Defensive stability & sacking Jokanovic - how Fulham can avoid Premier League relegation

Slavisa Jokanovic Fulham 2018-19

Despite racking up a transfer bill of over £100 million ($129m) this summer, and bringing in the likes of Jean Michael Seri and Andre Schurrle, Fulham are struggling in the Premier League.

The Cottagers are currently sitting in 18th place with only one win from their opening nine games, conceding 26 goals along the way, including four against fellow promoted side Cardiff City last time out.

This represents Fulham’s worst start to a Premier League season, but can the west London outfit turn things around? Here are five things that would have to change if Slavisa Jokanovic's side are to beat the drop ahead of Saturday's crucial home game with Bournemouth.

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Defensive stability

Jokanovic is yet to select the same back four in more than one Premier League game so far this season after bringing in six defenders over the summer, with the Fulham manager struggling to settle on his preferred back-line.

Fulham have persevered with diminutive defender Dennis Odoi at centre-back after his successful Championship campaign, as well as playing Ryan Sessegnon in his less preferred left-back position on numerous occasions thus far.

It is somewhat unsurprising, then, that the Cottagers boast the worst defensive record in the league at this early juncture and are on course to concede in excess of 100 goals should their current rate continue throughout the campaign.

In contrast, another newly-promoted side in Wolves have picked the same starting XI in every game, with great success. Consistency in defence could be key if Fulham are to steady their ship.

Sentiment cannot dictate team selection

The squad that carried Fulham on the 23-game unbeaten run that saw them qualify for the play-offs last season will always be heroes at Craven Cottage, but sentiment cannot fuel your team selection in the Premier League.

Odoi and Tim Ream were an incredible defensive duo in the Championship but Maxime Le Marchand and Alfie Mawson look more suited to playing against this level of opposition. Mawson was Swansea City’s Player of the Year las season while when Le Marchand has played in the middle, he has looked like a Premier League-level player.

Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald are good back-up players but they should not be keeping Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa out of the squad after Fulham splashed out £30m on the Cameroonian midfielder.

Sergio Rico, meanwhile, has won the Europa League and had been Sevilla’s first-choice keeper for the past three years but cannot get a look-in ahead of Marcus Bettinelli, who has been leaking goals of late despite earning a first call-up to the England squad.

Share the goals & change the style

Fulham’s playing style lends itself to goals being spread throughout the squad rather than everything going through one or two players.

Schurrle and Aleksandar Mitrovic are the only players who have struck more than once for Fulham and they are currently the third and fourth highest shot takers respectively in the Premier League, taking 3.8 and 3.6 shots per game.

Last season Fulham’s highest shots-per-game taker was on-loan Liverpool winger Sheyi Ojo, who was out of favour for most of the campaign due to struggling to fit into Jokanovic's style. The next highest was Johansen, who would take an average of 1.8 shots per game.

It seems that Fulham’s slow passing build-up has been replaced by a hit-and-hope way of playing relying solely on Mitrovic and Schurrle. Jokanovic has the personnel to change this, however, as Sessegnon was their top scorer last year and Luciano Vietto was once considered one of the hottest strikers in Spain.

Tom Cairney and Seri can also provide goals from the midfield, and if Fulham are able to revert back to their patient build-up then the results will come.

Aleksandar Mitrovic Fulham 2018-19

Make Craven Cottage a fortress again

During Fulham’s last spell in the Premier League, Craven Cottage was always seen as a potential banana skin ground for big clubs. Fulham would routinely pick up 30 points a season from home games alone, claiming a big scalp somewhere along the road.

They picked up 11 league wins at home in the 2009-10 season, as well as going unbeaten at home during their Europa League run when teams such as Juventus, Roma and Wolfsburg all failed to overcome Fulham in west London.

This season, though, they have only picked up one win at home from four games to date, and were comfortably beaten by both Crystal Palace and Arsenal.

Do not hesitate to sack Jokanovic

Recent reports suggest Jokanovic has two games to save his job. They are against Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town, and are two matches that Fulham will have earmarked before the season as opportunities to pick up points.

Jokanovic has always been a slow starter, Fulham won only seven of their first 22 games last campaign, and the season before it was a similar story, winning just eight times before Christmas. Both times they have been able to pull together an incredible run of form in the second half of the season to secure themselves a top-six spot, but how likely is a run like that in the Premier League?

They have to face the reality that they have one of the weakest squads in the league and Jokanovic may not be the man to carry them through, with his passion for playing good football potentially being their downfall. ‘Ugly’ managers have kept teams in the league for years and there is no doubting their effectiveness. Fulham, themselves, were once Roy Hodgson’s biggest success story.

While the amount of money spent is different, Fulham are comparable to Ian Holloway’s Blackpool team of the 2010-11 season. Blackpool outscored the majority of the teams in the division and were one of the most entertaining sides in the league, but ultimately were relegated, finishing behind teams managed by the likes of Mick McCarthy, Steve Bruce and Tony Pulis. If Fulham continue to leak goals, it could be time for a manager in that mould to take the reins.