atches considered a “must-win” rarely come around as early as seven games into the season.
Should Fulham fail to get anything at Craven Cottage, only two teams in Premier League history will have made worse starts to a season. One of those sides did survive, but that will be of little comfort to Parker, with next week’s game at a much-improved West Ham followed by a nightmare run against Everton, Leicester, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Ahead of tonight’s game, Parker said: “Every game is going to be massive for us this year, but you’re right in saying this one’s got a little bit extra.
“We are only six games in, but at the same time it’s a big, big game for us.”
The two sides last met in July as Championship rivals, when a 0-0 draw represented a decent result for Fulham against a side on the cusp of promotion.
It also marked a fourth successive clean sheet, but that Parker’s men have not kept one in a league game since speaks volumes. Fulham’s leaky backline is not the manager’s only concern: star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has so far scored in just one League match this season but has shouldered much of the blame for their bad start. No team in the top flight had conceded more goals coming into this weekend’s fixtures.
Immediately after last season’s Play-Off Final, Parker vowed the club would learn the lessons following their disastrous season in 2018-19, when an expensive and ultimately failed recruitment drive led to relegation. But after conceding 10 goals in their first three games back in the top flight, similar flaws have been laid bare.
Director of football Tony Khan’s tweets following a 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa in September were unhelpful and riled Parker, but they at least showed the club’s hierarchy were aware of the pressing need for reinforcements.
The result was a similar influx of late signings like two years ago. Six defenders arrived before the window shut, as well as goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, but this time on the cheap.
“There have been 10 or 11 new players coming into the building,” Parker said. “A lot of young players. We’ve brought players here with massive potential but who don’t have a lot of Premier League experience. These players are going to need to come with a mindset that they need to improve.
“This league’s a fast league, things are happening much quicker, at a quicker pace than they have had for large parts of these players’ careers.”
It is hard not to feel a degree of sympathy for Parker over his defensive woes. Kenny Tete made an encouraging start after signing from Lyon, then got injured. Joachim Andersen, who has played in the Champions League, arrived and was also sidelined, while Terence Kongolo, a player with Premier league experience, is yet to feature this season as he works towards full fitness.
There is still hope for Fulham. They are far from being the division’s only strugglers. Finishing above three of them is all that matters. “This year, our league is our mini-league,” Parker added. “We’re two points off being top of our mini-league. They are the facts. Fourth from bottom for us is going to be a huge success. That’s our aim.”
Tonight’s early-season six-pointer would be a good place to start.