Building for the Premier League. Part 4: Attackers

Frankie Taylor 30th August 2020
© Dara Curran

Frankie Taylor ponders who could bolster our attacking options, as he wraps up his series.

If you missed the earlier parts, here’s the links for his lowdown of Fulham’s goalkeepers, defenders and midfielders.

It’s onto the attack now, where we’ve grouped the wide players and striker positions. We’ve already discussed goalkeepers, defenders and midfielders. 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

Our current arsenal

In attack, things get much more interesting. Anthony Knockaert has disappointed all year, but his loan was made permanent and we’ll see him next season. Ivan Cavaleiro has been virtually invisible in 2020 after a strong opening, aided by several worldies. Bobby Decordova-Reid has been similarly quiet in 2020 with just two goals, but of late it seems Scott Parker has placed him in a number 10 role rather than out wide or as part of a traditional midfield trio.

Aboubakar Kamara was just getting cooking prior to lockdown and had forced his way back into the starting eleven against Bristol City,but injury saw him play just eight minutes of the regular season post-lockdwon, though Scott Parker has managed to get his best goal contribution since his first season at the club (where without Mitro – he and Rui Fonte shared the centre forward spot) and Kamara was fit and ready to go when it mattered most. In terms of numbers, one more would be ideal if you’re confident in Sylvester Jasper being your sixth option in case of a bad injury period. I’ll name a few options, but I’m undecided whether one or two would be best practice in our case.

Invest in potential?

We’ve been linked with both Bright Osayi-Samuel and Alfie Doughty who, though different in style, both have lightning pace. An important critique of Fulham at times is the inability or lack of desire to break quickly and turn defence to attack, but the presence of an old school winger would be welcome, especially in tighter matches. Doughty is more a traditional winger focusing in going down the line and delivering, and has the versatility to drop into left-back, whereas Osayi-Samuel is a stunning dribbler and contributed more goals (five goals and eight assists), which would place him level with Ivan Cavaleiro at Fulham.

Both players are projects that would require some development and greater consistency, but would offer something different and another dimension. Whether both could immediately contribute in the Premier League is doubtful.

Squad players or shining stars?

Ricardo Horta of Braga would fit what the club generally tries to do. Adept on the left and floating in on his stronger right foot, Horta fits the mould of a new age wide player: essentially fitting in another attacking midfielder, much like Bernardo Silva. Horta scored against Porto as recently as July and also bagged in the reverse fixture. Of his total 12 goals and five assists in the league this season, he’s also scored against Sporting Lisbon and Rio Ave, while Braga’s Europa League exploits saw him notch against Wolves and Besiktas, and bag three across two matches against Spartak Moscow.

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Though after the Rui Fonte and Rafa Soares experiments, there might be scepticism about the Portuguese markets, so let’s look a little closer to home. Fulham allegedly attempted to move for Jota in January. With Villa remaining in the Premier League, they will look to strengthen to establish themselves for more than just two seasons leaving Jota – already a fringe player – as a good target, though we may be looking for more quality than just the same level to create depth.

Ryan Fraser is a free agent. He’s somewhat controversial for how he left Bournemouth; he refused to extend his contract to cover the longer Premier League period with the club facing relegation, but that was his right. Fraser is an electric player, so exciting he gets you off your seat and capable of winning a game with a quality run with the ball and excellent delivery.

He is stylistically what we wished Kerim Frei would’ve become. It was only 18/19 when Ryan Fraser directly contributed to 21 goals (seven goals, 14 assists) in 35 starts and at 26, the Scotsman is entering his prime years. Crystal Palace currently lead the race, having offered him a contract. But that isn’t as scary a negotiation battle as it once looked now we’re up. Scotland agents Tom Cairney, Kevin McDonald and Jordan Archer, alongside former Bournemouth player Harry Arter, need to get on the blower and convince him to come to the other side of the river.

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Uncover a diamond

I initially wrote a large chunk of these pieces prior to the play off final – now the confirmation of a bigger potential budget makes this much more fun. Mounir Chouiar is the kind of fun target you can have when money means less. The 21-year-old Frenchman from Dijon is proper mustard. Though many will be wary of an unknown player arriving from France, it takes one look at Chouiar’s direct dribbling to get excited. While not as explosive as Newcastle Allan Saint-Maximin, Chouiar has a similar playing style and was set to have a stunning end to the season before coronavirus saw Ligue 1 completely called off. We already have a strong French contingent, all probably playing their best stuff at the club under Scott Parker which should benefit Mounir Chouiar if he was to arrive.

The Mitro issue

Up top is of course Aleksandar Mitrovic. This is where the business of attackers gets interestin. Should we add another winger or two, you do get the freedom to more openly place Aboubakar Kamara as your number two striker, which changes the ‘depth chart’, but having another out-and-out forward is vital, especially seeing as we found goals from elsewhere hard to come by last year (Mitrovic’s goals accounted for 38% of our total – the Championship’s highest).

Should we have stayed in the Championship, I would have proposed a striker more ‘happy’ to be the number 2 (names that came to mind would be Borja Baston and Ante Budimir) but in the Premier League, it would be valuable to have a second reliable forward who can give you the flexibility to go two up top or rotate with Mitrovic either as a sub or in a whoever is playing best starts situation. Fulham with Mitro are in somewhat of a Tottenham and Harry Kane situation, the striker you bring in knows it’s going to be tough to start but most strikers will want to play games, get opportunities and score goals.

Michy Batshuayi could be an intriguing option, though it feels like a lifetime since he scored seven in a nine-game loan spell at Borussia Dortmund, let alone his 17-goal season for Marseille. Chelsea will be open to a deal to help fund further transfer business to support Frank Lampard, but the Blues are allegedly offering a ‘cut price’ deal at £20m. That’s a no from me at that price, but circa £15m, I think it’d be worthwhile.

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It gives Fulham the joy of a good striker, hungry to play games and score goals while Scott Parker gets an alternative option to have some tactical flexibility and change the way we play if need be. The Belgian forward is a pretty well rounded, modern-day forward. He has the athleticism to challenge defences in behind, and enough strength and back-to-goal play to hold up the ball and get involved in build-up play. There’s much room for improvement, but the gaps in his game will be less noticeable in any situation he was to partner Mitrovic up top (I say as if it’s a done deal). He also ticks both boxes in terms of scoring with his head and either foot.

We’re reported to have cast our eyes towards Mitrovic’s Golden Boot rival from this past season, Ollie Watkins. Rumours that an £18m release clause is active with Brentford missing out on promotion makes this particularly interesting. The young Englishman playing his first full season after being converted from the flank was in excellent form alongside Said Benrahma and Bryan Mbuemo, but Watkins’s experience playing wide saw him capable of picking up positions covering the entire width of the pitch as well as becoming a clinical finisher.

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We’ve been linked with Karlan Grant of Huddersfield this season, who has split his time this season between wide left and down the middle so to get as many as 19 goals is impressive through six of which were from the spot. Staying in the lower leagues, Peterborough’s Ivan Toney could tempt, the former Newcastle forward scored 24 in League One in just 32 matches and chipped in an extra five assists. Peterborough aren’t fun to do business with and I’m sure they’ll quote a price eye-watering for a player yet to really play above League One.

Looking a little further afield, Josh Maja, who left Fulham for Sunderland as a youngster is now at Bordeaux. The London-born Nigerian has goals against St Etienne, Reims and Montpellier, plus a hat-trick against Nimes in an impressive first full season in France. Maja may relish the opportunity to return to familiar turf in a Fulham team that is looking for an extended stay in the Premier League. A longer term project, sure, but Josh Maja is a natural goal scorer at least capable of chipping in here and there.

Well that’s it for the attackers. A lot of time and hours of my personal time went into this, so I hope you enjoyed it. I wonder if any will come off in real life!