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Championship

What is responsible for Fulham’s slow start to the Championship season?

Jake Jackman

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Fulham

Fulham were billed as one of the favourites for promotion to the Premier League this season after an impressive 2016/17 campaign. The Cottagers were labelled as one of the best teams to watch in the Championship during the second half of last season. Their form in 2017 was excellent as they won 15 of their 26 matches across all competitions heading into the play-offs. This included an eye-catching 3-1 victory against Newcastle United at St James’ Parks.

Although they finished in sixth position, they were the bookmakers’ favourites to win the play-offs, but they were defeated in the semi-final by Reading. It was a bitter pill to swallow at the time as they had a lot of momentum and looked ready to enter the top-flight again. However, the lottery of the play-offs means that they fell short.

It was a difficult failure to bounce back from, but Fulham supporters saw the improvement that the club had made under Slavisa Jokanovic and entered the new season with the hope of another promotion challenge. After 15 matches, they find themselves in the bottom half and are already six points behind the top six. A total of four wins is a huge disappointment and there are questions being asked about the where it has gone wrong for the West London club.

Where has it gone wrong?

In one sense, Fulham have been a victim of their own success, as they lost three key players during the summer. Scott Malone was excellent at left-back and offered a good attacking support, contributing six goals and three assists. His performances earned him a move to the Premier League with Huddersfield Town. Sone Aluko was another that departed during the summer after a long saga. The winger was one of the side’s best attackers, contributing eight goals and ten assists to the team’s play-off assault.

Fulham

Throughout the summer, he was heavily linked with Reading and he eventually made the move to the side that bear Fulham in last season’s play-offs for a fee of £7.5 million. It was difficult for the Cottagers to turn down considering they signed the player on a free transfer 12 months earlier. The third and final big departure was Chris Martin, who returned to Derby County after a loan spell. He was at the centre of controversy during his time at Craven Cottage, but he was a crucial part of the team’s success and they failed to replace him sufficiently.

The biggest problem for Fulham has been the failure to find a striker to lead the line. Aboubakar Kamara and Rui Fonte were signed to strengthen their forward options, but the pair have contributed three goals and one assist between them in 22 matches. This isn’t good enough and their failure to hold up the ball like Martin did last season has reduced the side’s attacking threat.

Jokanovic needs to be more adaptable with his tactics, as his team have become static and predictable to play against this season. The loss of key players has left the current style ineffective, as teams are pressing Fulham high up the pitch and limiting the space on the flanks, which stops the full-backs from being as influential.

Last season, Ryan Fredericks and Ryan Sessegnon averaged a goal involvement every 306.4 minutes. This season, it stands at 517.8 minutes. Fulham are being forced to operate further away from the opposition goal, as they lacked a physical presence up front capable of holding the ball up and bringing others into the game. By the time they reach the final third, the opposition have enough men back to defend the space effectively.

Fulham

Against Bolton Wanderers, they created little in terms of clear-cut chances and were lucky to come away with a point. This is a team that will be fighting relegation and are currently bottom of the division, but they came to Craven Cottage with a game-plan and earned a point from the game. They packed the midfield area and forced Fulham to rely on crosses from deep and hopeful long balls. It was quite a change from the free-flowing football that was consistently played last season.

Supporters will allude to the loss of Tom Cairney through injury for a long period this season and that has been a factor. However, a team challenging for promotion shouldn’t be reliant on one player. Their current position of 16th means that the Scottish international is facing a lot of pressure to immediately come back into the team and make an impact. He scored the equaliser against Bolton, but they need others to step up and support him.

Can they recover their season?

The Championship is a tight league and the beauty of the division is that a few wins can lift you into play-off contention. Despite the failures of the summer’s recruitment, Fulham have a good squad and a manager that is revered as one of the division’s best. It has been a difficult start, but they have lost only four of the 15 matches. If they had turned three of their seven draws into wins, they would be tied on points with Derby County in 6th position.

The next three matches are huge for Fulham and there is no margin for error. They face three of the current top six in Wolves, Derby County and Sheffield United. It is a difficult run of fixtures, but they must approach it with the intention of taking points if they are to move back into promotion contention. The improving fitness level of Tom Cairney will help, but the rest of the team must do more. There will be money to spend in January, but Fulham could find themselves out of contention by that stage if things don’t improve.

Jake is a journalist based in the South East. He is a Newcastle United fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest must consider Arvin Appiah for first-team role next season

The Nottingham Forest youngster looks a genuine talent.

Mathew Coull

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Nottingham Forest face a big season next term under the guidance of Aitor Karanka. The club must improve on what was a forgettable campaign last term. What looks likely is an influx of new faces under the Spaniard, who already made big changes during his first transfer window opportunity in the winter.

One area that needs improving is in the striking department. Forest are likely to look for new options in attack, after a season short of goals – especially under Karanka’s rule.

But whilst the temptation is to go and buy new faces, which they should do, consideration must also be made to whether or not some of the youngsters can come through and make the grade.

One young man who Forest will need to make that decision over is talented winger Arvin Appiah.

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At just 17-years-old the magic wideman has all the attributes to go on and become a regular at first-team level for Forest.

This summer he has been one of the standout performers for England’s under-18s in their run to the semi-finals of the European Under-18 Championships on home soil. He scored a masterful goal against Italy during the competition, before also scoring in England’s unsuccessful penalty shoot-out with the Netherlands in the semi-finals.

Karanka has now told the Nottingham Post that Appiah will need to work hard to get his chance in the first-team next season.

Appiah could certainly offer Forest something different out wide. His blistering pace and trickery is somewhat lacking in the current squad and would be more than welcome by fans at the club. The teenager, who signed his first professional contract with the club in January, could be exactly what they are missing in their often disjointed attack.

Fans will certainly hope that the electric talent does indeed do enough to get a chance at the City Ground next season as he has the attributes to be a future first-team star.

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Leeds United

Leeds United boss Paul Heckingbottom must target Adam Armstrong reunion

The England youth international worked with Leeds United’s boss at Barnsley.

Mathew Coull

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Newcastle United are said to be open to the idea of letting Adam Armstrong leave the club permanently this summer. The Chronicle report that Rafa Benitez has decided the young forward has no long-term future at the club and that a cash departure should be on the cards this summer.

It is a real blow for the attacker, a local lad who has always shown plenty of promise to become a future Newcastle starter. However, it seems he is just not considered good enough to become a starter at St James’ Park.

But his apparent availability will undoubtedly interest a number of clubs. One team that should certainly be keen on his signature is Leeds United.

(Photo credit should read KIM DOO-HO/AFP/Getty Images)

Leeds need to revamp their attacking options for next season, with a lack of a goal scoring striker a major reason behind their failings last term.

Current Leeds boss Paul Heckingbottom is also a fan of the player. He signed Armstrong on loan whilst Barnsley manager. Unfortunately, he struggled for his best form when he was with the Tykes but Heckingbottom often praised his hard work and natural ability.

That is something Armstrong is certainly not short of.

When Armstrong was captaining England’s youth teams and scoring goals for fun plenty of comparisons were being made with Wayne Rooney. Their similar build and playing style certainly led to an easy resemblance.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

The 21-year-old only scored six goals in 35 appearances for Barnsley in 2016-17 but he had previously netted 20 in 40 games for Coventry City. In the second half of this season, he scored nine goals and assisted two for Blackburn Rovers in their promotion push. His form saw Leeds United loanee Marcus Antonsson struggling for game time as Armstrong won the February Player of the Month in League One.

What Armstrong has is bags of pedigree and potential. The England youth international simply needs a chance to play football on a regular basis under a manager who believes in him. At Leeds, the 21-year-old would have exactly that.

His signature makes perfect sense for everyone involved.

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Leeds United

Felix Wiedwald’s misery compounded as his Werder Bremen replacement thrives

Whilst the German has flopped at Leeds United, Jiri Pavlenka has been a revelation.

Mathew Coull

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Last summer Leeds United decided they needed a new goalkeeper. In the end, they snapped up German goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald from Werder Bremen in a deal reported to be worth around £500,000 by the Yorkshire Evening Post.

In fairness, at the time it looked like an absolute bargain. The German had been in impressive form at the Weserstadion the season previous. Popular with the fans at the club, his departure was not welcomed by the supporters at the Bundesliga club.

(Photo credit should read JOERG SARBACH/AFP/Getty Images)

Wiedwald has not created a similar bond with the Leeds supporters. The German has put in a string of poor performances throughout the campaign. Eventually, he found himself dropped. First, it was Andy Lonergan who came in. When the veteran was not up to the task Wiedwald got another go. Again, he was poor, and academy ‘keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell took over with aplomb.

The 28-year-old is now expected to move on in the summer, with a return to Germany likely to be on the cards.

However, it is unlikely he will be returning to Werder Bremen.

To compound the misery for Wiedwald, not many fans at his former club are missing him. The club snapped up Czech goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka from Slavia Prague to take his place last summer. He has since gone on to be a revelation in between the sticks for the club.

Fussball Transfers heralded him as the best goalkeeper signing in the Bundesliga last season and the Bundesliga official website has declared him the natural successor to Petr Cech for his country. The man dubbed the ‘gloved guardian angel’ by the German press has been a revelation. For many, he has been the best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga this season with his YouTube highlight reel a thing of beauty.

(Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Wiedwald meanwhile has his own YouTube tribute from Leeds fans, which dubs him ‘the worst professional goalkeeper in the world.’

It has been whirlwind 12 months for Wiedwald, who has gone from fan favourite at his former club to forgotten man amongst his old and new fans.

The Leeds United flop needs the right move this summer in order to get his career back on track.

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