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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Get Alexandar Mitrovic scoring again and other ways Claudio Ranieri can save Fulham from Premier League relegation

London club should also benefit from newly-installed manager pushing Ryan Sessegnon forward and integrating signings

Claudio Ranieri has many challenges to confront now that he is manager at Fulham. AP Photo
Claudio Ranieri has many challenges to confront now that he is manager at Fulham. AP Photo

Having taken Leicester City to the top of the Premier League, Claudio Ranieri has inherited a Fulham side at its foot.

The manager who orchestrated the most improbable title of all is now charged with avoiding the most expensive relegation ever. But, as his reign begins in earnest against Southampton on Saturday, there is plenty on his to-do list.

Find a settled side

Ranieri dubbed himself “the Tinkerman” in his Chelsea days.

His predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic was more deserving of that nickname this season. The dismissed Serb never even named the same defence, let alone an unchanged team.

Indeed, Fulham have seemed in an unofficial competition with themselves to see if they can concede more goals than they have made changes to the starting 11. In contrast, Ranieri once named the same side for eight consecutive games at Leicester.

Stability is required now.

Claudio Ranieri should build Fulham's defence around Alfie Mawson, left. AP Photo
Claudio Ranieri should build Fulham's defence around Alfie Mawson, left. AP Photo

Keep clean sheets

“I’m an Italian manager,” Ranieri said at his unveiling. “For us Italians, it’s important to keep clean sheets.”

Fulham have none in the league this season. Indeed, in all bar two games, they have conceded at least twice.

Jokanovic used three goalkeepers and a priority must be to stick with one. Jokanovic tried three- and four-man defences.

Ranieri’s history suggests he will probably prefer a back four. Fulham signed five defenders in the summer, which is one reason why there has been so little understanding among strangers.

If Alfie Mawson is the best of an undistinguished bunch, Ranieri, who joked about rewarding his side for clean sheets with fast food from McDonald’s, should build around him.

The place for Fulham's Ryan Sessegnon is left wing, not left-back. Reuters
The place for Fulham's Ryan Sessegnon is left wing, not left-back. Reuters

Shift Sessegnon forward

Ryan Sessegnon was named the best player in the Championship last season after scoring 16 goals. Nearly all came from the left wing, but the 18 year old has spent much of this season at left-back.

It is a consequence in part of Fulham’s failure to buy Matt Targett, who excelled on loan at last season, though Joe Bryan and Maxime le Marchand have come in, but it has taken away from Sessegnon’s strengths.

If one issue for Fulham is that they are weaker in both full-back positions than last season – the right-back Ryan Fredericks left for West Ham United – Ranieri should revisit his Leicester days again. Then he transformed their goals-against record by dropping Ritchie de Laet and Jeff Schlupp for more defensively solid full-backs, in Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs.

The place for Sessegnon is further forward.

If Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, in white, can make the defensive contribution he did for Marseille, he could anchor a trio with Jean Michael Seri and Tom Cairney. Reuters
If Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, in white, can make the defensive contribution he did for Marseille, he could anchor a trio with Jean Michael Seri and Tom Cairney. Reuters

Integrate signings

Fulham made 12 signings in the summer which, even if some were necessitated by losing Fredericks and Targett, is too many.

It is understandable there has been a lack of cohesion and chemistry as well as a seeming disconnect between new and old, yet Fulham need more to show for their £100 million (Dh469.5m) spending spree.

Jean Michael Seri began well but has only started one of the last three players; a passer of his class should be crucial. The £30m Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa has been a major disappointment, to the extent that Jokanovic put defender Calum Chambers alongside him in the midfield at Anfield.

If Anguissa can make the defensive contribution he did for Marseille, he could anchor a trio with Seri and captain Tom Cairney.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, centre, can still offer plenty of menace up front for Fulham. AP Photo
Aleksandar Mitrovic, centre, can still offer plenty of menace up front for Fulham. AP Photo

Get Mitrovic scoring again

Ranieri was quick to identify Aleksandar Mitrovic as a key man. “A fantastic player,” the Italian said.

But Mitrovic has had a season of two halves: five goals in his first six games, none in the last six. Fulham have now gone 416 minutes without a goal in all competitions.

Bench the disappointing Luciano Vietto, though, and a potential front three of Sessegnon, Mitrovic and Andre Schurrle could offer plenty of menace.