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Why Fulham are the team to watch in the Championship run-in

With the Championship run-in on the horizon, Fulham have put themselves in an excellent position to push for promotion to the Premier League, writes Greg Whitaker.

Greg Whitaker

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Photo: Getty Images

It has often been commented over the past eight months that this season’s Championship cohort is one of the weakest in terms of quality in recent memory.

Indeed, listing runaway leaders Wolves as the only noteworthy footballing side in the division, and casually declaring that the other 23 league positions are a lottery, as ‘anyone can beat anyone in the Championship’, are cliches that have blighted coverage of England’s second tier.

Slaviša Jokanovic’s Fulham are proving this not to be the case.

Hitting form at the business end of the season and demonstrating their quality and new-found consistency in abundance, this young and hungry Fulham side are the club to keep an eye on during the final few months of this season.

After an impressive 2-0 win over title-favourites Wolves last weekend, the Cottagers are still in with an outside chance of automatic promotion, while a play-off place is looking more secure every week, following the eighth successive home win.

(Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Last season the London outfit surprised many to reach the play-offs, losing to eventual runners-up Reading over two legs.

Following this unexpectedly impressive season, Fulham disappointed during the first half of this season, initially not living up to the promotion favourites billing many had given them.

However, after backroom changes were made prior to Christmas, and Jokanovic’s immediate future at the club was secured, the Lilywhites have seemingly picked up where they left off last season.

Aside from results, it has been the nature and style of Fulham’s recent performances that have caught the eye.

Quickly earning the unofficial title of the ‘Entertainers of the Championship’ under the Serbian manager, Fulham play a possession-based game, utilising the key strengths of the squad – a midfield that would certainly not look out of place in many Premier League sides, one of the brightest youngsters in English football, and a loanee maverick striker who is desperate to impress.

Let’s start with the midfield. Usually operating as a central three, with wing-backs either side, Fulham have an abundance of midfield options. When fit, former Hull City and Blackburn Rovers playmaker Tom Cairney is an automatic starter, with nearly all of Fulham’s attacking play usually coming through the club captain.

Cairney was joined by former Wolves midfield enforcer Kevin MacDonald last season, who has added a much needed, but often unappreciated, defensive aspect to the centre of the Cottagers’ midfield.

Finally, the third position has tended to alternate in recent months between Norwegian Stefan Johansen and on-loan Brighton midfielder Oliver Norwood.

Working as a well-oiled machine, there is no surprise there has been Premier League interest in all four midfielders in recent times, with captain Cairney, in particular, due to be in very high demand again this summer, regardless of which division Fulham find themselves in.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

It would be almost impossible to talk about Fulham without mentioning their 17-year-old starlet, Ryan Sessegnon.

The left-back, who quite incredibly has already made 59 senior league appearances for the Lilly Whites, has been simply sensational this season. The under-19 England international, who has earned comparisons to Gareth Bale this season, has remarkably scored 13 goals this term, and created a further seven for his team.

It is this form that has this week seen Sessegnon linked with a potential £50 million move to the Premier League, with Spurs said to be in pole position. Indeed, while this is an astronomical price tag for a teenager, in the current inflated market of football transfers, this move is entirely plausible.

With his whole career ahead of him, the transfer could actually be viewed as decent value for money in the current market. The brightest English talent outside of the top flight has time on his side to repay any faith placed in him, and has enough first team experience to be dropped straight into the rigours of Premier League football.

One thing is for sure. Before any potential move in the summer, Sessegnon still has a vital role to play in Fulham’s promotion charge this season.

The final contributing aspect of Fulham’s recent upturn in form is the loan signing of Newcastle outcast, Aleksandar Mitrovic.

The big Serbian striker, who joined the Toon in 2015 for a fee of £14m, has a point to prove after hardly featuring in the Premier League this season under Rafa Benitez. However, the 23-year-old, who has earned a reputation for his short temper and sometimes poor decision-making, has hit the ground running in the Championship, scoring twice in just five outings for the Cottagers.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

After losing the likes of Sone Aluko and Chris Martin last summer, Fulham’s striking options appeared limited in the opening months of this season.

However, the arrival of the Serbian international, who has already become a cult hero, has provided the team not only with a greater goal-scoring threat but also the option of a ‘plan B’, with Mitrovic able to play as a target man as well as a poacher alongside Aboubakar Kamara.

While Wolves have undoubtedly proved the standout team in the Championship this season, they are certainly not the only second-tier side worthy of a shot at the Premier League.

Fulham did underperform and disappoint in the opening stages of this season, but they are now showing why they too are a noteworthy footballing side.

With top-flight quality in all areas of the pitch, a hungry striker determined to prove his doubters wrong, and the hottest young property in British football, Fulham fans have a lot to smile about at the moment.

Hitting form at just the right time and finally living up to pre-season expectations, Fulham are certainty one Championship side to keep an eye on during the final few months of this season.

Greg is a freelance writer and broadcast journalist who has previously worked as a sports journalist at the likes of the BBC, Yahoo Sports UK, and the Hull Daily Mail. A long-standing Hull City supporter, Greg has also spent time as a Director on the Board of the Hull City Supporters' Trust. Follow him on Twitter - @Greg_Whitaker

Brighton and Hove Albion

Fulham’s sale of David Button to Brighton is a brilliant deal

The back-up goalkeeper was recently offloaded to Brighton.

Max Cohen

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David Button
Photo: Getty Images

On Monday, Fulham announced goalkeeper David Button was leaving Craven Cottage for an undisclosed fee to move to Brighton and Hove Albion.

The offloading of the club’s backup goalkeeper for any fee represents good business, as Button was very clearly second choice and, ultimately, supporters will be surprised that a Premier League club were willing to spend any money on the player.

Button joined the Whites in July 2016 and slotted in as first choice goalkeeper ahead of Marcus Bettinelli. Yet the Englishman lost his starting spot in embarrassing fashion after a horror show performance against Derby County the following April.

Button’s distribution, passing ability, and shot-stopping were abject that midweek night, allowing David Nugent to score some laughably easy goals en route to a harmful 4-2 loss.

After that match, Bettinelli took over and never looked back, leading Fulham on a sparkling end-of-season run to the play-offs that narrowly ended in heartbreak.

However, the following season Button again reclaimed the first choice role after Bettinelli was injured in pre-season. The ex-Brentford man started the season brightly, earning numerous plaudits and man-of-the-match votes during the early stages of the season.

But, his high-profile mistakes came back to haunt him, and after a poor showing against Brentford in December he was again benched for Bettinelli.

Fulham truly never looked back this time. Bettinelli’s arrival coincided with another sparkling run of form, this time one that took the Whites to third position and promotion through the play-offs.

It was clear Bettinelli was preferred to Button, and it made sense to see the elder goalkeeper depart this summer.

The sale of David Button to Premier League rivals Brighton is another intelligent piece of business by Tony Khan and Fulham, getting rid of benchwarmers and raising funds for further transfer targets.

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Fulham

Malcom should consider Fulham move despite Champions League interest

Jake Jackman

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Fulham are set to enter the race to sign Bordeaux winger Malcom and offer competition to Inter Milan according to The Sun. The Serie A team had been leading the race after submitting an initial loan bid with an option to buy next year with the total package totalling £35.3 million.

However, the Cottagers have shown impressive ambition already this summer and could be prepared to buy the Brazilian permanently this summer.

The report goes on to say that Slavisa Jokanovic wants to add another pacy forward to his squad before the start of the season and Malcom is one of the players being looked at.

Bordeaux know that they are in a strong selling position and want at least £45 million for the talented Brazilian forward. He has previously been linked with Tottenham, Arsenal and Bayern Munich, but Fulham have previously shown they can pull off a deal such as this one.

(Photo credit should read MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty Images)

The highly-rated Jean Michael Seri joined the newly-promoted club earlier this week and if they managed to sign Malcom, it would represent another coup. Fulham have been out of the Premier League for four seasons, but they don’t plan to make up the numbers now they have returned.

That is why Malcom should consider the club if the reported interest is genuine. Fulham are located in London and will be playing in one of the best leagues in the world. Although he will be looking for a Champions League move, the Cottagers would still represent a step up.

The Brazilian would have the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and that would make him a more rounded player, especially in terms of physicality. At the age of 21, he has plenty of years ahead of him. Fulham would provide a good environment in which to develop further before making the jump to the Champions League.

In addition to their location and division, Fulham play an exciting style of football under Jokanovic. They are encouraged to pass the ball and take risks in the final third. Malcom would thrive under such instruction and have a platform to attract concrete interest from bigger clubs.

(Photo credit should read NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Last season, the 21-year-old caught the eye in Ligue 1 and emerged as one of the best players outside of PSG. He scored 12 goals and contributed seven assists, while his ball retention in the final third was impressive. Malcom ended the season with a pass success rate of 82.1%, while he averaged 2.5 key passes and 2.7 dribbles per game.

Fulham will know that there is no harm in selling themselves as a stepping-stone club in the interim period. It is an effective business model if done correctly and allows them to grow organically into a team that can challenge the top six. Given the resources of the Khan family, that seems to be the objective.

After the arrival of Jean Michael Seri, Fulham have sent a message to the rest of Europe that they have ambition and they want to continue progressing as a football club. Agents and players across the continent will have taken note.

Craven Cottage will now be a more attractive destination and reports linking them with players like Malcom shouldn’t be written off. This would be a good move for the Brazilian and if they can agree on a fee, they should be confident of pulling it off.

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Fulham

Fulham’s signing of Jean Michael Seri will be coup of the summer

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Fulham have pulled off one of the shock signings of the summer, as Nice midfielder Jean Michael Seri has joined the club for a record fee. The Guardian report that the fee is in the region of £25 million and that he has signed a four-year contract at Craven Cottage.

Over the past 12 months, the 26-year-old has been linked with Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal to name but three other interested clubs. Meanwhile, he came close to signing for Barcelona last summer.

It is a major coup for Fulham to sign the Ivorian, as they are a recently promoted club who haven’t been in the Premier League since 2014.

However, there is clear ambition among the ownership and this could be the first of several ambitious arrivals, as they attempt to establish themselves as a top division force once more.

Their location and style of play make them an appealing option for players, as shown by Seri’s decision to move to Craven Cottage.

(Photo by Anne-Christine Poujoulat/Getty Images)

Nice have been one of the most exciting teams in watch in Ligue 1 during recent seasons and they have managed to develop a host of exciting players.

Seri is regarded as one of the best to play in red and blue, as he has been at the heart of a team that has played attacking football and qualified for the Champions League. Although they didn’t reach the group stages, it was a huge achievement to get to the play-off round.

The 26-year-old is very much a modern-day central midfielder capable of excelling at a number of roles. He covers a lot of ground for his team and is always looking to improve himself as a player.

 “Jean Michael arrives with Premier League qualities as well as great promise for the future, which is why he has been at the very top of our target list for a long time.”

Tony Khan, on Jean Michael Seri.

Although he is primarily used as a box-to-box midfielder, he can be used in both deeper and more advanced positions. His pass accuracy rarely dips beneath 90% as he is comfortable on the ball in tight spaces. That said, he isn’t conservative in possession as he looks to break down opposition defences.

Last season, he averaged 2.1 key passes and 1.2 dribbles per game, which underline the quality he has in the transition phase. During the last three seasons, he has contributed 12 goals and 20 assists in Ligue 1.

(Photo by Yann Coatsaliou/Getty Images)

There have been few better midfielders during that period and he is now ready to test himself in a better division. He was perhaps less impressive during the 2017/18 campaign, but he may have remained with Nice for one year too many.

This is a marquee signing that sends a signal of intent to the rest of the division. Fulham are not in the Premier League to make up the numbers and they are prepared to spend big to establish themselves as a force. Seri is a player that is good enough to play in the Champions League and he will be the star attraction at Craven Cottage next season.

Slavisa Jokanovic and Tony Khan must now make further additions to provide the team with more quality players. It is worth noting that Fulham came up through the play-offs and one player, regardless of his quality, isn’t enough to transform them into a Premier League team.

The club will realise that and Seri could be the first of many eye-catching signings made this summer.

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