Transfer Deadline Day is always a frantic day, with rumours abound about what talent a club will be able to bring in at the final hour. Big names are always thrown around on the final day of the window, with this year’s crop ranging from Fernando Forestieri to Dwight Gayle.
Instead, Fulham acquired two replacements for the now departed Sone Aluko: Jordan Graham and Yohan Mollo from Wolves and Zenit St Petersburg respectively. I decided to investigate whether Fulham’s latest two imports would be able to fill Sone Aluko’s void after he transferred to Reading.
Jordan Graham has been a rumoured Fulham target for over a year now. Making his way up through the youth ranks at Aston Villa, Graham moved to Wolves initially on loan from the Villans where he failed to make an appearance but was signed for an undisclosed fee in the summer of 2015 regardless. He featured about nine times in the 2015/16 season before suffering a horrible cruciate ligament injury that he only returned from in May of this year.
On basic evaluation of Graham, he’s played very little, largely down to the ACL injury. However, when he has featured, Graham has created plenty of opportunities for his teammates. In the 900+ minutes that he played in 2015, he averaged a whopping 0.49 assists per 90, ranking in the top five percentile of assists created by players… in the entire world.
Even after his return from injury last year, Graham still managed to provide an assist for Wolves’ final goal of the campaign with an in-swinging delivery on a corner for Danny Batth to head home.
The mere sight of competency at corners should win Graham (if he features) the corner job and would finally relieve Stefan Johansen of a duty that he just hasn’t been up to.
Admittedly, Fulham lack height at corners, so it may still be too early for us to expect us to become the West Brom of the Championship, but merely putting in good deliveries into a dangerous area is the least Slavisa Jokanovic and us fans can ask for, when we decide to not play it short.
Gazing at Graham’s 15/16 radar, the winger backs up these gaudy assists numbers with a lofty 2.65 key passes per 90, a figure very similar to our own Tom Cairney. Admittedly, this goes both ways: Cairney has the centre of the park to operate from while Graham has just the wings, but Graham has the smaller sample size on his side. Regardless, they’re both impressive figures and a testament to how good Graham was pre-ACL injury.
Graham’s work rate should lend himself very much to Slavisa Jokanovic’s system as well. Averaging over 2.5 defensive actions (Ints + Tackles), he performed far better in this regard than Aluko did, although we all know that Aluko’s positional play when the opposition had the ball was second to none and whether Graham can replicate this remains to be seen.
Worrying, however, is the dispossessed numbers: they rank in the bottom five percentile of attackers in the world. Compared to the now departed Sone Aluko, Graham lost the ball far more frequently than the Reading-bound Nigerian while also providing less successful dribbles. This is an area that you would imagine Graham and the coaching staff will focus improving on the training ground.
Graham’s shooting numbers are also disappointing. While he took very few for a winger, he wasn’t particularly good at them either, putting up a very Sone Aluko-esque 23.5% shooting percentage. However, it should also be noted that Kenny Jackett’s final season at Wolves was very limited offensively: they averaged the third fewest shots and shots on target in the league that season.
Fulham repeated their annual tradition of signing a player out of absolutely nowhere on the final day of the transfer window in Yohan Mollo this summer. Previous recipients of this prestigious award include Lucas Piazon (Yay!) and Elsad Zverotic (Ugh), so allow me to congratulate Yohan on this feat and advise him that he follow in the path of our favourite Brazilian rather than Elsad “Fired halfway through the season” Zverotic.
To start, Mollo barely featured for Zenit under legendary Shakhtar Donetsk manager Mircea Lucescu. He was signed for squad depth on a free transfer in the January window after performing extremely well in Krylia Sovetov’s counter-attacking system… but barely played over 100 minutes for Zenit. Lucescu was sacked and Roberto Mancini was quickly ushered in and we all know about Roberto’s lovely man management skills (See: Tevez, Carlos).
As someone who’s probably watched too much of the Russian League (RPL), my initial reaction to Mollo’s signing was one of intrigue. Mollo was an absolute machine creatively for Sovetov, albeit in a system that didn’t exactly favour possession (Sovetov averaged 48.5% possession) and in a league that is nowhere near as physical as the Championship.
Indeed, many of the “suggestions” that I heard involved the concept that the RPL was losing a very gifted player in Mollo, and how almost every team in Russia could’ve used a quick and pacey winger like him.
There are a few issues here. Firstly, the time and space that Mollo is afforded to simply cut across two players before holding a challenge from the now-departed Axel Witsel just doesn’t exist in the Championship, especially in the middle of the park.
Secondly, given Fulham’s style of play under Jokanovic, there is no way in hell that Mollo would also be allowed to pick a pass that easily and under so little pressure after dribbling into the centre of the pitch.
What shouldn’t be discounted though is Mollo’s sheer physicality to shrug off Witsel’s tackle and it’ll be intriguing to see whether he can repeat such feats against similarly physical players in the Championship.
Given Mollo’s lack of playing time at Zenit, I chose to to use the data from his time at Sovetov last season. Like Jordan Graham, Mollo’s creative numbers in terms of key passes and assists are impressive. What separates Mollo from Graham and Aluko is the shooting numbers: he averaged a 50% shot on target ratio last season, despite a vast majority of his shots coming from outside of the 18-yard box.
Of course, there could be a variety of factors for this, the most likely of which may be the lack of pressure applied by defences to long shots in the Russian League. Or I could be totally wrong and Mollo might just be an all-time great at long range shooting, although the Gambler’s Fallacy would strongly disagree with this.
Like Graham, however, his dispossessed numbers are concerning, losing the ball roughly 3.5 times per 90. This doesn’t exactly bode well for Mollo given the Championship’s physicality and he could find it difficult to adapt initially if he were to immediately be thrown into the fray.
Furthermore, Mollo’s defensive actions in the RPL ranked very low for a winger and given the defensive demands of wingers in Slavisa Jokanovic’s system, we shall see if he is up to the task of putting in the type of shift that likes of Aluko were able to consistently put in on a game-by-game basis.
Fulham have acquired two interesting options in Mollo and Graham and they will no doubt provide further competition for the three forward spots, although I do feel that Rui Fonte has locked down the striker spot until further notice.
After Sheyi Ojo’s redeeming performance against Ipswich Town, I personally feel that the on-loan Liverpool winger is the current favourite to hold down the right wing position, for now.
However, I could envisage Mollo, whose attacking strengths are clear to see, starting in games against relegation contenders where defensive work rate is not necessarily needed as much, like the Rotherham games from last year.
What I believe is clear to see however, is that that our winger corps are, together, more than capable of filling the void left by the departure of Sone Aluko and with these two latest additions, Fulham are in an ex ellent position in terms of depth and quality in the wide-men roles.