Sean Guest ponders how Wilson’s stellar season will translate to the top flight as the Whites rely on the Welshman to help secure survival.
While Aleksandar Mitrović’s 43-goal campaign is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Fulham’s Championship-winning season, it’s important not to overlook the contribution of Harry Wilson.
The Welshman joined Mitro, Tosin Adarabioyo and Antonee Robinson in the Championship team of the season at the EFL Awards recently thanks in no small part to his 10 goals and 19 assists this term. And rightly so. The 25-year-old had a stellar season; one that we’d all probably be talking about a lot more if it weren’t for Mitrović’s otherworldly effort.
Like Mitro, Wilson will be crucial to Fulham’s survival bid in the Premier League next season. So let’s take a look at what made him so effective this season and how that might translate to the top flight.
A proven scorer
When Fulham signed Wilson from Liverpool back in the summer they undoubtedly had one eye on the future. At just 24, the winger had plenty of Championship experience, but he had, of course, also played in the Premier League, scoring seven goals in 31 appearances for Bournemouth in 2019/20.
Bournemouth were relegated that season, but Wilson was one of their key players. Despite making just 20 starts, he led the team in goals per 90 minutes (0.38) and finished third – behind Callum Wilson (10) and Josh King (6.6) – in xG (with 4.5). What’s more, he was the only one of the three to actually outperform his xG, finishing with a goals minus expected goals of +2.5.
Even though he made considerably fewer starts than the bulk of his teammates, Wilson also led Bournemouth in shots taken (64), had the second most shots on target (22) and the fourth highest average distance, in yards, from goal of all shots taken (19.8) amongst players who made 10 starts or more. His willingness to shoot and ability to do so from distance, coupled with the threat he poses from set pieces, will be huge for Fulham next season, particularly given their struggles to hit the target in 2020/21, when they logged the Prem’s second worst shots on target percentage (28%).
An excellent relationship
Finding players who can score for us next season will be one of the keys to survival. During our last stint in the top flight we found the net just 27 times. Wilson should be able to chip in with his share of goals, but his ability to create opportunities for others will be just as valuable. In particular to Mitrović, who was the benefactor of 10 of Wilson’s 19 assists this season.
This link up was especially effective when Wilson was given time and space in wide areas to pick out the Serbian, as he did against Bristol City. Here, with the opposition pegged back, Harrison Reed plays the ball out to him and Wilson takes a touch, teeing the ball up on his left foot, before delivering a perfectly measured back post cross for Mitro to head home.
Although Wilson won’t get as much time to pick out his target in the Prem, he doesn’t particularly need it. Here, against Bournemouth, he’s able to deliver an almost identical ball for Mitro from a much wider position while being closely monitored by the home team’s back line, producing the same result. As we all know that sweet left foot of his is also pretty useful in dead ball situations too, as this inch-perfect inswinger against Middlesborough, met by a brilliantly-timed run and bullet header from Mitro, proved.
Wilson may have led all Fulham players in crosses made this season (164), logging a crossing accuracy percentage of 23.46, but he and Mitrović linked up in plenty of other ways too, as exemplified by this smash and grab, conducted under the noses of four West Brom defender, and this deft exchange to set up Fabio Carvalho in the 7-0 drubbing of Luton. As Peter Rutzler pointed out in his recent Athletic article on the talismanic Serbian, “He has forged an excellent relationship with Harry Wilson on the Fulham right. Between them, they have managed 13 goal combinations (where both are either assist provider or goalscorer)”. And if Mitro is to prove his Premier League detractors wrong next season, his ‘excellent relationship’ with Wilson could be the key.Embed from Getty Images
One other important, yet often overlooked, element of Wilson’s game is his passing. As this Squawka comparison of Fulham’s four most frequently used attacking options (Mitro, Wilson, Carvalho and Neeskens Kebano) shows, the Welshman attempted considerably more passes overall (1,452 – 240 more than second-placed Mitro), while logging more passes completed in the opponent’s half (886 – 277 more than second-placed Carvalho) than any of the other three.
Although he spends most of his time hugging the right touchline, as shown by his SofaScore heatmap, this ability comes to the fore when Wilson moves into more central areas. Here, against Luton, he drifts in off the flank as Tom Cairney drives Fulham up the middle. As he receives the ball, Wilson darts almost diagonally across the box before guiding an intelligent pass into the path of the oncoming Cairney, who duly curls it home. Similarly, against Nottingham Forest, he receives the ball off Kebano’s driving run up the middle and moves inside before playing a superbly-weighted through ball into the path of his fellow winger, who drills it into the bottom corner.Embed from Getty Images
Wilson attempted more through balls than any of Fulham’s most frequently used attacking players (11), while also making 330 forward passes over the course of the season. What’s more, he averaged 2.6 key passes per game while creating 18 big chances during his 41 appearances.
His positivity in the final third, along with his ability to find a way through an opponent’s backline, will be crucial to Fulham’s survival hopes and perhaps make him Fulham’s most well-rounded attacking threat, as evidenced by his 29 total goal contributions this season.