Relegation Diaries – Fulham FC

With Fulham‘s 4-1 loss to Watford on Tuesday night, the club returns to the Championship yet again, a one season stay that never seemed to get off the ground. This is likely the earliest we’ve had two relegation spots decided, with Huddersfield Town clinching relegation on Saturday night. Like the Terriers, Fulham spent most of the season at or near the bottom of the league table, with defensive struggles – a league-high 76 goals surrendered – mostly to blame.

Here’s a quick look at how the Cottagers ended up in this position:

What Went Wrong

Despite spending a record £100M during the summer transfer window, the club never found its footing during the season. Slaviša Jokanović was replaced as manager on 14 November with the club “boasting” a 1-2-9 record and a -20 goal differential. Claudio Ranieri was soon brought in to right the ship, which he failed to do – a 3-3-10 record was only a slight improvement – prior to his departure on 28 February.

The club has failed to win on the road thus far this season, with an 0-2-15 record away from Craven Cottage. Luckily, only two of their remaining five matches will be on the road, though they are against AFC Bournemouth – who won 3-0 at Craven Cottage in October – and Wolverhampton Wanderers – a 1-1 draw on Boxing Day – leaving a winless road campaign distinctly in the cards this season.

As mentioned above, the Cottagers have surrendered a league-leading 76 goals (through 33 matches), resulting in a -46 goal differential. This is especially large in the matches away from home, where opponents have outscored Fulham by 33 goals over 17 matches thus far. It will probably be a bit easier go of things in the Championship next season, but they definitely need to find a solution on the back end of the pitch.

What Went Right

There were some bright spots in a terrible season.

Among that big spending over the summer was forward Aleksandar Mitrović, who did well on a loan spell with the club last season. After joining the club during the January transfer window, he scored 12 goals in 17 matches down the stretch. He was rewarded with a permanent move to London (from Newcastle United), and has led the club in scoring with 10 goals in 33 appearances. He is also under contract through 2023, though with relegation, it remains to be seen if he will stay on the club long-term.

Recent English Football League History

Unlike Huddersfield Town and their lone two seasons in the Premier League, Fulham has spent the majority of the Premier League-era in the top flight of English football. Over the 27 seasons of the Premier League era, the Cottagers have spent with 14 seasons in the top flight. Prior to this season, their best finish was 7th during the 2008-09 season, and they averaged a 12th place finish in the 13 Premier League seasons prior to this one. In their last foray to the Premier League, they also finished in 19th place, their likely outcome this season barring a streak from the Terriers.

Before gaining advancement through the Championship playoffs last season, Fulham finished 6th the prior season, losing in the promotion semi-final to Reading. The season prior – 2015-16 – they avoided relegation to League One, finishing in 20th place but 11 points clear of the third relegation spot. They should find themselves right at home in the Championship and tier two, with 54 of their 101 seasons spent just below the top flight of English football.

Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?

Fulham’s offseason investment included extended contracts for a lot of the club, and only Ryan Babel and Lazar Marković – who combined for eight Premier League appearances during the season – will be completely out of contract after the season. Four other players – Neeskens Kebano, Floyd Ayité, Denis Odoi and Stefan Johansen – all have club options for next season. Only Odoi appeared in the majority of matches this season, with his 30 appearances alone nearly exceeding the total of the other three players combined (31).

However, they do have five players that they brought in on loan that contributed to the club that could become transfer targets, although the club’s presence in the Championship may preclude the players from wanting to return on a permanent basis. Calum Chambers (on loan from Arsenal) led these players in appearances with 22 appearances, with Luciano Vietto (Atletico Madrid) right behind with 19 (9 as a sub). Sergio Rico (Sevilla) was their lead keeper with 20 league appearances. The others – Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Manchester United) and Håvard Nordtveit (1899 Hoffenheim) – had nine and three appearances, respectively, so I assume they will be low priority in any effort to bring them back.

Chances of a Quick Return?

There is bound to be some turnover in the roster, despite the long-term contracts (most with relegation clauses that will lower their overall wage bill) that players are signed. Though they will receive a parachute payment due to relegation, they will also be trying to recover from a nearly $60M (£45.2m) loss from last season, so they could look to sell some players to help minimize the damage while also remaining competitive in the Championship.

Jean Michaël Seri and André-Frank Zambo Anguissa may become too expensive for a Championship-level club, as well as the aforementioned Aleksandar Mitrović. 18 year-old Ryan Sessegnon could attract some attention as well. The youngster has long attracted the attention of other clubs – including Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur – especially after scoring 15 goals during Fulham’s run toward promotion last season, as well as assisting on the game-winning goal in the Championship playoff final.

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