Can a trip to Anfield save Slavisa Jokanovic's job?
Photo: Александр Осипов, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Bottom of the table, Fulham head north on Sunday for a lunchtime meeting with high flying Liverpool. On paper, it looks like a banker home win. Liverpool sit third and unbeaten at home in the Premier League since losing to Crystal Palace in April 2017. However, it's been well documented you don't get three points on paper. Everything must be earned on the pitch.
Fulham and particularly manager Slavisa Jokanovic are in desperate straits. The Cottagers haven't won a Premier League match since beating Burnley 4-2 at the end of August. They're currently eight games without a win. Five consecutive defeats leave Jokanovic barely clinging onto his job.
Anfield isn't exactly a Tesco where Fulham can expect to pick up three points quick and easy. Liverpool's enjoying their best start to a Premier League season for many years. Under Jurgen Klopp, the Reds have once again made their home ground a fortress. Cottagers owner Shad Khan knows Liverpool pose a hugely difficult challenge but must also be concerned with the team's position after spending so much money following last season's promotion.
After defeating Aston Villa in the playoffs, Khan poured nearly £100 million into the team while recouping just £4 million in player sales. It was a huge gamble that, at the moment, isn't paying off. Regardless of any loyalty Khan feels towards Jokanovic for last year's achievement, he's bound to be getting an itchy trigger finger. The international break into which today's match leads is an optimal time to take his shot if he can install a new man immediately.
Jokanovic has been at Fulham since December 2015. He's done a fine job, negotiating a relegation battle in his first season before pushing all the way to the playoffs in 2016/17. They reached the playoffs again last season and finally the promised land with wins over Derby County and Aston Villa. Not only has Jokanovic improved results, he's done so while playing an attacking style.
Photo [cropped]: Nick, CC-By-2.0
Other managers might take a more cautious upon arriving in the Premier League. The Serb declined. Instead, he spent Khan's money upgrading his midfield. Jean Michael Seri and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa were the high-ticket items.
Seri's been among the manager's best players this season but the attacking tactics aren’t working. Further misery, the Cottagers 29 goals conceded rank worst in the league. They've been picked apart by their rivals. A particular weakness has been ceding space behind in wide areas. Jokanovic likes his fullbacks to bomb forward but he hasn't devised proper cover for his centre-backs. Premier League teams eat that up.
Liverpool presents an extremely difficult challenge for Fulham although there is an argument to be made that they are getting Jurgen Klopp’s men at a good time. The Reds drew with Arsenal last weekend then lost to Red Star Belgrade at Anfield in midweek. They looked a far cry from the team that made such a good start this season.
Klopp likes to play with a high tempo. It's gone missing in their last two games. Liverpool looked tired. On the one hand, they'll be well motivated to bounce back. On the other, the legs won’t always follow the brain's orders. The Reds fatigue could work to Fulham’s advantage.
There has been nothing concrete from Fulham regarding Jokanovic even though rumours of meetings about his future have been leaked. At this stage, a win at Anfield might not be enough to save him. Khan might feel the need to protect his summer investment.
Regardless of the management, the situation is extremely serious in West London. The last thing Fulham need is to enter the international break on six defeats in a row. The trip to Anfield is critical for everyone.