Despite Goals in Leeds Defeat, Scott Parker Has Problems at Both Ends of the Pitch

Sep 19, 2020, 6:50 PM GMT+1
Aleksandar Mitrovic
Mitrovic bagged himself a brace against Leeds | Pool/Getty Images
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Despite falling to a fairly unconvincing 3-0 defeat to Arsenal on the opening weekend, there were actually some positives to take for Scott Parker.

The Cottagers looked assured on the ball and broke down the Gunners' midfield, but they lacked a real striking presence as Aleksandar Mitrovic was only fit enough to make the bench. Their lack of cutting edge was made perfectly evident by the fact they managed just two shots on target, despite getting into a number of promising positions.

Aleksandar Mitrovic
Mitrovic was on the bench for the opening league game | Clive Rose/Getty Images

That wasn't the case against Leeds on Saturday.

With Mitrovic back in the starting lineup, Fulham had a focal point up top - someone to hold the ball up and work off. The importance of the striker to the way they play cannot be understated, and not just because of his goals.

The Peacocks ran out 4-3 winners in Saturday's gripping encounter, with Mitrovic bagging himself a brace. It was a game that once again magnified all of Fulham's major problem areas, as well as their strengths at this early stage in the 2020/21 season.

The problem area is...well, fairly (very) obvious - the defence. New signings Alphonse Areola and Kenny Tete both enjoyed solid Premier League debuts, but it's at the heart of the defence where the problem lies.

Michael Hector and Denis Odoi were overrun by Patrick Bamford, with Leeds very successfully targeting the back two. Denis Odoi. At centre-back. In the Premier League. In 2020.

It was a game that Fulham could and would have won had they not been so fragile at the back. The harsh reality is Scott Parker must address the centre-back issue before the transfer window slams shut if his side are to have any real chance of retaining their top flight status next term.

At the other end of the field, the defeat to Leeds highlighted the importance of their star man Mitrovic. Despite having very limited service and finding himself isolated for large parts of the game, the striker still grabbed himself a brace on his first start of the season.

Aleksandar Mitrovic
Mitrovic didn't have much service, but still netted twice | Pool/Getty Images

On paper, it would appear as though the system managed to get the best out of Mitrovic and provided him with the chances he needed. In reality though, it was merely a case of the 26-year-old's ruthlessness in front of goal dragging respectability from a performance that may not have earned it.

Parker simply must find a way to involve Mitrovic more, by breaking the lines faster and thinking positively to feed him when he makes a run off the last defender. Far too many times against Leeds, Josh Onomah - who operated as the attacking midfielder - turned sideways and simply played the easy pass instead of using his pace to burst forward and play an incisive ball to get Mitrovic in behind.

The same can be said for Aboubakar Kamara and Ivan Cavaleiro, who operated on the wings. When either player received the ball out wide, their immediate thought should have been to find Mitrovic in the middle - but instead, it was too passive and safe.

Aleksandar Mitrovic
Mitrovic was often left isolated, but still showed his quality | Pool/Getty Images

Tete's cross for Mitrovic's second goal highlighted precisely why Parker must look to address this issue. The right-back simply whipped the ball into a dangerous area, with Mitrovic doing the rest by beating his man and powerfully heading home. Give him an opportunity and he will score.

The introduction of Bobby Decordova-Reid and Neeskens Kebano helped increase the dynamism in attack and unlock Mitrovic - but a more permanent solution must be found.

Mitrovic was the main man when Fulham were last in the Premier League in 2018/19, and this remains the case. His two goals against Leeds paper over the fact that there is a lack of creativity behind him and indeed, a lack of penetration.

Make no mistake, the defence remains an area that must be addressed before the deadline – but Parker must also work with his offensive players in order to bring the best out of their star man. After all, his goals will go a long way to their survival push this season.

For more from Adam Aladay, follow him on Twitter!

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