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4 Talking points from Fulham’s 1-0 loss to Barnsley in the Championship season-opener

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4 Talking points from Fulham’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Barnsley

The opening gameweek of the 2019-20 EFL Championship witnessed a major upset, as promotion contenders Fulham suffered an unimpressive 1-0 defeat at the hands of newly-promoted Barnsley at Oakwell, with the result giving the fans an impression that the English second-tier is set to produce another riveting campaign full of frantic see-saw battles.

Even the most sceptical of Fulham fans would not have anticipated an upset when the Cottagers locked horns with Barnsley in their opening fixture of the season.

However, in a dramatic sequence of events, the Tykes turned the tables in their favour at Oakwell, something they had done so often in their promotion-winning League One campaign the last term and left Scott Parker and his unit dumbfounded with a lion-hearted display.

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Barnsley enjoyed an unbeaten run on their home turf over the entirety of the 2018-19 season in League One and the Tykes were the only side in all the four divisions of professional football in England last season to have not lost a game at home.

That record though, was tipped to come to an end prior to their season-opener against Fulham in the Championship.

However, Daniel Stendel’s side had other ideas, and a young, hungry and determined Barnsley side absolutely decimated a Fulham unit that seemingly lacked the motivation and energy, as well as the character and the resilience to fight toe-to-toe with their opposition.

Barnsley took an early lead, courtesy of youngster Luke Thomas’ goal in the 13th minute. Fulham never really managed to get a stranglehold on the game. They hardly created any opportunities and when they did so, albeit rarely, the strikers weren’t clinical enough to capitalise on them.

In the end, it was a sad story for the Cottagers, who had initially come into the game as the outright favourites.

Yes, it is just the start of the season and there are still plenty of points left to play for, but few would argue against the fact that Fulham need to raise the bar from their 1-0 defeat at Oakwell if they are to challenge for promotion to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

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1. ‘Humiliating’ is not the word

Realistically, it is the manner of the defeat, more than the defeat itself, that should send a big wave of concern amongst the club’s faithful, as well as the manager and the players. 

From a neutral point of view, it looked as if Fulham had still not managed to get themselves out of the hangover of their Premier League tragedy last season and quite unsurprisingly, a return to the Championship didn’t help them get back to winning ways.

Scott Parker, who had taken over as the manager towards the latter half of the previous season in the Premier League, would probably be wary of the fact that his team didn’t show any signs of improvement whatsoever in their season-opener against Barnsley.

It might sound harsh but they were a bit more pathetic at Oakwell than they were in the majority of the top-flight games the last term.

The fans would probably not want to look at the goal that Fulham conceded, simply because the goal was an utter humiliation and the goalscorer, Luke Thomas, had two or three options to choose from, which clearly indicates that the Cottagers’ backline was completely caught out of position.

Even after the goal, Fulham had more than three-quarters of the game to muster a meaningful reply and salvage a draw. However, they found life extremely difficult against Barnsley’s resistance despite boasting of several high-profile names in their ranks.

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2. Failure of the midfield

Parker went into the game with his preferred 4-3-3 system, with a midfield trio consisting of Kevin McDonald, captain Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen, all of whom had played an important role when Fulham won promotion to the Premier League in the 2017-18 season.

However, barring Cairney, Johansen and McDonald failed to stamp their authority on the game.

Although McDonald illustrated his proficiency in switching the play with his impressive range of passing at times, neither he nor Johansen succeeded in winning the midfield battle for the team. 

With plenty of pace in Barnsley’s youthful attack causing problems for the visitors, not only were they slow to react to the transitions in play but they also failed to break up the tempo and shield the back four effectively.

That put more pressure on a vulnerable Fulham backline and the substitution to bring on Cyrus Christie in place of Maxime Le Marchand, with Denis Odoi shifting to a centre-back role, didn’t pay off.

On the contrary, Barnsley’s double midfield pivot in their 4-2-3-1 system consisting of Alex Mowatt and Cameron McGeehan, dictated most of the play and Mike-Steven Bahre, who played in a No.10 role behind striker Cauley Woodrow, was instrumental in the victory with his creativity and intelligence.

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3. Cavaleiro and Mitrovic looked completely off-colour

Fulham’s success in retaining star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, as well as completing a loan deal to bring Ivan Cavaleiro to the Championship from Wolves, should definitely have given the fans plenty to look forward to.

That, however, proved to be an anti-climax on Saturday, as neither of the two forwards looked anywhere near their best. 

Mitrovic only registered a single shot in the entire match, which was an opportunity squandered from a promising position, whilst Cavaleiro was equally poor too.

Aboubakar Kamara, on the other hand, showed a bit more vigour but he just wasn’t clinical enough. 

4. Anthony Knockaert – the only bright spot

Parker doesn’t really have any significant positives to take home from the 1-0 defeat but the performance of Brighton loanee Anthony Knockaert is likely to go down as one of the few bright spots in what was an absolutely disastrous team showing. 

The Dutchman wasn’t initially in the starting eleven but with Fulham trailing 1-0, Knockaert was brought on in the 65th-minute as an attacking substitution to replace Stefan Johansen. The Brighton loanee reminded the fans that he could be quite devastating at the Championship level.

Knockaert caused Barnsley all sorts of problems with his direct running, trickery and eye for goal, and Parker will certainly have him in his mind as a starter for the upcoming fixture against Blackburn Rovers.

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Bournemouth

5 instances in the recent past where promoted PL sides recruited heavily including Bournemouth

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Revisiting 5 instances in the recent past where promoted Premier League sides have recruited heavily

It is not very often that we see a promoted side in the Premier League splash the cash as extravagantly as Fulham did last summer.

The Cottagers apparently had little trust in the squad that got them promoted to the top-flight and owner Shahid Khan didn’t hesitate to loosen his purse strings to bring in radical reinforcements through the door at Craven Cottage.

As a matter of fact, Fulham signed anybody and everybody as a part of their summer spending spree, with as many as 15 new players arriving at the club prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.

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The Cottagers made the headlines multiple times during the transfer window, with deals for Aleksandar Mitrovic, Jean Michael-Seri, Alfie Mawson, Joe Bryan and Maxime Le Marchand, while several others like Andre Schurrle, Luciano Vietto, Callum Chambers, Sergio Rico and Timothy Fosu-Mensah came through the door on loan.

Well, the result was there for everybody to see, as Fulham went straight back down to the Championship following a dreadful run in the Premier League this past season which saw the Cottagers finish 19th on the table.

Despite boasting of one of the strongest squads outside the top-six in the entire division, Fulham managed only 7 victories over the course of the campaign and finished with a humiliating defensive record.

The sidelining of several of those who had played a key role in the promotion-winning campaign and the subsequent unplanned recruitment of stars from the foreign leagues proved to be the major reason behind Fulham’s decapitulation in the Premier League.

Slavisa Jokanovic, Claudio Ranieri and Scott Parker tried their level best to bring all the new signings together and assemble a functioning unit but they failed miserably.

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Fulham hardly learnt from their mistakes in the summer and brought in a few more players during the January window, with the likes of Havard Nordveit, Ryan Babel and Lazar Markovic joining the crew of a ship that was more than half-sunk by that time.

Things hardly changed for them and Fulham’s 2018-19 debacle in the Premier League proved to be a classic example of what sort of an approach any promoted team should avoid in the transfer window.

Interestingly, it has been seen in the recent past that mass recruitment can actually pay the dividends if things are planned correctly.

It is true that there is no guaranteed recipe for success as far as the promoted teams are concerned, with some opting to show confidence in the bunch that get them promoted, while others choose to bring in radical reinforcements in order to enhance their chances of survival. 

As unforgiving as the Premier League can be for the newcomers sometimes, it is important for all teams to establish the right kind of balance between investing in fresh faces and getting the best out of the existing ones, something that Fulham failed to do.

Let us take a look back at some of the instances in the recent past when promoted teams chose to splash the cash heavily and their corresponding consequences.

1. Huddersfield Town (2017-18)

David Wagner guided Huddersfield Town to the Premier League via the playoffs at the end of the 2016-17 season and the Terriers brought in as many as 13 new players in the summer prior to the start of the 2017-18 Premier League campaign.

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The spending spree included deals for the likes of Aaron Mooy from Man City and Steve Mounie from Montpellier, while Laurent Depoitre, Elias Kachunga, Mathias Jorgensen, Tom Ince, Scott Malone and Abdelhamid Sabiri arrived too.

Florent Hadergjonaj, Jonas Lossl and Kasey Palmer arrived on loan deals to add extra depth and quality to the squad.

Huddersfield’s ploy of mass recruitment paid immediate dividends in their quest for survival as the Terriers racked up back-to-back victories against Newcastle United and Crystal Palace in their first two games.

Despite suffering a dip in form towards the end of the year, the Terriers strung together victories against West Brom and Brighton, whilst also completing a giant-killing feat against Manchester United.

In January, they once again dipped into the transfer window to bring in Alex Pritchard and Terrence Kongolo, as three wins since the turn of the year proved enough to steer the club to safety.

Truth be told, manager David Wagner played a key role in preserving the club’s top-flight status and the German-American’s feat of rare charisma and brilliance earned him plaudits.

2. Watford (2015-16)

Watford’s impatience with managers is well-known and it was once again evident from the way they went about things in the Championship in the 2014-15 season.

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A combined effort from four different managers Beppe Sannino, Oscar Garcia, Billy McKinlay and Slavisa Jokanovic, coupled with Odion Ighalo’s heroics in front of goal propelled the Hornets to automatic promotion.

Owner Gino Pozzo and the hierarchy showed little confidence in the existing players and the club opted for a massive overhaul of the squad, although most of the players came either came in on free transfers or for thrifty figures.

Watford’s summer business included the acquisition of Juanfran from Real Betis, Jose Holebas from Roma, Etienne Capoue from Spurs, Steven Berghuis from AZ Alkmaar, Valon Behrami, Adlene Guedioura, Adalberto Penaranda, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan Nyom, while others like Miguel Britos and Sebastien Prodl arrived for free.

Nathan Ake and Victor Ibarbo, as well as Italian international Alessandro Diamanti, came through the door at Vicarage Road on season-long loan deals. Quique Flores was entrusted with the job of assembling a rather new-looking Watford side and he didn’t disappoint.

Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney’s strong performances ensured that Watford didn’t face a relegation scare, with the Hornets racking up as many as 8 wins and 5 draws before the end of the year to virtually guarantee survival.

Despite a late slump in form, Watford cruised to a mid-table 13th-place finish and proved that mass recruitment with a measured approach can actually produce positive returns.

3. Bournemouth (2015-16)

Bournemouth’s blistering run of form in the 2014-15 season of the Championship saw them finish as the undisputed winners and the Cherries secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history, thus marking the beginning of an unprecedented rise in English football.

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Callum Wilson’s 20-goal season was one of the main reasons behind their success but Eddie Howe chose to bring in reinforcements in a bid to preserve the club’s newly-acquired top-flight status.

A summer of heavy spending that marked the arrival of signings like Tyrone Mings and Max-Alain Gradel, while others like Joshua King, Lee Tomlin and Glen Murray came in for thrifty amounts.

Artur Boruc and Sylvain Distin were brought in on free transfers to add experience to the ranks, while the likes of Christian Atsu, Filippo Costa, Joe Bennett and Tomas Andrade made their way to the Vitality Stadium on loan deals.

The decision to bring in too many new players seemed to backfire as the Cherries only managed two victories until the end of November.

However, a remarkable upturn of form in December inspired the team to victories against Man United, Chelsea and West Brom before they spent big once again in January to bring in the likes of Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban from Wolves and Norwich respectively.

In the end, Bournemouth huffed and puffed to a 16th-place finish as Howe somehow managed to steer the club to safety and in the process, laying down a solid platform from where they could carve out a reputation for themselves in the Premier League.

4. Middlesbrough (2016-17)

Middlesbrough secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time since their relegation back in 2008-09 but their stay in the top-flight proved to be nothing more than a passing shower, as their transfer policy of signing established and successful players failed to pay the dividends.

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The likes of Gaston Ramirez, Victor Valdes, Brad Guzan and Bernardo Espinosa were brought in on free transfers to add experience to the ranks, while Marten de Roon and Adama Traore were regarded as exciting additions to the squad.

Others like Alvaro Negredo and Calum Chambers arrived at Teesside as loanees, with the former going on to top the scoring charts with 10 goals in the Premier League.

Manager Aitor Karanka further invested heavily in January to bring in Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede in a bid to bolster his misfiring forward line but that didn’t yield positive results either and Boro finished 19th in the standings with just 5 wins over the course of the campaign.

In the end, Boro bowed out of the Premier League after scoring just 27 goals, leaving many to wonder as to why the club spent so much money to bring in so many attackers.

5. Queens Park Rangers (2012-13)

QPR’s approach in the transfer window upon securing promotion to the Premier League evoked plenty of criticism from the pundits, as the club simply appeared to recruit ageing stars solely based on their past reputation and records.

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They signed as many as 18 new players over the course of the campaign, with several high-profile players like Julio Cesar, Andy Johnson, Park Ji-Sung, Jose Bosingwa, Esteban Granero, Loic Remy, Stephane Mbia, Christopher Samba, Jermaine Jenas, Andros Townsend and Robert Green coming through the doors at Loftus Road. 

Such a policy was always going to be risky given that most of the players were simply past their prime, while others lacked the quality to make a significant impact.

Harry Redknapp and then Mark Hughes tried to pull the group of ageing legs to safety but they were never going to get anywhere close to ensuring survival as QPR went straight back to the second-tier after finishing at the bottom of the standings.

It was an eye-opener for the other promoted teams and a reminder that bringing in experienced players solely based on reputation can never guarantee success.

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Fulham signing this £4.5m star from Leeds United should be an absolute no-brainer – Here’s why

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Fulham Opinion: Adam Forshaw could be a massive coup for the Cottagers

According to the Daily Mail, Fulham are interested in signing Leeds United midfielder Adam Forshaw, with reports claiming that manager Scott Parker is keen to bolster his ranks heading into the upcoming season in the Championship.

Forshaw, who joined Leeds United from Middlesbrough for a fee of £4.5 million back in January 2018, played a key role for Marcelo Bielsa’s side in the Championship this past season, as the Whites lost out to Derby County in the playoff semi-finals.

However, Leeds are currently bracing themselves for approaches from several other clubs for some of their prized assets following their failure to secure promotion.

Jack Clarke has already been lined up by Spurs as a potential summer target, while Kalvin Phillips has attracted interest from a host of other Premier League sides, including newly-promoted Aston Villa. (h/t Daily Mail)

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Fulham are also going through a similar phase at the moment, with the Cottagers currently under pressure to balance the books following their relegation from the Premier League.

The Craven Cottage-based outfit are set for a massive clear-out of players this summer, with several high-profile players, including the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Jean-Michael Seri, Andre Schurrle, Ryan Babel, Luciano Vietto, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, as well as, promising youngster Ryan Sessegnon all expected to leave the club.

Manager Scott Parker is faced with the task of guiding the club back to the Premier League at the first time of asking and he has seemingly started for looking for affordable alternatives to replace the big names.  

While a like-for-like replacement for Mitrovic up front continues to be a priority for Fulham, they also need to look for new players in other areas of the pitch. Central midfield is one such area that certainly needs some sorting out this summer, with the departure of Seri and Anguissa an inevitability.

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Fulham, of course, are expected to have the services of captain Tom Cairney at their disposal in the Championship next season after the Scotsman committed his future to the club with a long-term contract.

Kevin McDonald was largely used as a fringe player in the Premier League but he was one of their key players in the Championship and the central midfielder would probably have a bigger part to play next term.

The Cottagers are also likely to have the services of Stefan Johansen right from the start of the upcoming campaign, given that the Norwegian is back at Craven Cottage following his loan spell at West Brom last term.

However, someone like Adam Forshaw could possibly add that little bit more depth and quality in a crucial area of the pitch for Fulham, although Leeds are unlikely to let go of one of their key players on the cheap.

A youth graduate of Everton, who rose to prominence with Wigan Athletic and Middlesbrough, Forshaw has established himself as one of the best players at Elland Road since his move from Middlesbrough in January last year. The 27-year-old made a total of 31 appearances for the Whites in the Championship this past season and was one of the key cogs of Bielsa’s midfield.

Essentially a central midfielder by trade, Forshaw is a strong, tenacious and hard-working presence in the middle of the park who excels with his impressive range of passing and ability to control possession for his team.

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To add to that, he is adept at dealing with the transitions in play and cutting out attacks with crucial interventions, whilst also possessing the ability to contribute to the attack with driving runs from the midfield.

Forshaw averaged 44.7 passes per game with an accuracy percentage of 88.2 in the Championship last term, including 3.6 long balls, 0.9 key passes and 2.2 tackles, figures which speak volumes of his ability to retain possession, move the ball around and cut out attacks in the middle of the park.

Moreover, his wealth of Premier League and Championship experience could prove handy for a promotion-chasing team like Fulham.

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Keeping that in mind, Fulham have every reason to look at Adam Forshaw as a marquee signing in the Championship this summer, although they still have plenty of other bases to cover before the season gets underway. All in all, the 27-year-old could be a useful addition to Fulham’s ranks.

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Fulham signing this breakout 21-year-old star on loan and then permanently for £10m would be a sensible coup

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Fulham Opinion: Playing a gamble on Jovane Cabral could work wonders for the Cottagers

According to claims from Portuguese newspaper Record, newly-relegated outfit Fulham have been credited with an interest in Sporting Lisbon’s breakout star Jovane Cabral, with manager Scott Parker looking to build a squad capable of securing promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

Record understands that the Cottagers are planning to sign the impressive 21-year-old on an initial loan deal with an option to make his stay permanent for a fee of £10 million.

Cabral made eyeballs turn over the course of his breakthrough season at Sporting Lison in the Primeira Liga the last term, with the talented youngster contributing with 4 goals and 8 assists in 31 appearances across all competitions for the Portuguese heavyweights.

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Born in Cape Verde, Cabral joined Sporting’s youth system back in 2014 and made rapid progress through the ranks before making his debut for the ‘B’ team in 2016. The youngster broke into the first-team picture at the start of the last season and featured largely as an impact player from the bench, with his impressive performances earning him rave reviews from fans and pundits alike.

Cabral featured for Cape Verde in an international friendly back in 2017 but he still remains eligible to switch his international allegiance to represent Portugal at the senior international level.

Interest in the talented 21-year-old attacker is likely to be high and Fulham have every reason to look at him as a potential transfer target this summer, as the Cottagers find themselves under pressure to balance the books after over-spending in the Premier League.

Essentially a left-winger by trade, Cabral is also capable of playing out wide on the right. Noted for his lightning pace, quick acceleration, rapid shifting of gears and direct style of play, Cabral excels with his ability to take on defenders down the flanks, whilst also boasting of a good eye for key passes in the final third.

To put things into perspective, it is not difficult to see why Fulham have registered an interest in the talented breakout star and it is pretty evident that they won’t have the same riches on offer in the Championship. The 21-year-old might take a bit of time to acclimatise to the style of play prevalent in the Championship but one would expect him to make the step up in due course of time, given his talent and potential.

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Fulham find themselves under pressure to cope with the departure of several high-profile players, with the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Jean Michael Seri, Andre Schurrle, Ryan Babel, Luciano Vietto and Ryan Sessegnon all looking likely to head for the exit door at Craven Cottage.

Hence, it is pretty clear that the Cottagers need to bring in a few reinforcements ahead of the upcoming campaign in order to reassemble a formidable unit capable of challenging for promotion.

The likes of Floyd Ayite and Neeskens Kebano would be expected to play a more significant role in the attack, while Aboubakar Kamara seems unlikely to return following his charges of misconduct the last term.

Fulham signed Lazar Markovic from Liverpool back in January but relying on the Serb too heavily might prove to be a mistake for the club, given his lack of involvement in recent seasons.

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Jovane Cabral, on the other hand, looks more like the real deal and his arrival would add that extra bit of pace and unpredictability to Fulham’s attack.

The 21-year-old has shown in the past that he is more than capable of terrorising full-backs and the Cottagers would be very happy if he manages to replicate his stellar performances in the Championship next season.

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Having spent a fortune upon their promotion to the Premier League last summer, Fulham need to be more sensible this time around and look more bargain deals in the market. Keeping that in mind, playing a gamble on Jovane Cabral won’t be a bad idea for the Cottagers.

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