The Cottagers have struggled for goals in their attempt to survive, but are expected to find respite – and a threat – in the former Sunderland forward
Wednesday night would have been very educational for new Fulham recruit Josh Maja.
On the day of the transfer deadline, the former England youth international joined the London club on loan from Girondins de Bordeaux until the end of the season. With little execution time, he was still unlikely to be thrown into the depths right away.
However, he had a pretty quick chance to see his new team in action and get a good idea of the scale of the challenge ahead. In a close game, Leicester’s visit came in the first half and then comfortably held Fulham at bay for the duration of the second to register a 2-0 victory at Craven Cottage.
For now, the Cottagers are third from the bottom, eight points from safety and it looks like their fate is already sealed.
Scott Parker’s side have had a miserable start to the campaign, failing to win any of their first six top-flight matches. Things briefly seemed to improve after a series of laudable draws, most notably against Liverpool and Tottenham. However, since their draw against the North London side, Fulham has lost three of their next five matches.
Grim reading, however you slice it.
However, while this overview may suggest otherwise, these two miserable races were distinct in their peculiarities.
While at the start of the season Fulham struggled to keep his opponents on the sidelines, in recent weeks the challenge itself presented a goal threat. This is confirmed by the fact that six teams in the division have worse defensive records, but of those, only West Bromwich Albion are currently below Fulham on the table. So far, only two teams have scored fewer goals.
So it’s clear that Fulham needs to improve.
While the club invested heavily during the summer transfer window in order to level the defense and add creativity to the midfield, the Cottagers fought with only Aleksandar Mitrovic and Aboubakar Kamara as forward options. -center.
Mitrovic has started his last two league games, but his static style and lack of aptitude in urgent situations has often seen him excluded from the starting lineup this season; Kamara also failed to convince when given opportunities and left the club in the just-ended January window.
Instead, Parker was forced to reuse Ivan Cavaleiro – an inconsistent winger – as a center forward, with mixed to negative results.
Maja’s signing can then be seen as a step to address a glaring gap in a key area.
The former Sunderland man is a natural center-forward, a superb finisher inside the box and has the pace of work against the ball that Mitrovic lacks.
“It matches the type of activity we’ve done this year in terms of high potential young talent,” Parker said of Maja after the acquisition. “I brought Josh to the soccer club because he’s someone I see with great potential, someone I see that we can develop.”
It is also a deal that also works for the player.
Since leaving Sunderland in January 2019, Maja has struggled to truly assert herself in western France. There were flashes of his undeniable ability, such as when he was demolished from Nimes in December of the same year (a hat-trick and an assist in a 6-0 win).
However, for the most part, he flattered to cheat and was criticized for spending too much time in deeper areas.
After a promising first full season that saw him score six times and assist twice in 21 league appearances (just six of those starts), the 22-year-old has found things more difficult this term, with just two goals in 17 appearances (11 starts).
Considering he left the English shores under a cloud, betting on himself and choosing not to sign a new contract with the club in his hometown, his return – although temporary – will force him to prove himself at new and to show how much his game has ended since leaving the Black Cats in embarrassment.
He will find a fertile environment in Fulham.
The team is young and the energy is good on the banks of the Thames, and with Ademola Lookman and Andre Frank Zambo-Anguissa, not only is there a large African contingent at the club, but there is also a top service from range. The prognosis for expected goals is also encouraging: So far this season, the Cottagers have, depending on the quality of their chances, created more dangerous openings than seven other teams in the division.
It’s a signature that ticks all the boxes, or at least looks so. Whether this alone will be enough to keep Fulham awake remains to be seen. However, Maja at least gives them a fighting chance.