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Everton at Fulham: The Opposition View

We spoke to Whites blogger Max Cohen prior to Saturday’s clash by the Thames

Everton FC v Fulham FC - Premier League
Everton beat Fulham 3-0 at Goodison Park in September
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Everton visit relegated Fulham on Saturday, knowing a win will secure a fourth consecutive league victory for the first time since September 2016.

The Toffees could hardly ask for more ideal opponents either with the Whites having lost their last nine league matches in a row.

Fulham’s fate in their disastrous season was confirmed last week, when a 4-1 defeat at Watford FC sealed a return to the Championship after just one season back in the top-flight.

After spending more than £100 million in the summer transfer window and changing managers twice, the Cottagers are playing for little more than pride now under caretaker boss Scott Parker.

Ahead of Saturday’s match, RBM spoke to Max Cohen (@maxpcohen), writer for SB Nation’s Fulham blog, Cottagers Confidential, and co-host of Cottage Talk:

RBM: Firstly, why do you believe Fulham have struggled so badly back in the Premier League this season?

Max: The biggest factor behind our struggles has to be our abysmal defence and lack of midfield cover. Everyone knows we have by far the worst back line in the league, and when you look at who is back there defending, it becomes clear why.

Essentially, our defence would be good enough for a mid-table Championship side. Tim Ream, Denis Odoi, Cyrus Christie, Joe Bryan, Maxime Le Marchand — these players should be getting nowhere near a Premier League starting XI, let alone starting week-in, week-out.

The poor form of Timothy Fosu-Mensah and injury of Alfie Mawson haven’t helped either, but at the back we are so prone to individual errors and concede at the slightest pressure. In addition, although Calum Chambers has done excellently in central midfield, neither Jean-Michaël Seri nor André-Frank Zambo Anguissa adapted to the top flight, leaving our already awful defence even more exposed.

Watford FC v Fulham FC - Premier League
Fulham were relegated after losing 4-1 at Watford on April 2
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

RBM: With hindsight, do you feel either Slaviša Jokanović or Claudio Ranieri should have been afforded more time as Fulham manager?

Max: I was heavily in favour of both of their sackings, and if anything, Ranieri should have been sacked sooner.

I absolutely love Slaviša Jokanović to death — he took us from a relegation-threatened Championship side to swashbuckling promotion winners — but he is not a Premier League manager.

He was undoubtedly dealt an extremely tough hand, with a largely new side hit by injuries, but his stubbornness, tactical ineptitude, and failure to motivate his players meant he had to be sacked when he was.

We had only won once in the league, lost some truly awful matches against Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City and Bournemouth, and the players no longer seemed up for the fight. Jokanović had to go.

But, although I was supportive of Ranieri’s appointment at the time, the Italian proved to be a horrible appointment as well. Ranieri should’ve been sacked far earlier in the year, perhaps after the Manchester United home loss [3-0 on February 9], as he had shown an inability to implement our best football.

When we beat Brighton & Hove Albion 4-2 in January (still the only win of 2019 for us), Ranieri failed to use that successful formula in the next match against Crystal Palace and we were limp in a 2-0 defeat. That sealed it for me; Ranieri had to go.

RBM: Scott Parker has lost all five of his games in charge since Ranieri’s sacking, but there seems to be a fair amount of good will towards him from Fulham fans. Should he be given the job permanently?

Max: Scott Parker is another fan favourite among the Fulham fans; a true servant for the club who has instilled a sense of optimism and pride among the support despite our abysmal predicament.

But I think the fan base is generally united against Parker being handed the permanent job. For us, it is essential we learn from our past failures in the Championship in order to get back to the top-flight as soon as possible.

I would be in favour of appointing a tried-and-tested Championship promotion winner with a modern philosophy, such as David Wagner, and perhaps keeping Parker on as an assistant.

Watford FC v Fulham FC - Premier League
Parker will take charge of Fulham for the rest of the season
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

RBM: Are you particularly bothered by these last five games, or is it important to you that Fulham end their wretched season strongly?

Max: It’s such a relief that relegation is finally confirmed, and I just want the season to be over with as soon as possible. It’s been such a torrid year with so few highlights, that I would want us to play the youngsters and go for matches.

No point in playing conservatively now and trying to get results — let’s throw caution to the wind and at least try to put a smile on the faces of the supporters.

RBM: At this extremely early stage, how well-equipped do you think Fulham are to make an immediate return to the Premier League next year?

Max: Right now, I’d say we are in decent shape. Luckily, many of our players have clauses where their contracts are slashed in the event of relegation, so we won’t be saddled by massive wages and thus forced to sell many of our best players.

I expect all loanees to depart, as well as Aleksandar Mitrović, Ryan Sessegnon, Seri, and Anguissa — but even with those departures we have a good Championship squad to work with.

Of course, it’s the most unpredictable league in the world and I have no idea how next season will turn out. But I can at least say with confidence we probably won’t pull a Sunderland and get relegated to League One.

Fulham FC v Southampton FC - Premier League
Aleksandar Mitrović and Ryan Sessegnon could both leave Fulham for big money this summer
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

RBM: How do you expect Fulham to set up on Saturday?

Max: It’s o tough to predict because we could either stick with the side Parker has picked, or he could throw a spanner in the works and go with the young guns. I would say perhaps a mixture of the two, with a combination of tried and tested players and youth prospects who will play next year.

My predicted line-up: (4-3-3: Rico; Bryan, Ream, Le Marchand, Steven Sessegnon; McDonald, Cairney, O’Riley; Ryan Sessegnon, Mitrović, Ayité)

RBM: Which of Fulham’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Max: The obvious choice is Mitrovic, but he hasn’t scored a goal for Fulham in months.

Our side is so hapless at the moment that it’s tough to pick out a dangerous player, but I’d say it might be Sessegnon. His confidence should be boosted by an excellent assist against Watford last week and his impressive attacking instincts could cause Everton some issues.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Max: Always an optimist, it’s difficult for me to ever predict a Fulham loss, and even in the most trying of circumstances, I can’t bring myself to do it.

I’ll say Fulham 1-1 Everton, with both sides turning in turgid displays with nothing to play for.

Our thanks to Max for his time.