After spending over 100 million on new signings, Fulham enters November sitting bottom of the Premier League table on pace for the worst defensive showing in league history, it was time for a change before things couldn’t be turned around. The board deemed that the players weren’t the issue and decided that it was time to part ways with manager Slavisa Jokanovic who won them promotion to the Premier League only six months ago. If it wasn’t clear before that Fulham is a club with ambition, it should be now especially since they brought in Premier League winning manager Claudio Ranieri to replace Jokanovic.
The Tinkerman (a nickname that should probably be left in the past) pulled off one of the most impressive feats in world football by winning the Premier League with Leicester City. But the year after, he was let go due to lackluster results with the Foxes. Ranieri’s counter-attacking 4-4-2 took the league by storm and Fulham will hope that there is some magic left in the tank to turn things around. Between Leicester and now, Ranieri spent a spell in charge of Nantes in Ligue 1 which came to an awkward end with reports of a rift between he and the chairman.
Coming into Fulham, Ranieri seems like a good choice as he is a manager who is well liked by his players and will bring much-needed structure to a team in need of it. With Leicester, Ranieri settled on a pretty consistent formation in a 4-4-2 but with Fulham, we’ll likely see a version of the 4-4-2 of a 4-4-1-1 depending on how Ranieri feels about the personnel. I’ll be taking a look at how his appointment may impact things moving forward at Craven Cottage.
For the most part, Fulham has lined up in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation under Joanovic meaning that the players should be well prepared for the shift. The main question will be what personnel will use the international break as an opportunity to impress their new boss.
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How will Fulham line up under Ranieri?
Ranieri’s success at Leicester City was based on the back of a counter-attacking 4-4-2 with two defensive-minded sixes in the middle of the park. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy may have been the finishers for the Foxes but it was Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante who made the machine work. Looking at the current side, Fulham won't be able to perfectly replicate this setup because there is no proper partner for Jean Michael-Seri to make things tick. But if Ranieri is okay with sacrificing defensive cover, Tom Cairney is capable of sitting deep as is Stefan Johansen. I'm leaving out Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa here because he hasn’t been effective while playing and I’m not sure that he’s up to snuff for Premier League action.
Here’s a look at how I think Fulham will line up:
How I'm anticipating that Fulham will line up under Ranieri. Slot Chambers in for Ream when healthy. Bryan *should* be back sooner rather than later but we may see 1-2 more starts from Le Marchland. pic.twitter.com/GgbWYWSCHN
— Chuck Booth (@ChuckBoothSport) November 16, 2018
The attacking players pick themselves, but that’s also not the chief problem facing Fulham right now. It’s the defense. A defense that is giving up 2.58 goals per game, by far the worst in the Premier League. Ranieri likes his players to build out of the back and also likes his fullbacks to bomb forward which is not in Maxime le Marchlands game. This is why I’m penciling in Joe Bryan as the starter while healthy. Interchanging with Ryan Sessegnon on the left can be an electric partnership for the cottagers. At center back, I’m putting Alfie Mawson and Tim Ream because Ranieri likes to build out of the back to advance play. In order to properly do that, his center backs need to be comfortable receiving the ball at their feet in pressure. Mawson is the best defensive center back on the roster and while he’s not the greatest with the ball at his feet, he is competent.
This is where Ream comes in. With experience at right back and as a central defensive midfielder he’s very adept with the ball at his feet and while Ream may not be the most stout defensively, there is a reason that he was player of the year each of the previous two years for Fulham. To play a possession-based game, having Ream at the back is necessary. Along the backline, Fulham doesn’t have to be good defensively to avoid relegation they only need to stop hemorrhaging goals at the back which isn’t a high bar to clear.
Now that we’ve gone through the fit for the squad, let’s take a look at who has the most to gain and lose from an FPL perspective.
Luciano Vietto: Being stuck out wide to accommodate a three-man front line hasn’t been the greatest for Vietto’s FPL value and he has still racked up four assists on the year. Under Ranieri, Vietto would be expected to play as support striker while Andre Schurrle does more of the wide work. This will hopefully lead to him finally scoring some goals on the season but will definitely lead to a bigger fantasy output especially in draft leagues. Owned in 38 percent of Fantrax leagues, Vietto is the guy with the most to gain from this move in the fantasy sports world.
Joe Bryan: The only thing that stopped him from becoming the regular left back at Fulham was a hamstring injury so this is a bit of a cop-out but looking at left-backs who have thrived under Ranieri, there’s a lot to like about Bryan. Christian Fuchs and Ben Chilwell had Ranieri spoiled for choice at the position and he’ll have the same issue here with Sessegnon and Bryan. Bryan has more to gain due to being listed as a defender, however. Earlier in the season, Bryan was on pace with Marcos Alonso in terms of key passes and he should slot right back in as an ultra-attacking left back. While he’ll still be hit when Fulham concedes, he’ll swing more than a few matchups like Patrick Van Aanholt.
Jean Michael Seri: Seri has been a revelation and by far the most useful Fulham asset on the season but with consistent structure around him, things will only get better. We already know that Seri can stuff a stat sheet with one goal and two assists to go along with 1.8 tackles per game and 2.3 key passes per game. This shows that his numbers should only go up with a consistent formation around him. Seri will likely end the season around where we expected Naby Keita to be with 5-7 goals and assists which makes him usable in any format.
Aleksandar Mitrovic: Alright, a new manager comes in, great for the top option up top right? Well… not always. Mitrovic profited because he was the only option scoring for Fulham and that the entire attack funneled to him. But in a (likely) 4-4-2 he’ll have to share the wealth with Vietto up top. Mitrovic is only putting 1.2 of his 3.6 shots per game on target and both of these numbers will fall without him being the most central player. A striker needs chances to score and fewer chances is never a good thing. This isn’t to say that Mitrovic will be useless during the duration of the season but more that 10-12 goals are likely his ceiling.
Ryan Sessegnon: The English hype machine got Sessegnon picked much earlier in leagues than he should have been and now with him not being part of a front three in the move to a 4-4-2, it means that there will be less of an opportunity for goals and assists as Sessegnon looks to fill the Marc Albrighton workhorse role. While this is a vital role on the pitch, for fantasy owners, it’s not too important.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa: It was a head scratcher when he was purchased for 30 million from Marseille and nothing that Anguissa has done on the pitch has helped his case. He seems like more of a liability than anything as he has been unable to deal with the pace of the Premier League. Likely being relegated to bench duty under Ranieri, it will be a while before he ever makes an impact with Fulham.
Can Ranieri save Fulham?
While it’s good that Ranieri had the international break with some of his players, it will be tough to implement his system overnight. It will take time and the beginning will likely be rough but this is a Fulham team that is too good to go down. On paper, there are at least 3-5 teams in the Premier League who are worse than the Cottagers including Crystal Palace and Southampton.
I’m anticipating that Fulham will finish 14th in the league. The players are good enough to stave off the drop, they just needed a man with a plan at the helm. In Ranieri, they got that man.