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Building for the Premier League. Part 2: Defenders

Written by Frankie Taylor on 28th August 2020

© Dara Curran

Frankie Taylor is back for part two in his fantasy transfer series, as he turns his attention to Fulham defenders.

Click here to read part 1 of the series as he takes a look at Fulham’s goalkeeping options.

So, we move onto the defenders. We’ve already discussed goalkeepers that you can read here. And below is a reminder of the squad we’re building everything on top of this summer.

  • Goalkeepers: Marek Rodak, Marcus Bettinelli, Jordan Archer
  • Defenders: Denis Odoi, Cyrus Christie, Steven Sessegnon, Michael Hector, Alfie Mawson, Tim Ream, Maxime Le Marchand, Joe Bryan
  • Midfielders: Harrison Reed, Kevin McDonald, Stefan Johansen, Josh Onomah, Tom Cairney, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa
  • Attackers: Anthony Knockaert, Aboubakar Kamara, Bobby Decordova-Reid, Ivan Cavaleiro, Neeskens Kebano
  • Strikers: Aleksandar Mitrovic

Right-back at the start

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The back four is interesting. Cyrus Christie holds down the right-back berth, with Denis Odoi challenging him, more so than Steven Sessegnon, who saw playing time reduced to just two league starts since October last season thanks in part to injury.

Christie – much maligned by some Fulham supporters – probably offers the most Ryan Fredericks-like attacking presence of the bunch. While it’s unconventional to add a fourth body our pool of right-backs, it’s arguably our weakest position in the entire back four.

Potential RB recruits

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Matty Cash of Nottingham Forest was excellent all last season. A converted winger, Cash created more chances than any other right back in the Championship last term and is in the top three for tackles and interceptions. Cash will likely have other Premier League eyes on him, given his great year as a 22-year-old Englishman with plenty of football under his belt. The leader appears to be Sheffield United at the time of writing, and with the way they set up their wing backs, it tells you everything you need to know about Cash’s energetic and all-action style.

On the more experienced side of English full backs, Nathaniel Clyne has been released by Liverpool, with his last couple of years hampered by injury. He’s a former England international and is still only 29; if you get Clyne fully fit and you could reap the rewards of some quality. During a loan spell at Bournemouth at the backend of 18/19, Clyne had starts in both full-back spots in wins over Chelsea, West Ham and Tottenham. He could absolutely plug the hole while you wait for Steven Sessegnon to develop or search the market for a longer-term solution.

Looking further afield, Fabien Centonze has the statistical profile on top of on-field performances to be of interest. Centonze first caught my eye in Metz’s 3-0 win over Monaco, where he was excellent in ball recovery, but also a constantly available option down the right-hand side. It was then I wanted to look into him. Information is scarce, but Centonze is a member of the 18/19 Ligue 2 Team of the Season, a league that’s been a great source for players at times. His Ligue 2 reputation carried into his debut campaign for Metz with another excellent display against PSG (despite a 2-0 loss). Centonze fits the profile and could be a terrific addition to the squad.

The state of the centre

© Dara Curran

Centre-back is interesting, Michael Hector made an instant impact upon his official arrival in January but after the return, drew memories of Philippe Senderos, showing the potential to make one or two mistakes. However, we saw enough from January to know he’s capable, and the play-off final showed his big-game potential.

His partner so far has exclusively been Tim Ream, who has also shown signs of decline as he approaches 3, and you wonder the security of his position had Terence Kongolo not been injured early on in his loan spell. Alfie Mawson is a mystery. He was possibly a good season away from the England set-up when he joined us, but his inability to stay fit has stalled his career at Craven Cottage before it really started. We still haven’t seen the best of Alfie and I would be intrigued to see a partnership with Michael Hector at the back – though the Premier League may not be the playground to try.

Maxime Le Marchand is another enigma. He played more games in the Premier League for Fulham than in the Championship. I would love a fifth option here – particularly as it’d give us more flexibility to have a three-man defence in our back pocket.

CB options

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I once held slim dreams us signing of Sven Botman, but his arrival at Lille this summer killed that one. John Brooks of Wolfsburg could be a continuation of FulhAmerica as an experienced centre half who has heaps of top-level experience in the Bundesliga. He’s a very good ball player, blessed with the athletic and physical qualities to be a solid Premier League defender. Reports in Germany say Wolfsburg may be open to discussing moves for Brooks with the American previously saying the Premier League is his dream.

As I spit ball a few ideas, what about bringing Chris Smalling back to the Cottage? After a fantastic year at Roma, Manchester United have asked for around £18m, which Roma have seemingly been unwilling to match, though a recent takeover could change things. Whether Smalling (or Vertonghen) would be willing to swap European football and pushing for places around the top of the table for a relegation battle would require a big sell of the project in place at Craven Cottage.

Flying over Germany, Paderborn’s Sebastian Schonlau was impressive despite his team being rubbish and relegated from the Bundesliga. Fulham made a similar transfer with Alfie Mawson last time around so may be wary but Schonlau is an active defender with excellent distribution who would (at the very least) fit in with the style of play at the club.

Closer to home, Tosin Adarabioyo has had an excellent campaign on loan at Blackburn Rovers this season. But at 22, after two loan spells away from Manchester City, and knowing they’ve just splashed £40m on Nathan Ake to partner for Aymeric Laporte while John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Eric Garcia also stand in his way, he might want to find a permanent home. How much Adarabioyo would cost is unknown, but he’s a promising, former England youth international who’s capable of building play from the back as well as being a dominant defensive force.

OK, maybe I’m being too ‘Football Manager’ with that one, so here’s another: Dael Fry is in the last year of his contract at Middlesbrough and the 22-year-old former England youth international has already chalked up 100 Championship appearances after replacing Ben Gibson as Boro’s new academy product in the centre of defence.

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Fry’s passing numbers are damaged by being coached by the less-than-nuanced Jonathan Woodgate and old school Neil Warnock, but he’s a much better ball player than his 6ft 4 frame would suggest. A physical presence, Fry is still developing, but will absolutely play consistent Premier League football in his future. The ‘Berwick Hills Beckenbauer’ would flourish in our style of play and add more bite and a desire to defend alongside Michael Hector. He’d massively benefit as well being around experienced players such as Hector and Ream though may be a longer term project.

At left-back, the good signing of Antonee Robinson from Wigan shores up the area giving Joe Bryan valuable competition with long term potential. I’m really happy with this signing and though unfortunate to be taking advantage of Wigan’s situation, it’s the biggest cheap no-brainer from the Championship since teams could snap up Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland from Birmingham for a total of about £6m.

Well, that’s all for now on the defence. Next up: the midfield…

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