Fulham 2023/24 Premier League Season Preview | The Hard Tackle

With question marks surrounding the future of talismanic striker Aleksander Mitrovic, Fulham have a serious job on their hands to match their 10th-place finish from last year.

Having secured yet another swift return to Premier League football with their first EFL Championship title in 21 years, Fulham started the 2022/23 campaign with one thing on their mind: survival.

To achieve their target, the Cottagers needed to shake off the “yo-yo club” tag — a wild streak stretching back to 2018/19 that saw them achieve three promotions and two relegations in the space of five seasons.

As it turned out, the Cottagers not only defied the pre-season relegation odds but did so with ease, finishing tenth in the table on 52 points, just one shy of their best-ever tally under Roy Hodgson in 2008/09. They also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for good measure.

With the club punching above their weight, the Fulham faithful would be forgiven for dreaming of an even better campaign this time around, with an elusive place in Europe next season firmly in their sights (at least for a month after the last season ended).

However, what the club’s board and fans never counted on was the new-found strength and ambition of Saudi Pro League clubs, backed financially by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, which notoriously planned to disrupt the club’s pre-season preparations for the upcoming campaign.

With star players and the manager himself being linked with moves away from Craven Cottage, it could be a difficult season in the offing for Marco Silva’s men.


Fulham were undeniably overachievers last term, following a brilliant campaign riddled with highs and lows. The impressive 2-2 draw in the opening game at home to Liverpool set the tone for what was to come.

The Cottagers’ season offered much promise, as they were as high as sixth in the standings heading into March before their tendency to lose a little control and discipline cost them dearly. Aleksandar Mitrovic was banned for eight games for shoving a referee in the controversial and fiery FA Cup tie against Manchester United. And Silva received a ban for his behaviour in the same incident.

As expected, their unlikely European push faded into despair late in the season, with just 13 points in their last 13 games. But all is well that ends well. And ultimately, a top-half finish was a fine achievement for a newly-promoted side that defied expectations with aplomb.

Fulham’s secret recipe to overperform as a promoted club is very simple and evident from a glance at their results in league position order. Their ten matches against the bottom five accumulated 28 points, more than half of their season total, and 23 of their 55 league goals. Simply put, they were ruthless in the matches where they had the best chance to get three points.

The best example of this was when they ran riot against relegation-doomed Leicester City during the final few weeks of the season, scoring five goals without Mitrovic to secure a 5-3 victory. However, Silva would not have been impressed with his side’s defensive performance, with Fulham shipping 53 goals, the second-highest of any side in the top half of the table. Even Bernd Leno’s heroics were not enough to stop Silva’s side from shipping in goals.

In fact, their underlying numbers raise a few red flags. They consistently outperformed their underlying data over the course of the season. Fbref’s expected goals model calculates that Fulham should have scored ten fewer and conceded ten more than their actual tally; those differences could have resulted in a very different season and have implications for the upcoming campaign.

But it is fair to say that Fulham’s success this season was not just a stroke of luck given the vast majority of their wins in which they were the better side. Overall, they emerged stronger than ever with a solid foundation they will hope to build on next season. Heading into the new season, there’s positivity amongst the fans, but there are off-field issues that do threaten to dampen the carnival.

Squad Update

The price of success for clubs of Fulham’s size is that their best players will be sought after. Despite this, the Cottagers went into this summer reasonably confident that things would be just fine.

Sure, there would be links to players like Joao Palhinha, who was the subject of a reported £45 million transfer from West Ham United, but there was little possibility of big stars leaving. Lots of players were locked into long-term deals. And there aren’t many suitors who could be in a financial position to tempt them away, especially when it came to star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has three years remaining on his contract at Craven Cottage.

But what hit the club and its fans was nothing short of a lightning strike. BOOM! Al Hilal have fixed their sights on the Fulham frontman and are ready to more than triple his wages, with the Serb trying to force the club into sanctioning his sale.

Since then, the Saudi Pro League outfit have already had their first two offers for the 28-year-old hitman rejected, with the latest offer in the region of £40 million. Fulham want around £50 million for the striker, and Al-Hilal are reluctant to meet that asking price.

The entire saga still has not reached a conclusion. The Saudi Arabia talks have gone very quiet over the last few days. And with the player going from training on his own to back with the squad, the optimistic supporter still hopes that Fulham executive Tony Khan will somehow manage to price out Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and that Mitrovic stays put.

That said, there is still speculation that his agent is pushing Mitrovic for a deal anywhere else. For the good of the club, this situation needs to be sorted out quickly. With Mitrovic looking out the door, a potential replacement has already arrived in the form of Raul Jimenez. That is how it is painted by the mainstream media.

Firstly, the Mexican international should not be Mitrovic’s replacement. Of course, Mitrovic is Champions League-quality on his day. And given the dearth of quality strikers available in the market right now, a replacement is hard to find, but there are surely better options available than Jimenez.

Having failed to score a single Premier League goal last term, he looks shockingly past his prime, has not been a clinical striker for a few seasons now, and would be better suited to a rotational option. Carlos Vinicius has bagged a fair few in the pre-season. But Fulham do need another striker to bulk out the goals.

As such, Fulham finally appear to have got the ball rolling on the transfer front, with Willian re-signing for the club and defender Calvin Bassey arriving through the door from Ajax in a €21 million deal. The former is another one now reported to be tempted by the Saudi Arabian gold rush.

With Shane Duffy released and Tosin Adarabioyo’s future uncertain amid outside interest, defensive reinforcement was a top priority for Marco Silva. It is also worth remembering that key centre-back Tim Ream turns 36 years old later this year. So adding some fresh legs to the defensive department during the off-season was imperative.

In Bassey, they have got themselves a younger defender who shares the same ball-playing but more athletic and aggressive attributes as the American. Yes, his one year at Ajax did not go as planned. But he was a star of Rangers’ run to last year’s Europa League final and looks like a shrewd, long-term investment, albeit would need to adapt to life in the Premier League having only played in a less challenging division previously.

The rumour mill is also churning with the possibility of a significant move for Everton’s Demarai Gray, who has reportedly agreed personal terms with the Whites. With a clear need for attacking reinforcements, Fulham’s interest in the 27-year-old speedster seems both logical and strategic.

The departure of Manor Solomon to Tottenham after his loan spell, along with the return of Daniel James to Leeds United, has left Fulham in search of attacking potency. Gray’s potential arrival may fill this gap, enhancing the team’s offensive capabilities.

Like Jimenez, Gray’s name does not fill Fulham supporters with excitement. But Silva has proven he can work his magic and get the best out of players who have been deemed “past it” and “not good enough”. Who’s to say that Jimenez or potentially Gray won’t be the next success story under Silva’s guidance?

Fulham’s lack of depth in the no. 10 position is a worry that has only been highlighted more by the injury sustained to Pereira towards the end of last season. Not to mention, Palhinha was forced off injured in his side’s pre-season friendly clash against Brentford with a dislocated shoulder.

A serious injury could turn into a disaster for Fulham, with a lengthy spell on the treatment table the only outcome. The need to bring in depth for Palhinha was apparent at the end of last season and is even more so now.

Key Fixtures

Many would argue that there are no easy games in the Premier League. But Fulham have been handed a particularly tricky start to the season. They will open the new Premier League season with a trip to Everton on August 12, 2023, a week after involving themselves in a cracking derby against a Brentford side that is sure to be buoyed by a strong end to the 2022/23 season.

The crunching opening schedule continues as they will go on to face last season’s runners-up Arsenal and champions Manchester City, both away games, consecutively in their opening four games.

Their first London derby against local rivals Chelsea comes soon after at Craven Cottage, while October is not much easier with away clashes against Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton & Hove Albion before Manchester United come to town in early November.

Fulham had several impressive performances against the Premier League’s top guns last term, including their famous 2-1 victory over ten-man Chelsea in January, and arguably their best display of the season, a 2-2 draw with Liverpool at the start of the season.

The Craven Cottage faithful would certainly hope for many more surprise victories against the league’s big boys. The festive and New Year’s schedule sees Fulham host Burnley, travel to Bournemouth, and entertain Arsenal.

They have a very winnable run of games in February against Everton (H), Burnley (A), A.F.C. Bournemouth (H), and Aston Villa (H) in a positive state. This run ahead of March will be critical for Fulham, and a couple of wins are essential.

If they are anywhere near the drop zone when March begins, a relegation dogfight could beckon them by the time May rolls in. The end of the 2023/24 season is equally treacherous, with the reverse derby against Brentford and holders Manchester City to play back-to-back before the final match against promoted side Luton Town on May 19, 2024.

Key Players

Andreas Pereira

It is fair to say that the Andreas Pereira signing drew the least excitement from the Fulham fanbase last summer. After an eight-year spell at Manchester United, where he made just 45 appearances, Pereira’s move to West London was met with scepticism. But the Brazilian has taken to life down south with unwavering confidence, chipping in with ten goal contributions from 33 games last term.

Consistently creating high-quality chances from dead-ball situations, in-swinging corners, and trademark deep free kicks to allow Fulham to flood the box, Pereira was Fulham’s main attacking outlet, with his quick feet and composure allowing him to skip past challenges and spread the ball.

His sweeping shifts of play are a trademark of the 26-year-old’s game. This allowed Mitrovic to pull wide and gather the ball in the area without drawing the attention of the centre-backs tasked with marking him. The 26-year-old ranked ninth in the Premier League for big chances created, while 35 big chances created from set-pieces are enough to see him rank third.

Given the licence to roam as the main creative force, Pereira looked like a totally transformed player compared to the one he was at Manchester United and has not lost a bit of the combative edge in his off-the-ball work at Fulham. Pereira will remain a central figure in Marco Silva’s plans for next season.

Bernd Leno

Costing £3 million upfront from Arsenal, Bernd Leno has proven to be a steal after turning in a string of impressive match-winning performances last season that earned him a Germany recall. Formerly of Bayer Leverkusen, the German stopper played every minute he was available for last season, keeping eight clean sheets from 36 appearances for the Cottagers, the tenth highest return in the Premier League.

He ranked second for saves (143) among Goalkeepers in Europe’s top five leagues, while Fulham conceded 11 fewer goals than expected in the league thanks to Leno’s exploits in between the sticks.

Joao Palhinha

Arguably the signing last season behind Erling Haaland, Palhinha was a colossus and a one-man wrecking ball in Fulham midfield and is understandably attracting interest from the big boys. It is clear how highly-rated the Portuguese defensive midfielder is at the club, when the Cottagers have claimed in no uncertain terms that they won’t be listening to any bids that are below £90 million for the former Sporting CP star.

The Portuguese international had a spectacular debut season last term, completing the most tackles of any player in the entire division, with an average of 4.1 per game and a staggering total of 147 for the season. With such a monumental fee demanded, it is difficult to imagine the midfielder playing anywhere else next season, with Moises Caicedo, Cheick Doucoure, and Romeo Lavia giving preference to those clubs that can afford it.

It is fair to say that without his hyper-energy in the middle of the park, Fulham would have been in a relegation battle. Fulham base a lot of their play on tackling hard and moving the ball with pace and intent. Their midfield is therefore a solid unit that works in tandem to win back possession, with Palhinha entrusted with most of the winning the ball back tasks.

He was central to them taking the Premier League by storm with their aggressive attacking play, enabling Silva’s side to employ these tactics against every team in the league. The 27-year-old’s presence as the deepest midfielder allowed the likes of Pereira and Willian to release the shackles.

Currently out nursing a shoulder injury, Fulham will need to somehow cope with his absence for a while. When he returns, though, the midfielder will need to hit the ground running to aid his team’s cause.

Season Expectations

Fulham’s objective for the new season is clear: maintain consistency and establish themselves in the top flight. However, the fact remains that Fulham are far from the finished article under Silva, and the Cottagers’ chances to challenge for a top-half finish are likely to be governed by what happens in the remaining transfer window, with glaring holes in the squad at this moment in time.

There’s also so much unwanted turmoil and an unsettling atmosphere surrounding Craven Cottage this summer. Manager Silva, who is adored by fans for bringing progressive and aggressive football to the club, has actually shown loyalty to the club by resisting the temptation of a lucrative offer to coach Al-Ahli, convinced by Fulham owner, Shahid Khan, that his future belonged in south-west London.

However, with Aleksandar Mitrovic still pushing to leave, Joao Palhinha suffering a pre-season injury, and a daunting opening fixture list, comes the issue of rebuilding when transfer business has been less than brisk. But if the Cottagers manage to keep hold of their talismanic striker, a much more comfortable season could be on the cards.

At risk of sounding too negative, Leeds’s relegation after only two years in the top flight serves as a firm reminder that survival cannot be taken for granted, and avoiding the second-season syndrome should remain the first priority for Silva. With all that in mind, The Hard Tackle predicts Fulham to have a slight drop-off this season but avoid relegation relatively comfortably with a lower mid-table finish in the upcoming Premier League season.

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