Opening Day Defeat a Timely Reminder That Fulham Must Address Problem Areas

Scott Parker
Scott Parker must address his problem areas before the window closes | Clive Rose/Getty Images

After Fulham secured promotion back to the Premier League via the play-offs, manager Scot Parker insisted that his side must learn from the mistakes made during their last campaign in England's top flight.

After all, they didn't exactly enjoy the best of times in 2018/19, did they?

One of the main lessons that needed to be learned was a rather basic one: buying a completely new squad isn't always the best way to go. Sure, forking out over £100m on needless signings may have been fantastic entertainment for the fans, but there was a distinct lack of cohesion and unity within the squad.

Scott Parker
Parker has insisted that Fulham must learn from their mistakes | Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

But now it's different.

The west London club have made shrewd investments so far such as Antonee Robinson (permanent), Ola Aina (loan), Alphonse Areola (loan) and Mario Lemina (loan), while Harrison Reed - who was a key figure in their promotion push - saw his loan move made permanent. No longer are Fulham seemingly set on spending for the sake of spending, but rather targeting specific players who will improve the squad without disrupting the harmony.

This is all very well and good, but the problem is they are yet to actually strengthen in three of the most problematic positions: centre-back, on the wing and up front.

Yes, there is still time before the summer window slams shut, but the glaring weaknesses and problem areas were brutally exposed by Arsenal on the opening day. The 3-0 defeat acted as a reminder of the need for these areas to be addressed - and fast.

Tim Ream is a leader within the Fulham dressing room, but his performance against the Gunners showed why he simply cannot be the main defensive figure at the back this season. The likes of Willian, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang targeted the centre-back throughout the game, constantly putting pressure on him and forcing mistakes.

The Cottagers are in need of a leader at the back, someone to take control and marshal the backline with Michael Hector. Aina is versatile, but he isn't a centre-back - the same can be said of Kenny Tete.

Barcelona's Gerard Pique has been linked....which is ridiculous. But the truth is, Fulham are in desperate need of a Pique-type defender (just y'know, not quite as good) - a leader who is comfortable doing both sides of the game and is a proven winner. The addition of a player such as Eintracht Frankfurt's Martin Hinteregger - who has been linked with a move this summer - would fit the mould perfectly.

Parker's men were carved open time and time again by Arsenal, and had it not been for Hector's countless goal-line clearances, it could have been five of six.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Michael Hector
Hector put in a number of crucial challenges against Arsenal | Pool/Getty Images

Elsewhere, reinforcements in attack are required if they are to have any hope of competing in the top division - this was made abundantly clear against the Gunners. Ivan Cavaleiro and Neeskens Kebano failed to show any real quality to unlock the opponent's defence and supply Aboubakar Kamara. And on the rare occasions they were gifted an opportunity to get in behind, they were unable to provide the adequate final pass.

The problems run much deeper, however, as there are a distinct lack of options in this area. Perhaps Sporting CP winger Jovane Cabral could be just the winger Fulham need, with his pace, dribbling ability and direct style. Bertrand Traore or Harry Wilson could also be good options. But this inability to expose defensive weaknesses in wide areas will cost the Cottagers if it isn't addressed this summer.

But equally, while Kamara worked hard up front, he simply isn't the answer to Fulham's striking problems.

There was far too much of a reliance on Aleksandar Mitrovic's goals in 2018/19 - and this remains the case to this day. What about when he picks up an injury or is in need of a rest? Quality backup strikers are essential for squad depth, but Kamara - who managed all of four goals last season in the league - cannot be counted on as that man.

Aleksandar Mitrovic
There's too much of a reliance on Mitrovic | Clive Rose/Getty Images

There was interest in Ollie Watkins before he joined Aston Villa and the same with Callum Wilson before he joined Newcastle - a new target must now be identified and brought in before the deadline.

Arsenal's defence was there for the taking had Fulham moved the ball quicker in attack, particularly when Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles pushed high up the field. Had either Kebano or Cavaleiro attacked the space and drove in behind, there would have been far greater opportunities to test Bernd Leno in the Arsenal goal. Instead, there was no movement and a lack of awareness of the space.

Parker will be counting on Mitrovic to show his class throughout this Premier League season, but the responsibility cannot solely fall on one attacking player. Look how it turned out in 2018/19.

Fulham have taken on some learnings from 2018/19 with regards to signings, and the smart purchases of Robinson, Tete and Reed among others proves just that. But they must break their newly-implemented rules by doing what it takes to make the appropriate signings in the areas needed most.

If they don't, fans can expect many more results like the one against Arsenal over the course of the 2020/21 season.

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