Fulham: Is Alfie Mawson the final piece of the puzzle?
As the final formalities are completed, we look at whether the defender is the last necessary recruit for the Cottagers?
After a deserved return to the top-flight via the second tier play-offs, attention quickly turned to Fulham’s capability to survive in the Premier League. Any side that wins promotion from the Championship faces an immediate inquest into their top table credentials and Fulham were no exception.
In a squad that possesses young and exciting talent, the options for the future in West London aren’t lacking, but the present day Premier League is no experiment ground.
Proven ability and experience was lacking though the Cottagers’ board have made strides in this window to prevent an immediate return to the second flight. But is Alfie Mawson the final part of the plan?
Gaps filled, holes plugged
The difference in quality between the Championship and Premier League is vast – just ask any of the multitude of players who can’t quite make that step up. Not strengthening or adjusting to life in the top-flight after winning promotion from the Championship is a dangerous tactic, and it’s a tactic that Fulham appear unwilling to try.
The ability, quality and talent of a Championship-level Fulham is impressive, but after falling just short of a play-off spot after a late charge the season before last, the Cottagers began the previous season slowly.
An incredible run, though, from Christmas to the end of April saw Slavisa Jokanovic’s team go unbeaten in 23 games.
Aleksandar Mitrovic played a big part in their second-half charge, scoring 12 goals in the 17 league games in which he featured. The Serbian was only outscored by Ryan Sessegnon though the latter played in nearly three times as many games.
Fulham have ensured they answered any goal scoring worries by keeping hold of Mitrovic, signing him on a permanent deal from Newcastle United.
Jokanovic was more concerned about the durability and strength in his midfield and was prepared to break his club’s transfer record to gain the services of Jean Michael Seri from Ligue 1’s Nice.
In goal, the experienced Fabri was drafted in from Turkish side Besiktas in a cut-price deal, and the Spaniard will rival Marcus Bettinelli for the number one shirt at Craven Cottage. Jokanovic has also brought in Premier League-experienced Andre Schurrle from Borussia Dortmund to bolster his attacking midfield options.
The Fulham backroom team knew where they were short, and they’ve bought well to fill the holes.
Where will Mawson fit in?
A partnership of Denis Odoi and Tim Ream at the heart of Fulham’s defence played a large role in their impressive post-Christmas charge up the table.
Jokanovic also had versatile Chelsea loanee Tomas Kalas at his disposal, who also featured heavily throughout the season. The Czech international has since returned to Stamford Bridge after his most recent deal expired.
Maxime Le Marchand arrived at Craven Cottage on the same day as OGC Nice club mate Seri and the Frenchman is a centre half by trade, helping his former team to an eighth-place finish last time out.
Le Marchand, though, was often deployed on the left-hand side of defence. This may be what Jokanovic has in mind for him, too, as Ryan Sessegnon looks to play a more attacking role in the upcoming campaign.
Mawson will cost the west Londoners up to a reported £20 million, and will surely go straight into the starting XI. His arrival will probably mean bad news for either Odoi or Ream, with one of the promotion-winning pair making way to fit the new signing in.
What can Mawson bring to Fulham?
The 24-year-old hasn’t been on the Premier League scene long, but having featured heavily in the last two campaigns for Swansea City, his fast-growing experience will help his new team mates adjust to life in the top tier.
After making his top-flight debut in October 2016, Mawson played 65 times for the Swans. He featured in every single league fixture last season and was a shining light for the Welsh side, despite being unable to save them from relegation.
Swansea struggled for most of the 2017/18 season, and having played such a big part in it, Mawson will be familiar with the level of mental strength needed to be in a lengthy basement battle.
Tim Ream has played in the Premier League before with Bolton Wanderers, and he too knows what it feels like to be relegated, so the potential pairing of the two can provide the Fulham defence with the right attitude having gone through negative experiences.
Ability in the air is a plus for any side. During his time in south Wales, Mawson made 221 headed clearances. He’s also a threat at the other end of the pitch, having scored six goals in two seasons, three of which were headed strikes.
Mawson will provide a threat in the air, and he – combined with the aerial ability of Mitrovic – will make Fulham a danger from set-pieces. In 65 games, the Englishman has been cautioned only four times and discipline will provide an example for others to follow in the Fulham defence.
Still only 24, and two Premier League seasons into his career, Mawson still has a lot to prove. His transfer will benefit both player and club, but whether he is the final arrival in west London remains to be seen.
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