George Rossiter looks at the areas we need to strengthen ahead of our Premier League opener.
This summer transfer window is without doubt a huge one for us. Previous failures to stay in the Premier League, both of which included heavy influxes of signings on each summer deadline day, leaves the club needing the third time to be the charm.
With the Premier League announcing that clubs will now be allowed a matchday squad that includes nine substitutes, the need for depth – and quality in depth – has never been so important. Last summer’s early signings of Wilson, Gazzaniga and Muniz point to Marco Silva liking his business done early. The news of senior players such as Jean-Michael Seri and Michael Hector being released, as well as the reports of Ivan Cavaleiro, Anthony Knockaert and Josh Onomah being free to leave, not only show the intent to make plans for the coming season’s squad early on, but as of now leave the club with a base of 16 senior players to build on.
So what do we need positionally, who can we develop internally, and who has been linked to Craven Cottage? I’m going to look through the group we look to have (not including those free to leave), and look at what we need to bring in going forward.
Who do we have? Marek Rodak and Paulo Gazzaniga are the remaining senior goalkeepers at the club. George Wickens returns this summer after a successful loan spell at Wealdstone, and Luca Ashby-Hammond often has acted as third choice with the squad.
Who has gone? Fabricio Agosto Ramirez left after the expiration of his contract. Taye Ashby-Hammond, who occasionally acted as third choice with the squad last season, is still in talks over a new deal.
What do we need to do? Despite his lack of appearances for the club, Fabri’s departure leaves us light in the goalkeeper department. Whether we look for a first choice to compete with Rodak or a third choice like the role Fabri played, at least one goalkeeper is needed.
What are our options? If Marco Silva fully entrusts Rodak to be his number one, it may be sensible to look for a third choice option behind Marek and Gazzaniga. After a loan spell which saw much praise, George Wickens could be seen as the obvious man to fill the breach, as could either of the Ashby-Hammond brothers if Wickens were to be loaned out again, presumably this time in the EFL.
However, links to multiple top class keepers indicate Silva would not be against a new name to provide competition in this department. There have most notably been links to Nick Pope of Burnley and Thomas Strakosha of Lazio, while the likes of Dean Henderson of Manchester United and Alphonse Areola have been loosely linked and are evidently available on the market.
Who do we have? Kenny Tete, Terence Kongolo, Tim Ream, Tosin Adarabioyo, Joe Bryan and Antonee Robinson are the six senior defenders currently under contract.
Who has gone? Michael Hector, Alfie Mawson and Cyrus Christie have all left after the expiration of their contracts. Neco Williams has returned to Liverpool at the end of his loan spell. Steven Sessegnon is still in talks with the club, but is currently out of contract this summer.
What do we need to do? As it stands we’re light at the back, for sure. It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that reinforcements could be bought in left, right and centre. Marco Silva has made it clear that a right-back and two centre-backs are required at a minimum. While Silva is a fan of Robinson, an upgrade on the left side of defence wouldn’t do us any harm.
What are our options? The academy has plenty of defensive potential. Steven Sessegnon may be moved on at the end of his contract, and while Marlon Fossey suffered another injury issue while on loan at Bolton, it’s likely he’ll go back permanently and hopefully show the potential he was always seen to have had, but never fulfilled due to multiple serious injuries.
Charlie Robinson won the Scholar of the Year award at the Premier League Youth Conference Awards, and Ziyad Larkeche has impressed hugely both for the under-23s and France under-21s, but neither are likely to make the step up yet, but appearances in the cup with the right opponent could be possible.
In terms of incomings, Fulham have been heavily linked to be going back in for a permanent move for Neco Williams from Liverpool. Williams impressed last season after signing in January and it appears Silva is keen to bring him back to provide competition for Tete. Another option would be the free signing of Ryan Fredericks, recently out of contract at West Ham and already a fan favourite at the Cottage.
On the left, reports in Spain state that there is strong interest in Betis left-back Alex Moreno, who impressed hugely in La Liga in the 21/22 season. At centre-back, the club have been linked to Ko Itakura, who spent last season on loan at Schalke, where he helped them to the 2.Bundesliga title. The 25 year-old, whose parent club is Manchester City, is a progressive ball player with the ability to move into midfield if needed.
Who do we have? Harrison Reed, Tom Cairney and Nathaniel Chalobah are the current members of a hugely light midfield department at the club, with Josh Onomah reportedly free to leave.
Who has gone? Jean Michael Seri was released after the expiration of his contract. Young midfielders Tyrese Francois and Ollie O’Neill are still in talks with the club, but are currently out of contract this summer. Fabio Carvalho rejected a new deal to join Liverpool upon the expiration of his contract. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa left the club after Napoli took up an option to sign the midfielder permanently after his loan spell in Italy.
What do we need? In short, quite a few midfielders are needed to bolster the squad. Harrison Reed taking up the role in Silva’s side as a number eight that buzzes between the boxes leaves us needing a robust holding player to link defence and midfield and help marshal the backline. The departure of Carvalho leaves the club without a midfielder likely to run past opposition players at pace and contribute with goals and assists on a frequent basis too.
What are our options? Luke Harris looks set to join up with the first-team squad in pre-season, which is a huge show of faith from Silva. Regardless of the game time afforded to him during that time, it’s hard to imagine frequent Premier League minutes at such a young age.
As for signings, lots of names have been mentioned. In terms of a holding midfielder, the club has been linked widely with Braga’s Al-Musrati. The Libyan has impressed massively in Portugal and looks to be someone Silva favours at this stage. There have also been links to Serbian Luka Milivojevic, best friend of Mitrovic, who has fallen out of favour at Crystal Palace, but a deal would be unlikely should Al-Musrati join. While not many options have yet been touted as Carvalho replacements, it’s evident there’s a hole that needs filling in that regard.
Who do we have? In terms of out-and-out strikers, Aleksander Mitrovic and Rodrigo Muniz are at the club. Out wide, the club has Bobby De-Cordova Reid, Harry Wilson and Neeskens Kebano. Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert are reportedly free to leave.
Who has gone? As of now, no real attackers have left. but it’s worth mentioning how much the attacking presence and contributions of Fabio Carvalho will be missed.
What do we need? While Cavaleiro and Knockaert provided little in terms of contributions last season, their absences would leave gaps to fill. De-Cordova Reid’s versatility helps plug gaps on match days, but they still need filling in the squad as a whole.
What are our options? As of now the only concrete link to an attacking player is to Israeli winger Manor Solomon. Jay Stansfield has always been highly rated in the academy and scored goals for fun at under-18 and under-23 level. With the increased size of the match day squad, he may find himself with opportunities to make the bench. A lack of interest elsewhere may point to a need to let go of Cavaleiro and Knockaert before pursuing new interests, but those interests will be needed, with Wilson and Kebano the only other remaining out-and-out wingers in Silva’s plans.
Options I would be interested in
While these names may not have been linked to the club at all, they are names I think would fit the club and would prove valuable options to the squad. With the previously mentioned 16 squad members to build on, these are nine potential signings I think would fill those gaps well in a 25-man Premier League squad.
In goal, I think we are best looking to find competition for Rodak as a starter, rather than look internally for depth. While maybe not my personal first choice, I would most like to see the club go big on Nick Pope, although the fee Burnley may ask for could be a high one.
In defence, I think we need a back-up to Tete, a starter next to Tosin, a back-up to Tosin at centre-back and an improvement on Robinson at left-back. I believe a return for Ola Aina would be a good option, with his previous stint at the club proving not just his quality, but also his ability to be versatile and play on the right or left side of defence. I would pursue the reported move for Alex Moreno at left-back, and although I’m not totally sold on Itakura, I think he would be good back-up at centre-back.
As for a starter, I’d love to see us go bold on someone who hasn’t been shown love elsewhere, but has plenty still to give. Someone like Phil Jones, whose career at Old Trafford has clearly not gone to plan, but I am sure there’s still a quality defender there.
Into midfield. I think Al-Musrati would be a quality signing, and hope to see us pursue that. In terms of a more creative option, I want someone we know will link midfield and attack but contribute to goals themselves on a fairly frequent basis, and a position I feel is worth investing in to make up for Carvalho’s departure. I’d love to see us go ambitious, with Jesse Lingard available on a free; why not tempt him to return to London with huge responsibility on his shoulders to propel Fulham to safety?
In terms of wide attackers, I think we need competition for Kebano on the left and back-up to Wilson on the right. Although the Israeli would be my first choice, if a move for Solomon is completely off the table, I would love to see us make a move for Al-Musrati’s Braga teammate and left-sided winger, Ricardo Horta, who has recently made a return to the Portugal national side and looks to be making a move away from Braga this summer. On the other side, I would be interested in Stoke’s Tyrese Campbell, who can also provide an alternative option up front and has been hugely impressive in the Championship either side of a long-term injury last season.