Fulham found their scoring touch for the evening – but they still have a major problem to fix

Fulham may have scored three goals to beat Wolves, but are their attacking woes behind them? Or did the win paper over the cracks in Marco Silva's strategy?
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Two things happened after Fulham’s 3-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evenings – firstly, Gary O’Neil needed a long lie down after veins started throbbing across his body due to a handful of not-really-that-controversial interventions by VAR. And secondly, Fuham moved off the bottom of the goal-scoring charts in the Premier League. Willian’s winning penalty sees them at the heady heights of one goal per game. Let’s hope they don’t get a nosebleed up there.

Only Luton Town, Sheffield United and Burnley – the three worst teams in the division so far, regardless of what the table may currently claim about Everton – have hit the back of the net less often than Fulham this season, while only four teams have accrued a lower total xG than the Cottagers’ 15.2. They are neither creative nor ruthless in front of goal, and even hitting three goals for the first time in the league since May doesn’t really indicate an improvement. They needed two penalties, and there’s at least one man in Wolverhampton who didn’t agree with the decisions anyway.

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Outside of those spot kicks, Fulham managed a relatively meagre 10 shots, with four on target and a non-penalty xG of 1.32, against one of the flakier defences in the Premier League. They may have started the game in fine style with Alex Iwobi’s cool seventh-minute finish, but they were never as threatening nor as penetrating again. Had decisions gone against them, the outcome would have been very different.

There’s no question as to the root cause of the malaise – the loss of Aleksandar Mitrović was a body blow for the club. He scored 14 Premier League goals last season and there is evidently nobody ready to replace that output, least of all his replacement Raúl Jiménez.

Playing against the club where he made his name, the Mexican striker managed just one shot on goal, bang in front from six yards out – and he very nearly hit the corner flag. He has scored just once since arriving at Craven Cottage and has managed an average xG of 0.06 per game, which is sadly awful and one of the lowest tallies in European football. He was a very fine striker before that cruel and sickening head injury back in 2020, but has never been the same since. Fulham’s decision to spend £5.5m on him looked odd at the time, but simply looks unwise now. Jiménez deserves respect and sympathy but not, at this point, a starting place in a Premier League team.

To pin the blame solely on an ailing number nine is, however, to undersell the issue. Fulham will not suddenly become an attacking force with one good striking signing – the issues under Portuguese head coach Marco Silva run deeper, and they are simply not playing in a way that allows them to generate chances.

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Touch maps reveal part of the problem. Fulham play with a 4-2-3-1 formation which on this occasion saw Willian and Alex Iwobi playing wide with Andreas Pereira nominally taking up the central role behind Jiménez. But nominally is the word – he spent almost the entire match drifting out to the flanks, especially to the right, and he didn’t touch the ball in a central area any closer in than 40 yards out.

The idea appears to be that Pereira will drift out wide to generate two-on-one opportunities down the flanks while the deeper-lying central midfielders, Tom Cairney and Harrison Reed, make late runs into the areas vacated by the former Manchester United player – but the sum result of these moves was four shots from outside of the area by Cairney and Reed for a combined xG of 0.19. These is not a dangerous strategy with the players in question.

The gap that was being created in central areas also saw Jiménez dropping deep to fill it in order to pick the ball up – which meant that when Fulham got overloads in wide areas, there was often nobody in the box to aim a cross at anyway and they were forced to slow play down and recycle possession, essentially negating Silva’s entire strategy. When they did get one of their 18 crosses in, the target was invariably a striker who is sorely struggling for anything resembling his best form.

Nor were the wider players themselves getting into spaces to contribute more directly. Willian didn't have a single shot from anywhere other than the penalty spot. Pereira, from the number ten position, didn't take a single shot all evening. Iwobi was more dangerous, but after his goal his three attempts all came from outside of the area. Basically, even though Fulham scored three times, the attacking strategy still didn’t really work, didn't create shooting chances from within 20 yards, and relied in the end on Wolves defenders making ill-advised challenges. And they did look an awful lot like fouls, whatever O’Neil thought about them.

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So what do Fulham do? Well, buying another number nine is certainly a necessary step at some stage, and they have been linked with several strikers such as Serhiou Guirassy and Chuba Akpom. But even having Erling Haaland up front wouldn’t turn Silva’s side into a free-scoring attacking force until they can work out a way to link midfield and attack more effectively. Given that neither Cairney nor Reed are especially threatening with those deep runs, that probably starts with an attacking midfielder who holds a more central, and by extension more influential, position.

If they don’t change things, well… Fulham are a healthy ten points off the drop zone, although it could be six if Everton win their appeal against their ten-point deduction. They seem to have enough quality to stave any serious threat of relegation off, although things change quickly in the Premier League. There probably isn’t any need to panic, per se, but if Fulham want to put safety beyond reasonable doubt – and even build on the promise of European qualification that blossomed in the early stages of last season – then something needs to give.

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