Fulham are readying themselves for what looks like it could well be a make or break period in their push for promotion back to the Premier League.
After being emphatically dumped from the top-flight at the first time of asking last season, Scott Parker was tasked with getting them straight back to where they think they belong. Nothing less will do.
With ten Championship matches remaining in the 2019/20 campaign, Fulham find themselves sat in third place with five points separating them from Leeds United – the team holding down the final automatic promotion spot.
However, in their next three games they face three sides also chasing down a spot in the top-flight. First-up is Bristol City, then Brentford and then what could prove to be a huge clash with Leeds at Elland Road on March 18.
It would be easy to look in from the outside and say: ‘Well, they’re in third. That’s pretty good! I can’t imagine there is much to complain about.’
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However, a real sense of frustration remains around Craven Cottage. With an attacking unit boasting the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Anthony Knockaert, Ivan Cavaleiro and Bobby Reid – arguably four players who have in the past proven themselves to be too good for the Championship – there is a feeling that they are still underachieving.
A large part of this comes down to how Parker sets out his attack.
Typically, it is made up of Mitrovic in the middle and Knockaert on the left and Cavaleiro on the right, so that both wingers can cut inside on their favoured foot.
However, with someone like Mitrovic leading the attack, you could argue that they have not been playing to his strengths by using inverted wingers in this style.
The Serbian thrives off early balls into the penalty area. Sure, he is an accomplished finisher when 1v1 with the goalkeeper as well but it is winning headers and finding the right place to finish in the box where he is at his best.
Playing the right-footer on the left and vice versa has badly limted the number of these balls coming in – or has at least given the rival goalkeeper a much better chance of claiming their predictable, inswinging deliveries.
There is a reason, afterall, that Joe Bryan boasts the most assists (7) in the Fulham side so far. With Cavaleiro cutting inside onto his right-foot more often than not, Bryan has been given the time and space to bomb down the outside and whip those early crosses into Mitrovic.
On the opposing side, they do not have this. Denis Odoi has proven a solid presence at right-back whilst Cyrus Christie has also impressed in flashes, but without that right-footed presence regularly racing down the wing and providing Mitrovic with his favourite opportunities, Parker will always fall short of getting the very best out of his side.
Bryan is now facing a spell on the sidelines after limping off against Preston on Saturday, leaving the Whites even weaker in attack.
Parker’s gameplan has kept them in contention to win promotion and perhaps he deserves credit for that. But his chances of winning promotion automatically will remain slim until he changes this set-up outwide.