Having provided the lowdown on Fulham manager Scott Parker, our series on the newly-promoted Premier League sides continues with this look at the Cottagers’ defence.
We will discuss the west London side’s midfielders and forwards in our final piece.
In this article, we will assess Fulham’s overall clean sheet chances and then present a player-by-player rundown of their backline.
With the likes of Charlie Taylor, Ruben Vinagre and Luke Ayling all available for £4.5m, the Cottagers’ defenders will have a tough task in convincing us of their worth.
Their shot-stopping goalkeeper may be a save point-magnet in 2020/21, however.
WHAT IS FULHAM’S CLEAN SHEET POTENTIAL?
Fulham only had the fourth-best defensive record in the Championship last season, having conceded 48 goals in 46 matches.
The Cottagers kept 17 clean sheets in 2019/20, five fewer than champions Leeds United (22) but three more than runners-up West Bromwich Albion (14).
It’s always a promising sign for FPL if a newly promoted side looks defensively solid in home games but, rather concerningly, Parker’s troops conceded more goals on their own soil (26) than eight other Championship clubs last season.
Their two goalkeepers, more on which in the next section, were kept busier than Leeds and West Brom’s custodians, making 118 saves between them.
The Cottagers’ league record was as follows:
CS = Clean sheets
As was the case with West Brom, Fulham tightened up in the second half of 2019/20.
Just six of their shut-outs arrived in the first 23 ‘Gameweeks’ of the Championship campaign, with the other 11 arriving thereafter.
It was perhaps no coincidence, with centre-back Michael Hector (£4.5m) arriving in the January transfer window and having a transformative effect on the Fulham backline.
The Cottagers kept ten clean sheets in the 20 games that Hector started, conceding on just 17 occasions.
Brandon Kelley told us:
Fulham’s 2018–19 squad were whipping boys and they had one of the worst defences that the Premier League has seen in recent memory. It wasn’t helped by a constant goalkeeper rotation, an injury to new signing Alfie Mawson, and needing to bed in two full-back replacements for both Ryan Fredericks and Matt Targett – both of whom were immense in Fulham’s previous push to promotion.
Some of Fulham’s defensive issues have since been fixed, notably the emergence of Marek Rodak and Michael Hector’s signing from Sheffield Wednesday. Hector has an imperious stature and eye for a tackle that reminds me (sorry, but I’m going there) of Virgil van Dijk and his solid play has almost certainly brought some of the confidence back that Tim Ream had lost during his last Premier League campaign.
Our Fulham correspondent also hailed the influence of loanee Harrison Reed (£4.5m), who remains a Southampton player at the time of writing but who did a commendable job as a defensive midfielder in the English second tier last season:
It’s also worth noting that Harrison Reed, who was on loan from Southampton last season, shielded Fulham’s defence incredibly well. If Parker is able to work a permanent deal and keep Reed in his midfield, then I’d genuinely be eyeing a Fulham goalkeeper or defender at £4.5m.
PLAYER BY PLAYER
*Figures given below are for the regulation Championship season only and exclude the three play-off matches
Starts: 33 | Clean sheets: 13
Marcus Bettinelli (£4.5m) had started the season between the posts for Fulham but was deposed after just 12 games, with Marek Rodak (£4.5m) remaining as Parker’s first-choice goalkeeper for the rest of the season.
Rodak, who had spent the previous two years on loan at Rotherham United, impressed upon his promotion to the starting XI, going on to register 13 clean sheets in 33 starts (he was sent off early on in the 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough in October, so we won’t count that).
While clean sheets might be a significant concern for Fulham based on what we have discussed above, Rodak looks a good bet for save points in FPL next season.
Just four first-team regulars in the Championship made more saves per match than the 23-year-old Slovak (2.9), a figure that will no doubt rise with more potent attacks to come up against in 2020/21.
Our Fulham expert, Brandon Kelley, talked up the young shot-stopper’s prospects:
Perhaps the best bet for straightforward FPL returns will be goalkeeper Marek Rodak, who has proven to be a decent shot-stopper. With Nick Pope confirmed at £5.5m, many FPL managers will be looking for a new cheap goalkeeper and I wonder if Rodak’s first season in the Premier League might be reminiscent of the early days of Lukasz Fabianski (whose middle name just happens to be… Marek!).
Starts: 39 | Substitute Appearances: 4 | Goals: 1 | Assists: 7
Joe Bryan‘s (£5.0m) brace in the play-off final may have sealed his fate in Fantasy Premier League, with the powers-that-be subsequently opting to make him the most expensive Fulham defender in the game and hand him a £5.0m starting price.
The left-back had scored only one goal in the regular season, finding the back of the net against Wigan Athletic with an effort from just inside the Latics’ box.
While he did register more shots (38) than any other Fulham defender, his minutes-per-chance average (89.9) wasn’t even the best of the Cottagers’ backline and he had just one ‘big chance’ all season.
He had also taken only one direct free-kick before his heroics at Wembley.
It was Bryan’s assist potential that really stood out, with the 26-year-old full-back setting up seven goals in all – six of which were for Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.0m).
Firing over more crosses from open play than any other Fulham player, Bryan was also second in line behind Anthony Knockaert (£5.5m) at corner-kick situations.
A minutes-per-chance-created average of 69.7 was the best of the west London side’s defensive assets.
A word of caution, though.
Bryan’s previous full campaign in the Championship, with Bristol City in 2017/18, saw him score on five occasions and set up a further three goals.
Again priced up by FPL as a £5.0m defender in 2018/19 off the back of those exploits, he registered just one attacking return – an assist – in 2,344 minutes of Premier League football.
Always Cheating’s Brandon Kelley also urged caution, saying:
Joe Bryan took all of the headlines for his play-off final heroics, and he does look much improved since one year ago, but don’t be fooled: Bryan won’t be scoring many free kicks in the Premier League, especially if Neeskens Kebano is on the pitch.
Starts: 30 | Substitute Appearances: 4 | Goals: 0 | Assists: 1
Denis Odoi made more appearances at right-back than any other Fulham player last season but few Fantasy managers will be going near the 32-year-old Belgian if he stays in west London.
Odoi was mostly a regular pick when he was available (seven of his no-shows were enforced through injury or suspension) but there was the occasional benching, most notably in the play-off double-header against Cardiff City.
The step up in class next season might be in Odoi’s favour if he signs a new deal (his contract expires this summer), with the Belgian a more defensive-minded option than Cyrus Christie (£4.5m) at right-back and a nice counterbalance to the offensive Joe Bryan on the other flank.
Odoi offers little for FPL managers to get excited about, however, with his minutes-per-chance-created average at a poor 185.8 and his last goal coming back in 2017/18.
Starts: 13 | Substitute Appearances: 11 | Goals: 1 | Assists: 1
Cyrus Christie (£4.5m) is a more attacking option than Odoi at right-back.
Christie’s rates of goal attempts (one every 79.5 minutes), shots in the box (one every 130.1 minutes) and efforts on target (one every 286.2 minutes) were the best of the Fulham backline but, given that he has failed to score more than one goal in each of his last seven seasons, this is no Matt Doherty we’re talking about and some context has to be provided.
Bryan bettered him for key passes, meanwhile.
Just 13 Championship starts (plus two in the play-offs) highlights the lack of security and even if Odoi leaves, Parker will surely look to reinforce his options at right-back.
Starts: 44 | Goals: 0 | Assists: 0
In our previous analysis of Parker, we mentioned his fondness for a conservative passing game.
That begins at the back, with the three leading Championship players for passes per match in 2019/20 all being Fulham centre-halves.
Top of that list is Tim Ream (£4.5m), whose total of 3,148 passes was the highest in the English second tier last season.
His pass completion rate of 89.3% was also the best of Fulham’s defenders in 2019/20, which will aid Ream’s cause in picking up bonus points on the occasions that the Cottagers keep clean sheets.
That’s about all that Ream offers, however.
The USA international, who has scored on just three occasions in his professional career, presents next to no goal threat and had just two shots in the whole of 2019/20.
The 32-year-old centre-half only created a chance every 395.1 minutes, meanwhile.
A sizeable section of the Fulham support would like to see an upgrade on Ream as the left-sided centre-back next year but after 44 league starts under Parker last season and limited time to dip into the transfer market, the American could still be a starter heading into 2020/21.
Starts: 20 | Goals: 0 | Assists: 2
As we discussed earlier in the article, Michael Hector‘s (£4.5m) capture from Chelsea had an instant impact on Fulham’s defence.
The Cottagers kept clean sheets in the first three of Hector’s starts and looked much more solid from his debut onwards, with the Jamaica international dubbed ‘Virgil van Mike’ by the Fulham faithful for his dominant displays.
Brandon Kelley said of the centre-back:
Parker has talked a great deal about stabilising the club, which will surely entail a greater focus on defensive organisation. Michael Hector transformed the Fulham backline when he was signed last season and he’ll be heavily involved in tackles, blocks and clearances – all BPS-worthy actions.
It’s worth taking a closer look at those baseline bonus point-earning figures:
|Player||Minutes per clearance, block and interception (CBI)||Minutes per recovery|
Add Hector’s impressive defensive contributions to those passing figures we mentioned when discussing Ream earlier – Hector was ranked third among all Championship players for passes per game – and he should be well-reflected on the Bonus Points System.
Whether Fulham are good enough to keep more than a handful of clean sheets and get him in the mix for bonus points on a regular basis is debatable, however.
For someone so good in the air, Hector doesn’t score too many goals and he managed only six attempts in his 20 Fulham appearances.
Keep an eye out for his ‘Hollywood’ passes, though: two of his raking long balls led to assists against Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday.
Starts: 25 | Substitute Appearances: 2 |Goals: 0 | Assists: 0
FPL managers may remember Alfie Mawson’s (£4.5m) goalscoring exploits from his time at Swansea City, with the budget defender scoring four goals from centre-back in 2016/17.
He indeed had more shots (12) than Ream and Fulham-era Hector put together last season, although his minutes-per-chance average of 183 was still unremarkable.
Mawson was the fall guy when Hector arrived, losing his place and then failing to regain it after a spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.
The Hector-Mawson partnership is one that Parker hasn’t tried outside of the FA Cup and it is a possibility next season if no other bodies arrive, with Mawson more at home in Ream’s role on the left-hand side of defence.
Marcus Bettinelli (£4.5m) started out 2019/20 as Fulham’s first-choice goalkeeper but lost his place after 12 matches, returning only briefly when Rodak was dismissed and subsequently suspended in the autumn.
It remains to be seen if returning loanee Fabri (£4.0m) features in Parker’s plans in the Premier League and a place among the substitutes looks to be about the best that Bettinelli can hope for come Gameweek 1.
Maxime Le Marchand (£4.5m) started only three games all season, deputising for Bryan at left-back on two occasions.
The Frenchman was also thrown on as a substitute in nine fixtures, often as an additional centre-half as Fulham tried to close down a match.
Steven Sessegnon (£4.5m) saw a bit more game-time than Le Marchand but eight of his nine Championship starts came in the first two months of the campaign, with the youngster initially having been drafted in to cover for the injured Odoi at right-back.
He was mostly a substitute for the remainder of the season and, barring an injury crisis, he’ll likely be well down the pecking order when football resumes in September.
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