Bear with me for this analogy. Each school has its pupils divided into two broad categories. The cool ones, and the 'not so cool' ones. The cool ones speak to the girls, make fun of the teacher, and carry an aura about them. The 'not so cool' ones don't go outside their shell a lot. But there is a third category, the 'wannabe cool' ones. They observe what the cool kids do, and try to emulate them, but often without results.
Fulham are the 'wannabe cool' ones of the school that is the Premier League.
The cool ones here are obviously the top 6 clubs, which includes Manchester United, and not Bournemouth. If you look at all the metrics which these six clubs dominate, you will undoubtedly see Fulham hovering there and thereabouts.
Here are a few statistics I have compiled, and it shows the rank of the top 6 teams and Fulham. In ball possession, Fulham's tally is bettered by only one team outside the top 6 and the same is valid for pass completion rate. They take more shots per game than Arsenal and Tottenham.
Slavisa Jokanovic preaches patient buildup, and that is seen in their pass length statistics. Only two teams aside from the top six have shorter average pass lengths, and only one has shorter average goalkeeper pass length. This indicates that Fulham don't shy away from playing their way out of the back, which is in vogue for all the top teams.
In the creativity department, Fulham are right up there. Only three sides have more key passes than the Cottagers, seven have more big chances, and three have created more chances in total. They are ranked 7th and 8th respectively in passes per game and passes in the final third, which is another statistic which the top 6 dominate.
These metrics portray Fulham as a side which wants to play expressive football, which is correct. Jokanovic's philosophy lit up the Championship last season, as they played really attractive football on their way to promotion.
But they have not been able to maintain the same swagger in the top flight. In the summer transfer window, they spent close to £100 million. The likes of Jean Michael Seri, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Aleksander Mitrovic were the major arrivals. But they have failed to deliver the goods for Fulham consistently.
Despite matching the top clubs in various numbers, they are lacking in the most important statistic: points. After 10 games, Fulham have collected just 5 points, which places them at a lowly position of 18th. The most glaring weakness has been their defence, which has let in a league-high 28 goals.
A major reason for this has been the heavy tinkering with the squad. Jokanovic has deployed various combinations at the back, varying in both formation and personnel. This has obviously hampered any kind of solidity, which has given way to some ghastly defensive displays. New signings like Alfie Mawson, Calum Chambers, and Maxim Le Marchand have not found their feet quickly at Craven Cottage.
The lack of a fixed lineup has affected the whole team, as the midfield and attack are not set in stone either. New arrivals in midfield have hampered the balance, even though both Seri and Anguissa are more than able individuals. Arguably the absence of Kevin McDonald and Tom Cairney has hurt them.
Another factor is the waning of Ryan Sessegnon. The teenager was in sensational form last season but he has failed to replicate it this campaign. Much of it has been down to his playing time and position, as he is neither guaranteed the start nor his favoured attacking position. He still has all the time in the world to grow as a player, but the past three months have not contributed to that.
The problems Fulham are facing are manifold, but Jokanovic is in no immediate danger of losing his job. Nevertheless, the points need to start trickling soon. The first step towards that could be showing some pragmatism. No coach likes to alter his philosophy, and especially during such testing times.
But it wouldn't be inaccurate to say that Fulham have been naive on occasions this season. Their style was effective last season, but the Premier League is a different ballgame altogether. In the recent league game against Bournemouth, the second goal came after a cheap loss of possession and McDonald was sent off due to a loose pass in defence.
Such incidents have occurred regularly for Fulham, which is arguably a byproduct of their possession-based approach. The players have to become more focused and limit such errors, or Jokanovic has to resort to long balls on occasions. It is a fine line to tread, as totally changing the approach will plant seeds of doubt in players' minds.
The next few weeks are going to be crucial at Craven Cottage, and pulling out of the relegation zone is of the highest priority. Perhaps the first step towards that is to accept who they are, which is an 18th placed side, and not one in the top six.Published 03 Nov 2018, 01:50 IST