Fan View: 'Ranieri has Fulham back on the right track'

30th Dec 2018

There is no doubt that things are looking a little more rosy at Craven Cottage than they were after defeat to Liverpool in mid-November. That game proved to be Slaviša Jokanović’s last in charge of the Whites.

The appointment of Claudio Ranieri has certainly brought about a change in style, namely one that prioritises defending in numbers and happily foregoes possession before (in theory) lightning-quick counter-attacks.

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This was exemplified in the Italian’s opening game in charge against Southampton, where we rode our luck but ultimately came up trumps thanks to three well-worked goals.

A battling display at Chelsea and a richly-deserved point against Leicester suggested that the team had turned a corner before dispiriting losses to Manchester United and West Ham United injected yet more realism into a campaign that has - for the most part - been desperately disappointing.

The last three games have, however, showed that while we have been far from scintillating going forward, we are becoming more solid defensively. This is a welcome change from a few months ago, where letting in fewer than two goals a game seemed like a fantasy.

Nevertheless, the team could have showed a bit more initiative going forward, particularly during the game against Huddersfield.

We certainly didn’t have the lion’s share of the chances against the division’s lowest scorers and lacked the ambition and drive to trouble a rearguard that had leaked three goals in each of their last two encounters.

More ambition

Ranieri’s tactical adjustments have reaped some rewards, but more intensity from the outset against the league’s more suspect defences would see us climb the table more rapidly.

Our latest win was obviously vital, but it only came about after we ramped up our intensity following an insipid first 45 minutes.

While sizeable sections of the Fulham faithful have lamented Tom Cairney’s workrate and leadership as a captain in the last couple of outings, the 27-year-old looked far more at home in the middle of the park during the second period against the Terriers than he did stationed out on the right wing.

That being said, he can often take too long releasing the ball at Premier League level, taking four or five touches before laying it off when two would suffice.

Given Ranieri’s preference for relentlessly energetic and athletic central midfielders during his memorable spell at Leicester, it remains to be seen whether the scorer of the club’s only ever goal at Wembley will be in the manager’s plans for the long haul.

Chambers revival

One thing Ranieri can thank his predecessor for is the decision to play Calum Chambers on that ill-fated day at Anfield.

The 23-year-old had until that point produced several shaky performances at centre-back and was torn to shreds by Josh Murphy three weeks earlier.

However, the Arsenal loanee’s ability to break up play, drive forward and look for a positive pass in this new role has solved one conundrum that had left the coaching staff and fans alike scratching their heads.

What seemed like a last throw of the dice turned out to be an inspired move.

Since late September, Aleksandar Mitrović has largely struggled for goals – a problem not helped by the lack of service to the Serbian frontman.

However, he has continued to battle manfully and can often occupy three defenders at once, such is his physical presence.

His tireless workrate, appreciation of space and clinical finishing all came together against Huddersfield as he timed his run to perfection to evade Mathias Jorgensen, remaining onside to sweep home Ryan Sessegnon’s pinpoint through ball following a stoppage-time breakaway.

January business

The 24-year-old has shouldered the goalscoring burden admirably this term, but Ranieri must surely be on the look out for another marksman ahead of the upcoming transfer window.

Recruiting another few central midfielders is also a must, as there is no quality cover for Chambers, Cairney or Jean Michaël Seri, who was jeered off following his substitution against David Wagner’s men.

This season is purely about survival, by hook or by crook. Aesthetics went out the window a long time ago.

We are getting closer to catching a glimpse of the promised land of 17th place, but to ensure we achieve that goal, reinforcements are needed. The fight is well and truly on.

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