Premier League: Can Fulham succeed in the top flight under Marco Silva?
Up, down, up, down, up… will 2022-23 be the season Fulham finally avoid the drop and achieve Premier League survival?
The Cottagers beat Preston North End 3-0 at Craven Cottage on Tuesday to complete one of the most foregone conclusions of the campaign and cement their return to England’s top flight.
But they have been here before. Twice in the past five seasons. And both times have been followed by swift, chastening relegations back to the Championship, only to once again come back up at the first time of asking.
Marco Silva’s team have cut through the league with ruthless efficiency – led by the unstoppable Aleksandar Mitrovic with a record-breaking 40 league goals (and counting). The Cottagers have swept away almost all before them this season.
Yet Mitrovic and his team-mates have faltered when faced with the Premier League’s more clinical finishers, tougher defences and all-round higher intensity.
So what is different about Silva’s team and do they have what it takes to finally break the relegation curse?
‘Brighton would rip them apart’
Paul Parker, who played for the club from 1982 to 1987 before returning for a brief spell 10 years later, feels plenty will have to change if they want to avoid the drop.
“Fulham need to alter how they want to play, they play with a very slow tempo,” he said.
“They would get ripped apart by a team like Brighton, they press and move it very quickly through the midfield – Fulham have got a long way to go.
“They’re going to need to incorporate at least four players into the starting 11, I’d say.”
The runaway league leaders have won 26 of their 42 games, with a Championship title now looking inevitable with four fixtures remaining and only Bournemouth able to catch them.
Serbia striker Mitrovic’s jaw-dropping return – smashing Ivan Toney’s record of 31 goals in a single Championship season – has epitomised the front-footed intent of Silva’s team.
Mitrovic’s 82 goals in 122 Championship matches are in stark contrast to his 24 in 104 Premier League games for Newcastle and Fulham.
Parker believes Silva will need to add genuine quality to the side to get the best out of his star striker, with forward Fabio Carvalho looking destined to leave the club in the summer and impressive right-back Neco Williams’ loan from Liverpool set to end.
“They need players who have played at a high level of football, in the Premier League or a top league abroad,” said the former Manchester United right-back.
“Mitrovic needs a better calibre of player around him. When he’s played in the Premier League [for Fulham] he’s been in poor teams.”
Parker believes Silva could take inspiration from Bruno Lage and Nuno Espirito Santo before him at Wolves, who have recruited players such as Ruben Neves, Raul Jimenez, Rui Patricio and Pedro Neto from clubs in Portugal.
“It’s a physical league and so the players can deal with the physicality here,” he added.
‘They need support for Mitrovic’
BBC Radio London’s Jamie Reid believes Fulham could make it “third time lucky” and stay up if they add the right reinforcements next season.
“They’ve got to try to strengthen in and around both penalty boxes,” the Fulham commentator said.
“They need support for Mitrovic in the final third. He’s had a wonderful season and next season is going to be harder.
“They also need to replace Fabio Carvalho, he’s had a brilliant season too, it’s a shame he’s going to be leaving the club but Tony Khan and his recruitment team are already working on replacement options.
“They need to strengthen defensively. Neco Williams has been tremendous at right-back.
“To sign Neco on a permanent basis would be the aim and I feel the team would benefit from at least one other central defender as you need strong competition in the Premier League.
“They also need a striker and a goalscoring midfielder. They need players to be brought in to further strengthen what is a talented and motivated group.”
Before leaving when Fulham were relegated at the end of last season, former boss Scott Parker said the club “need to try to get off this rollercoaster we’re on”.
Here are some of the twists and turns of that crazy journey.
2017-18 – Promotion via the play-offs
Fulham banished the heartache of losing in the play-off semi-finals to eventual runners-up Reading in the 2016-17 season to bounce back and go all the way the following year.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s expansive team finished two points behind second-placed Cardiff in third – and their 79 goals were only bettered by league winners Wolves, who scored 82.
Starlet Ryan Sessegnon, 17 at the time, hit 15 goals on the way to promotion, with captain Tom Cairney scoring before the Cottagers had Denis Odoi sent off on the way to beating Dean Smith’s Aston Villa at Wembley.
2018-19 – Three managers and a relegation
Jokanovic’s time as Fulham manager came to an end in November 2018, with his side bottom of the Premier League after 12 games and without a win in nine.
Relegation was confirmed in a 4-1 hammering at Watford, with five games still to play.
Victory in their final three games ensured they ended the season on a more respectable 26 points in 19th place, with only Huddersfield below them.
2019-20 – Bouncing back in Parker’s first full season
Despite losing his first five games in temporary charge, Parker was given the permanent role and steered the club to a fourth-placed finish in the Championship, setting up a play-off semi-final against Cardiff.
The Cottagers progressed despite losing 2-1 at home, beating the Bluebirds 2-0 in the second leg with goals from Josh Onomah and Neeskens Kebano, setting up an all-west London final against Brentford at Wembley.
The final pitted the Championship’s two top scorers against each other – Mitrovic and Ollie Watkins, who finished the season with 26 goals each.
A tense game finished goalless before two extra-time goals from Joe Bryan sealed victory for Fulham.
2020-21 – Parker leaves after another tough top-tier season
Five wins, 27 goals for, 53 against and a total of 28 points – two more than they had accrued in their previous top-flight season – made for grim reading as the Cottagers were relegated with three games to spare.
Bobby Decordova-Reid was the club’s top scorer with five goals as Mitrovic managed just three in the league, with the Serbian claiming the club “did not deserve to stay up” in a damning assessment of the season.
Parker opted to leave the club for Championship rivals Bournemouth, with former Watford and Everton manager Silva taking over.
2021-22 – Blowing away the opposition in record-breaking season
In their 42 games, they have so far recorded 26 wins and 98 goals.
Fulham have simply blown away the competition as they have stormed to the top of the league and promotion with four games to spare.
The free-scoring team have hit five or more goals on six occasions, including 7-0 wins at Blackburn and Reading. They became the first English team in 88 years to score six or more goals in three consecutive games, with 6-2 wins against Bristol City and Birmingham following the 7-0 hammering of the Royals, to give them a staggering 19-goal haul.
Silva will now be tasked with achieving something Jokanovic, Ranieri and Parker could not – Premier League survival.