when they spent big on overpriced players ahead of their top-flight return.
Some level of investment will be needed, however, with a right-back and some attacking midfielders potentially on Parker’s shopping list according to our Fulham correspondent, Brandon Kelley:
Fulham desperately need a right-back as Cyrus Christie won’t be able to handle that position in the top flight. Wild rumours had linked 36-year-old Branislav Ivanovic to Fulham, perhaps looking for some experience to settle the backline (and join Mitrovic in some Serbian hijinks, no doubt), but after the disastrous signing of Andre Schurrle in 2018, I really hope Fulham will think twice before buying another Chelsea retiree.
Harrison Reed really impressed as a defensive midfielder on loan from Southampton. With Reed in front of the defence, Fulham appeared much more stable and found it easier to link with their attacking players. If that chemistry with Reed was as evident to Scott Parker as it was to every Fulham supporter, then the club will be desperate to buy him permanently off of his parent club.
In the attack, Fulham could use a bit more Premier League experience just behind Mitrovic. Some rumours have linked Ryan Fraser to the club, and I think it’s correct that Parker will be looking for some speed that will be able to break defensive lines and feed balls into the centre-forward.
Bobby Reid, Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro are all players who I would expect to sit on the bench if the right signings are made. Lesser-known players like Onomah and Kebano have at least proven they can adapt to Scott Parker’s tactics and play key roles in key moments, so they may stand a better chance of featuring throughout the coming season.
And if you’re expecting more spot-kick drama with Aboubaker Kamara, don’t hold your breath – he will become surplus to requirements.
Our huge thanks again go to Brandon for his time and insight. Keep your eyes peeled for two more Fulham articles in The Promoted series, which will be landing soon.
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