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Could this be our starting XI after the January window?

Written by Arthur Duke on 30th November 2023

Fulham against Sheffield United. Copyright Adam Farquharson.
© Adam Farquharson 2023

Arthur Duke returns to give us a possible glimpse into our 2024 line-up.

In this article, I (with the help of Cayden Dorman, admin of FulhamFanpage11 on Instagram) have decided to forecast what could be Silva’s go-to XI post-January transfer window. After Silva penned a new deal keeping him at the club for another two and a half years, the logical assumption would be that he is likely to be backed in the coming windows. This article looks at where those funds could be invested – starting as soon as in January.

We’ve set a budget of £50 million (net spend). I believe this is a realistic number if Marco Silva were to be backed heavily in the January window. And considering Tony Kahn’s net spend was concerningly low last summer, this is a number which is more than realistic.

GK: Bernd Leno

There’s no surprise to see Bern Leno in this line-up. His arrival for an initial £3m was arguably one of the best value deals that took place in the Premier League that summer. Even with a total deal price of £8m, it’s a steal.

Over the last year and a half, Leno has proved to be vital to Silva’s setup. One of the main statistical criticisms Silva has faced is the high xG that Fulham have conceded. And last season, that was a trade-off worth taking with a more attacking philosophy and a goalkeeper that can be relied on in the big moments.

Statistically, Leno is even more impressive. I could rattle off most goalkeeper-based statistics and the reality is Leno is at least solid in all of them. But the stat that best represents Bernd Leno’s time at Fulham is called ‘PSxG-GA’. Post-shot expected goals (PSxG) measures the extent to which a player should have scored an opportunity and is essentially a more detailed form of xG that can be used to measure the quality of shots the goalkeeper is being faced with. PSxG-GA takes this number and subtracts goals against from it. Bernd Leno in the last 365 days has recorded a PSxG-GA of ‘+0.31’ which ranks in the 99th percentile of goalkeepers. This is one of the key reasons Fulham have been able to record a lower goals conceded number than expected.

Leno’s place is never in doubt and he’ll continue for a long time to come.

LB: Fodé Ballo-Touré

When it came to the left-back position. I decided to deviate from the norm and go with Fodé Ballo-Touré. There is no doubt that since Robinson’s arrival, his pace and physical prowess has been a huge asset to Silva. However, there are several justified reasons why I think Fodé could claim the left-back spot post-January transfer window.

Firstly, Silva has a track record of not shying away from changing the status quo at the back. Last year, Tosin lost his spot to Issa Diop. And the year prior, Tete lost his place to Neco Williams, both have one thing in common: injury woes accompanied by strong competition. Robinson’s muscular issues with Ballo-Touré breathing down his neck fits this same narrative.

Secondly, let’s not forget how complex the Ballo-Touré transfer saga was. Earlier in the window, it was reported that Ballo-Touré promptly rejected a permanent move to Fulham, so it’s unlikely that that move materialised without further promises, one of which could be playing time.

Our third and probably most important reason is the performances Robinson has produced this season. Alongside his two own goals (criticised by Silva), Robinson is in the lower percentile of the Premier League this season when it comes to shots blocked and dribbled past statistics. And when considering the defensive problems Silva has had this season, the left back spot could be an easy fix with Fodé waiting in the wings.

LCB: Tim Ream

It’s very clear that Marco does not need to be backed in the LCB department. Currently he has two very different but very capable left-sided defenders. When it comes to the long-term future of the club, the sensible answer is Calvin Bassey in terms of his age and potential. However, this article is concerned with only the second half of the season. And for that reason, I have decided to stick with our US veteran.

Despite his age, Ream has continued to perform admirably in possession-based statistics. He ranks in at least the 70th percentile in his position for passes attempted, pass completion percentage, progressive passes, progressive carries and successful take-ons. 

Currently I’m on a year abroad at the University of Connecticut. So, I had the liberty of watching Ream when the USMT visited my university’s home ground to play Germany in a friendly. Despite the second half collapse by the entirety of the US team, Ream looked composed, assured, and ultimately capable of competing with some of the best attacking talents in the world right now. When pressed (especially in the first half) he looked comfortable playing at a high tempo and looked by far the best defender in the US line-up positionally and in anticipation of attacking threats.

Since Silva took the reins, Ream has been his most used player. Which shows the highest level of trust when it comes to performances and leadership. It’s a certainty that Fulham will face intense challenges in the second half of the season. Whether that is a relegation battle, or the cup run us Fulham fans crave. In those moments, a consistent familiar face at the back can offer a strong base to build on. Bassey’s time will come, but for now, Ream gets the nod.

RCB: Tosin Adarabioyo

This season has shown more than ever that two left-footed centre-backs playing together is a bad idea; they can be exposed at the highest level of the Premier League. This leaves Tosin and Diop as the candidates for this role, so I decided to go for the former.

There’s no doubt that for this choice to materialise, a high change of tune must occur. Tosin has been linked with a move away across the last three transfer windows. And with his contract expiring in the summer, there are serious question marks over his commitment to Fulham.

Marco Silva’s contract could become a statement of intent that can be a catalyst for this change. Tosin has shown to be a valuable asset in Marco’s set up hence the fact that Silva will likely be in charge for the next two and a half years could be the difference between Tosin signing a contract extension or not.

Comparing Diop and Adarabioyo during the 2022/23 season becomes very interesting. Both played roughly the same minutes, and to summarise their defensive performances, the stats are very close as well. Where they begin to differentiate is when it comes to passing and attacking threat, Diop records better numbers in shorter-based passing scenarios. But when it comes to longer passes and progressions further up the pitch, Tosin thrives. He averaged 0.78 shot-creating actions per 90 last season, compared to Diop’s 0.40. 

In passing data, there is a huge difference as well in Tosin’s favour. He attempts more switches and through balls per 90. It’s clear that both players are comfortable with the ball at their feet but drastically different in how they use the ball. Diop is strong in retaining the ball and making short successful passes, whereas Tosin is a defender better equipped to cause teams problems from a deep position.

The fact that Tosin is a more dangerous player has given him the green light in this team. And when he is back from injury, he could offer a slight improvement when it comes to our ability to create chances this season.

RB: Kenny Tete

The right-back position is another close call between existing players, this time Timothy Castagne and Kenny Tete.

Timothy Castagne has been a very assured option this season. It’s in contrast to last season, which saw De Cordova-Reid as makeshift back-up for most of the season. This season, the competition is a great headache to have, but doesn’t change who the better option is.

Kenny Tete brings a unique dynamic to this back line. His main strength is his tackling ability which recorded a 76% success rate in the 2033/23 season. Moreover, the location of these tackles is also a huge asset to Fulham. Just over 15% of his tackles last season were in the attacking third, which played a big role in Fulham being able to win the ball high up the pitch and spring fast attacks.

In shot creation scenarios (similar to Tosin) he recorded two fewer actions than Castagne despite playing six games fewer. When adjusted to a ‘per 90’ basis, Tete takes a commanding lead in most attacking statistics, especially crossing numbers where he averaged 1.87 more crosses per 90 than Castagne.

It would be naive to say that Kenny Tete will be the first choice right-back for the entirety of the second half of the season. In reality, his injury troubles mean that his time on the pitch needs to be managed. The fact that we have a player like Castagne as an option has to be valued and utilised more than any other position in this team. Overall, allowing Kenny to take the majority of playing time in the right-back role, but have the insurance of a solid Castagne should he need a rest or period of time on the sidelines.

CDM: João Palhinha

It’s no surprise to see Palhinha listed in this starting XI. The Portuguese superstar is comfortably the first name on the team sheet.

There are a lot of theories about what is written on João’s new contract. From release clauses to a huge pay rise. But one thing Khan has surely achieved is Palhinha’s commitment to Fulham until the summer. It would take a colossal offer to persuade Khan to cash in during the January window, which of course is not out of the realms of possibility.

João walks into this Fulham XI. And probably most teams in world football.

CM: André (permanent transfer from Fluminense)

Originally, I had pencilled in Harrison Reed for this role. But after not spending as much as anticipated in the key areas we needed. I had some money left over to spend in the middle of the park. And I arrived at the conclusion that this would be best spent on long-term target André. It’s worth noting that André is by far our most optimistic signing; his links to Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool concern me. But according to reports, Fulham are holding their own in the early stages of talks. So, never say never.

André has been predominantly deployed as a defensive deep lying playmaker in the number six. But there are a few reasons I could see this change to a more offensive role if he were to swap Fluminense for Fulham.

Firstly, João Palhinha is unlikely to be moved in this set-up. André ranks OK in most of the defensive metrics such as aerials won, tackles and interceptions, but compared to João, there is certainly no doubt he would struggle to take Palhinha’s place. But even if I could work out a way to give André the six role, I still believe André’s qualities are best in a more advanced position.

André’s strongest quality is his passing ability where he has averaged a 94% pass completion with 78.46 passes attempted per game. His attacking threat is something that is evident in his successful Take-Ons (1.40 per 90) and progressive carries/passes (both in the 73rd percentile of his position). By being used as a number eight. Fulham would have more joy in breaking down teams with a consistent and reliable passer and ball carrier in the engine room.

André is also no stranger to the more offensive role. He is rumoured to have played in various attacking roles throughout his youth career playing as an eight, 10, and even a short stint at striker. This is a clear trait in his game to this day, where he uses his attacking instincts to cause teams problems from a deeper role. Giving him the licence to go forward could release the shackles from what I already know is a dangerous player in attacking scenarios.

André being pushed further up the pitch still doesn’t close the door on his natural position. If Silva wanted to, he could adopt a double pivot with both João and André adjacent to each other, allowing the latter’s qualities to be used from deeper positions. And if he were to share the pitch with Palhinha for the second half of the season, André could learn what João brings to the midfield first-hand before potentially inheriting his role in the future. Finally, despite his high promise, he has only played 64% of minutes for Fluminense. Using him as a more advanced eight would present more opportunities to rotate him with Harrison Reed and Saša Lukić.

Bringing André to Craven Cottage would provide Marco Silva a young blank slate who could be developed into a world class number six, eight, or both. André’s links to Fulham are incredibly exciting and if he were to join Marco Silva, the possibilities are endless for his role in this team both in the short and long-term.

CAM: Alex Iwobi

One of the last deals that Fulham completed in the summer transfer window was the signing of Iwobi from Everton for a reported £22 million. Despite initial criticism from fans, it’s proved a good deal. Iwobi has been deployed in several positions and has shown in each of his outings that he is more than capable of competing at the highest level as a versatile asset.

The question should be where he operates in this team rather than if he gets into this team. This season, he has played as a number eight, slightly higher in a number 10, and even outside on the inverted left side. In this XI we have chosen to make him the more advanced of the midfield three.

We have chosen to deploy Iwobi more advanced for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Andreas Periera’s performances have been underwhelming this season. Meaning it’s as simple as Iwobi being the best fully-fit option in this position. Alex Iwobi this season has averaged 1.94 take-ons, 5.16 progressive passes and 39.85 attempted passes per 90 minutes. All three stats are at least 16 percentile points higher than Andreas’ performances this season.

Secondly, Iwobi operating higher allows André to come into this XI. I won’t repeat what was said previously for André. But considering Fulham’s defensive woes and tendency to let games fall away at the early stages. Having that extra ‘bite’ will offer a more structured and defensively sound midfield unit.

That’s why we believe Iwobi will be used as a number 10 more in the future.

LW: Willian

This was a position that I came close to choosing a replacement mainly due to his age and slowly declining sharpness. But to repeat the aim of this article, this XI is one for the second half of the season only, which plays down the role of long-term planning. Considering the desperation for investment in other areas of the pitch, this is an area that can be untouched until the remainder of the season. If Willian is fit, he starts and here is why.

Despite declining performances on the eye. On the whole, he hasn’t been as bad as people think. A major problem Fulham have had this season is creating and taking chances. And this is an area that Willian has been the strong in, he has averaged 4.04 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes and constantly looks to progress the ball whether that is with the ball at his feet dribbling or using his 77.1% pass completion.

The areas of his game that have seen sharp declines are his successful take-ons and his goals per shot. Both of these I believe are confidence related, we have seen in the past (last season) that he can thrive in these areas. But that requires taking risks which statistically he has not done this campaign.

The more his confidence grows. The more we see him take on more defenders in attacking scenarios and take on more risk in shooting positions, if this trend is to materialise, Fulham will inevitably become a stronger force in front of goal.

RW: Harry Wilson

When it came to the right-sided winger it was a close call between Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Harry Wison. But in the end, I decided to go with the option that best represents a Marco Silva winger.

This season has seen some bright sparks for Harry. He has had some good moments in the EFL cup and has made some positive impacts off the bench. On an international level, there is even more to shout about. Wilson’s 50th Welsh cap against Croatia saw him score both goals in a 2-1 win. A result that was huge in prospective qualification for the 2024 European Championships. The more and more flashes of brilliance we see from Harry Wilson, the more and more optimistic we are about seeing him back to his best, hopefully soon enough to claim a regular starting spot in the second half of the season. 

Ultimately, this is a decision made with a lot of emotion and optimism. But I can see the Welsh wizard firing on all cylinders come the turn of the season.

ST: Sehrou Guirassy (permanent transfer from VfB Stuttgart)

After Alexander Mitrovic, we waited and waited for Khan to whip out the cheque book and bring in a new striker. The closer it got to deadline day, the clearer it became that Raúl Jiménez would be the successor (at least until January). 

Don’t get me wrong, Raúl has looked good when linking up with his fellow teammates. But his confidence has proved a major issue when it comes to being ruthless and clinical in front of goal. Before we talk about Guirassy, it’s worth noting that at least one outgoing must happen first. Whether that is Muniz out on loan, or a permanent exit for Vinicius. Four strikers is certainly too many.

When it came to scouting the market for a potential signing. I looked at roughly 20 candidates. This list included the likes of Tammy Abraham, Enes Ünal, Mehdi Taremi and Santiago Gimenez. But in the end, we settled on Serhou Guirassy.

The first reason for this is the competition in this market. Some of the biggest European giants have circled around the likes of Gimenez, Taremi and Abraham. But when it comes to Guirassy, it’s a more manageable transfer race. Serhou Guirassy has concrete links to Nottingham Forest and loose links to Newcastle. Fulham would be able to offer more game time and by extension, a more important role in the squad than Newcastle, and could afford to flex their financial muscle against Nottingham Forest, given the financial boost from Mitrovic’s departure.

Secondly, Guirassy offers something unique to the striker market in terms of all round ability. He is amongst the best in the world for ‘non-penalty goals’ per 90. He is in the 94th percentile for key passes per 90 minutes and attempts 27.04 passes per 90 with a 79.8% success rate. His presence in the attacking box also can’t be denied, Guirassy averages 5.82 touches per 90 in the penalty area.

But by far the most important statistic to us when we compared him to the rest of the market is his ability to put the ball in the back of the net. This season he ranks in the 99th percentile for shots taken, shots on target and raw conversion rate (which is 51.72%). Guirassy is a profile of striker that can offer what Raúl does in terms of holding up the ball and general possession play. Whilst still being ruthless in front of goal. A trait Marco Silva has been begging for.

Based on reports, Fulham would negotiate a price in the region of £17.5 million to £25 million. But of course, this could change as January talks rarely go smoothly. Even at an inflated price, this would be a huge signing for Fulham.

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