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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

Championship

Fulham fans would hate it, but Chelsea should chase Slavisa Jokanovic and Ryan Sessegnon

Chelsea may need a new manager in the summer and Fulham offer a perfect solution.

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Fulham are flying this season yet again. For the second season in a row Slavisa Jokanovic is leading the club to a promotion push and Cottagers fans will no doubt be hoping the Serbian can take them all the way this time.

He is a massively important part of the reason why Fulham find themselves where they are right now, but so is left-sided phenomenon Ryan Sessegnon. The Championship star has most of Europe tracking his progress as he continues to exceed expectations at such a young age in the Championship.

Fulham are flying and excitement is high at Craven Cottage.

But, success attracts attention and plenty of teams have been linked with Sessegnon. Jokanovic, however, is also a name that is being linked with other clubs.

Fulham’s West London rivals Chelsea are looking likely to need a new manager this season. The general consensus is that Antonio Conte will be on his way out of Stamford Bridge this summer and whilst plenty of names are being linked with the job, a surprise option appears to be the Fulham boss.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Back in March, his name emerged as a surprise candidate for the position, as reported by the Daily Mail.

Whilst he has no managerial credentials in the Premier League he still has fantastic form as a head coach.

After leading Partizan Belgrade to back-to-back promotions he guided Muangthong United to an undefeated season and the Thai Premier League title.

Short-lived spells at Levski Sofia and Hercules followed before getting Watford promoted to the Premier League in 2015.

Before Fulham lured him back to England, the Serbian had guided Maccabi Tel-Aviv to the Champions League group stage, by knocking out perennial entrants FC Basel.

Jokanovic is rightly a highly rated manager. Chelsea would be making a smart move by bringing him in this summer. Of course, he is also a former player, although there are few highlights of his time at Stamford Bridge.

(28 Oct 2001: Slavisa Jokanovic of Chelsea gets away from Darryl Powell of Derby during the match between Derby County and Chelsea in the FA Barclaycard Premiership at Pride Park, Derby. Mandatory Credit: Mark Thompson/ALLSPORT

Bringing in Jokanovic could also give Chelsea the upper-hand in any fight to sign Sessegnon this summer.

The Blues are just one of many teams to have been linked with the young talent this summer. If Jokanovic was present at Stamford Bridge, they would have a massive advantage in the hunt for the impressive teenager.

Fulham fans would, of course, hate to see their excellent manager and young starlet head to their biggest rivals, but Chelsea would be making a smart move by making it happen.

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Fulham

After inconsistent Fulham season, is there a place for Sheyi Ojo at Liverpool?

The 20-year-old has failed to nail down a starting role at Fulham.

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Photo: Getty Images

Sheyi Ojo joined Fulham on loan from Liverpool back in August amid great fanfare, expecting to build on his bright appearances at Anfield.

However, the 20-year-old has endured a frustrating season in southwest London, struggling to nail down a starting spot and dividing opinion among Fulham supporters.

After failing to set Craven Cottage on fire, it looks like a return to Anfield is highly unlikely next season.

Ojo has made 22 appearances for the Whites this season, but has scored just four goals and produced two assists – disappointing returns for a player who has made eight Premier League appearances for Liverpool.

The England U21 international enjoyed a fine run of form in the latter stages of 2017, scoring all of his four goals in a one month spell from November to December.

The winger’s standout performance came in Fulham’s wild 5-4 win against Sheffield United in November, when he bagged a brilliant brace and chipped in with a wonderful assist for Ryan Sessegnon.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

Unfortunately for the Liverpool loanee, he has struggled to recapture this promising play in recent months. Ojo’s time at Fulham has been characterised by poor decision making, ambitious dribbles, and erratic finishing.

His lack of end product was painfully on show in Ojo’s last appearance for the Whites, against Sheffield Wednesday. Ojo featured prominently in his hour on the pitch, but all of his shots in dangerous positions lacked any purpose or power.

He has not featured for the Whites since being taken off after 62 minutes at Hillsborough.

It seems Ojo has fallen down the pecking order for the coveted right wing position at the Cottage, with Lucas Piazon, Floyd Ayite, Neeskens Kebano, and even wingback Cyrus Christie preferred ahead of the 20-year-old.

With the current Liverpool loanee struggling to assert himself at Craven Cottage, a return to the first team fray at Anfield looks increasingly unlikely.

It seems Sheyi Ojo will have to settle for yet another Championship loan spell next season, as the youngster searches for first team football that is vital for his devlopment.

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Championship

Fulham should try and bring £11m Patrick Roberts back if promoted

Fulham are hoping to push toward Premier League promotion after another brilliant season.

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For the second season in a row, Fulham are having an outstanding campaign under the management of Slavisa Jokanovic. The Serbian is leading them to the Championship play-offs but is also still firmly in the battle for automatic promotion with Cardiff City and Aston Villa.

It would be a fine reward and the culmination of a brilliant season for Fulham if they could indeed secure a place back in the Premier League.

If they did manage to do just that, the Cottagers should start looking at bringing one of their former talents back to the club.

(Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Fulham have developed some great young talent in recent years as Ryan Sessegnon’s form and stature would attest to.

Another player reared at Fulham is winger Patrick Roberts. The 21-year-old emerged as one of the Championship’s top talents in the 2014-15 season. It piqued the interest of several top clubs, including Manchester City. According to The Guardian, he arrived in a deal which could eventually be worth £11 million.

But he has spent most of his time out on loan at Celtic from City. With Manchester City crowned Premier League champions at the weekend, a first-team opportunity looks incredibly unlikely next season.

Celtic are often mentioned as having an interest in signing the player permanently but, as of yet, no deal has been formalised.

(Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Fulham would be wise to try and bring the player back to Craven Cottage. After an initial 18-month stint at Celtic, the Bhoys wanted to sign him permanently last summer, but Pep Guardiola would not allow it. A new loan deal instead was agreed.

This time around it has not been as successful, in part due to injuries, but Fulham would surely tempt Roberts back to his home club if they were in the Premier League.

Whether it be on a loan deal or permanently a return to Fulham would be excellent for the 20-year-old.

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