Derby FM20 – That was 2022/23: The Opposition

The continuing adventures of Derby County via Football Manager 2020. We are now four seasons into an epic quest, covering hundreds of posts and many thousands of words. If you’re new to these pages then catching up might be a daunting task. A handy index of story chapters is available here, or for the really time-pressed visitor there is now a digested read that summarises everything to bring you up to speed in the shortest time possible.

I don’t know about you, but as I play through an FM save I find what other teams do to be absolutely fascinating. Are our opponents reflective of their real-life counterparts? Were there are any surprise packages, and conversely any teams that had shockers? Find out here; presented for you in league position order from second – heh heh – to twentieth…

Liverpool (2nd, 85 points)
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Head-to-head: we drew 0-0 at Anfield and won the home game 3-2; they put us to the sword in the Carabao Cup final, only winning 1-0 but demonstrating their clear superiority
Goals scored and league ranking: 80, 1st=
Goals conceded and league ranking: 21, 2nd
Star player: Paulo Dybala (53 appearances, 23 goals, 27 assists, 7.64 rating)
Flop player:  Divock Origi (37 appearances, 5 goals, 0 assists, 6.78 rating)
Biggest transfer: Jadon Sancho, £99 million from Arsenal
Biggest sale: Taiwo Awoniyi, £5.5 million to SC Paderborn
Top Scorers: Sadio Mane (25), Dybala (23), Sancho (15)
A relentless and fierce attacking force, Jurgen’s juggernaut of a team performed to a high standard throughout and I always felt that we needed to at least match them in terms of results. They lost five league games and we took four points from them, which ultimately put us in front, but they haunted our dreams until the very latter stages of the season and they showed us just what they could do when they essentially bitch-slapped us out of the League Cup final at Wembley. Paulo Dybala has emerged as a perfect replacement for Mo Salah, an easy choice for Player of the Year, and with a perfect sense of continuity and consistency I’m sure they will be up there again in 2023/24. April was the decisive month. We beat them in the league, and further defeats to Norwich and Wolves were incurred as they also went out of the FA Cup and Champions League at the semi-final stage. Is there a sense of choking at the final hurdle about them, I wonder.

Manchester United (3rd, 82 points)
Manager: Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer
Head-to-head: we won 2-1 in both home and away matches
Goals scored and league ranking: 80, 1st=
Goals conceded and league ranking: 32, 4th
Star player: Marcus Rashford (45 appearances, 29 goals, 4 assists, 7.28 rating)
Flop player:  Joao Felix (50 appearances, 4 goals, 7 assists, 6.92 rating)
Biggest transfer: Joao Felix, £100 million from Atletico Madrid
Biggest sale: Bruno Fernandes, £103 million to AC Milan
Top Scorers: Rashford (29), Anthony Martial (15), Mason Greenwood (12)
A spending bonanza in the transfer market did not have the intended effect for United. Felix was a major disappointment, while Patrick Schick (£54 million from Roma) was only used sparingly. Tielemans and Neves were fine additions to a packed midfield, but at the same time they lost Bruno Fernandes and felt it. Overall the Red Devils were good value and put up a decent challenge in defending their title, but they could be overcome defensively. A complement of good centre-backs – Lenglet, Lindelof, Tuanzebe, Maguire – were technically up there yet could be beaten for pace, while De Gea’s campaign was further evidence that the great Spaniard is in a slow period of decline. They at least ended the year in the best possible way, beating Barcelona in the Champions League final to remove any potential job concerns for the manager.

Manchester City (4th, 71 points)
Manager: Jose Mourinho until March, then Diego Simeone
Head-to-head: a pair of 1-1 draws in the league, however we hit them when they were at their lowest in the Carabao Cup, winning 2-0 at the semi-final stage
Goals scored and league ranking: 64, 5th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 30, 3rd
Star player: Kevin De Bruyne (34 appearances, 3 goals, 11 assists, 7.35 rating)
Flop player:  Gabriel Jesus (40 appearances, 5 goals, 4 assists, 6.76 rating)
Biggest transfer: Jean-Clair Todibo, £63 million from Schalke 04
Biggest sale: Everton, £45.5 million to AC Milan
Top Scorers: Harrington Kane (27), Leroy Sane (8), Various (5)
A job I was initially tipped to get – I’m not bitter – went instead to Jose Mourinho, who with some degree of inevitability turned out to be entirely the wrong fit for the Bitter Blues. After starting the campaign in the relegation zone, the Special One hit mid-table before City’s paymasters felt they’d had enough and handed the reins to Diego Simeone instead. I feel that the Argentinian is likely to be an excellent appointment. His team roared into the Champions League places over the final stretch to flex their considerable muscles and give scary hints of what they can do. More and more, however, everything depends on KDB’s brilliance and the goalscoring potency of Harrington. Stop them, which isn’t a given, and you’ve kind of halted City. Simeone will no doubt spend the summer adding further terrifying options to place his team back in the title race.

Chelsea (5th, 71 points)
Manager: Unai Emery, sacked at the end of the season
Head-to-head: we drew 3-3 at home and won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge
Goals scored and league ranking: 60, 7th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 35, 5th
Star player: Matheus Henrique (38 appearances, 2 goals, 6 assists, 7.29 rating)
Flop player:  Kepa Arrizabalaga (40 appearances, 16 clean sheets, 6.85 rating)
Biggest transfer: Kingsley Coman, £89 million from Bayern Munich
Biggest sale: Mateo Kovacic, £58 million to Manchester City
Top Scorers: Lautaro Martinez (27), Callum Hudson-Odoi (10), Reece James (5)
So it turns out Unai Emery is not the answer for Chelsea. Who could have guessed? The Blues have developed into a costlier version of Arsenal, generally up there with the best of them without ever truly threatening the top places. It’s difficult to appreciate the point of them. They can showcase some incredibly good players, notably the goals of Martinez, but on the whole they come across as an expensive assemblage of misfits. Good players to a man, with little sense of how they all fit together and even what their philosophy is. Lautaro aside they were worryingly easy to halt in attack, and they were also prickable at the back. Emery’s gone and a number of stars have been put up for sale (Pulisic, Kante, Ikone), as they appear to be in the throes of a further pointless reshuffle. Someone could really take them to task as they certainly have the capacity for greatness, but hopefully this won’t happen.

Arsenal (6th, 69 points)
Manager: Mikel Arteta
Head-to-head: we won 2-1 at home and drew 1-1 at the Emirates; we beat them in the FA Cup final by the Arsenalesque scoreline of 1-0
Goals scored and league ranking: 72, 3rd
Goals conceded and league ranking: 38, 7th
Star player: Lucas Torreira (48 appearances, 2 goals, 11 assists, 7.34 rating)
Flop player:  Gabriel Martinelli (40 appearances, 5 goals, 3 assists, 6.79 rating)
Biggest transfer: Diogo Jota, £74 million from Schalke 04
Biggest sale: Jadon Sancho, £99 million to Liverpool
Top Scorers: Nicolas Pepe (16), Bukayo Saka (13), Jota (10)
Arsenal finished in sixth place for the fourth consecutive season. Once again, Arteta is left to reshuffle the pack and find the answers in order to progress them (we have already agreed deals for Nelson and Tierney, both transfer-listed), and I find it hard to believe that anyone at the Emirates is truly happy with this. They were fine in attack but porous in defence, where this year’s crop of centre-backs – Kimpembe and Ake, mostly – failed to deal with opposition strikers. Andre Onana, acquired at some cost to provide the answers in goal, could only deal with so much. There’s potential here. Saka leads a group of plucky youngsters and William Saliba looks like he’s developing into something special at the back, but overall they seem short of inspiration. Thiago Almada, previously the Gunners’ star player and only their third best this time around, seems odds-on to be the next big name to move on to more ambitious climes, which kind of says it all.

Newcastle United (7th, 59 points)
Manager: Lee Johnson
Head-to-head: we won 2-0 at home and were forced to a 1-1 draw at St James
Goals scored and league ranking: 54, 8th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 46, 8th
Star player: Seko Fofana (36 appearances, 8 goals, 3 assists, 7.24 rating)
Flop player:  Joelinton (26 appearances, 2 goals, 1 assist, 6.78 rating)
Biggest transfer: Marc Cucurella, £15.75 million from Getafe
Biggest sale: Jonjo Shelvey, £5.5 million to West Ham
Top Scorers: Ante Rebic (10), Fofana, Guy Tinkler (8)
The Magpies ended up heading ‘the rest’ and finished in the final European qualifying place, a long way short of the title-chasing pack yet the pick of the mid-table crew. This marks steady progress for Lee Johnson, who is doing a very good job with his limited assets, spending little more than £50 million on players and making good use of assets such as Nohan Kenneh, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maxmin. The latter is the one we have identified as their biggest threat, and it’s perhaps a consequence of this that his effect was lessened, but at least he can be comforted with the fact Newcastle have more than him in their attacking locker these days. I would love to add young DC/DM Kenneh to my squad, yet Johnson rejects my overtures fiercely, and it’s this protectiveness and determination to hold on to his crown jewels that should sustain the team’s slow upward direction.

Tottenham Hotspur (8th, 57 points)
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini until February, then Luis Enrique
Head-to-head: we won home (3-0) and away (1-0)
Goals scored and league ranking: 43, 12th=
Goals conceded and league ranking: 37, 6th
Star player: Debbie Alli (44 appearances, 22 goals, 4 assists, 7.24 rating)
Flop player:  Steven Bergwijn (45 appearances, 6 goals, 1 assist, 6.85 rating)
Biggest transfer: Wilfried Zaha, £36.5 million from Crystal Palace
Biggest sale: Lucas Moura, £13.5 million to Fiorentina
Top Scorers: Alli (22), Duvan Zapata (20), Bergwijn, Angel Correa(6)
By Spurs’ standards a poor year, in which they dropped from the pace to finish eighth and missed out on the European qualifying places. The F.O.C. reverted to type after a promising start and was finally replaced late in the season with former Spain manager Enrique, having failed to answer the yawning gap in his team’s ranks since the departure of Harrington Kane, whose services they have now been without for three years. Debbie and Zapata did well enough, but neither plugged the hole adequately, and Spurs remain short of a specialist centre-forward. The team’s other gems, Lo Celso and Camavinga, enjoyed poorer campaigns, while star centre-back Dias has been put up for sale. Winks, Bergwijn, Mykolenko and Dier are other listed players as the white half of north London goes for yet another reshuffle.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (9th, 56 points)
Manager: Marcelo Bielsa until April, then Gian Piero Gasperini
Head-to-head: we won 3-1 at Molyneux and 1-0 at home
Goals scored and league ranking: 46, 9th=
Goals conceded and league ranking: 48, 9th
Star player: Willy Boly (36 appearances, 2 goals, 1 assist, 7.10 rating)
Flop player:  Olexandr Zinchenko (9 appearances, 1 goal, 6 assists, 6.84 rating)
Biggest transfer: Todd Cantwell, £27.5 million from Norwich
Biggest sale: Ruben Neves, £44 million to Manchester United
Top Scorers: Raul Jimenez (12), Leonardo Campana (11), Bruma (6)
Wolves finished ninth, scored the ninth highest number of goals and were ninth in goals conceded, therefore a mid-table finish however you choose to look at it. They clearly like their legendary managers. Bielsa stayed until April when he left to take up the post at Borussia Dortmund, and it’s hello to Gasperini, another sixty-something who before this was in charge of the Azzurri. My sense of them is that they ought to be building towards something special. The players they sign all seem like good ones. Their sales always generate fine levels of money to be recycled back into squad building. And yet they never quite hit those heights, content with ninth. Will things ever change, or is this the limit of their ambition?

Everton (10th, 49 points)
Manager: Thomas Frank
Head-to-head: we drew 1-1 at Goodison Park and won 2-0 at home; we also ended their FA Cup run with a 2-1 away victory
Goals scored and league ranking: 61, 6th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 64, 14th=
Star player: Declan Rice (43 appearances, 5 goals, 7 assists, 7.41 rating)
Flop player:  Tom Davies (39 appearances, 2 goals, 3 assists, 6.83 rating)
Biggest transfer: Rice, £39.5 million from West Ham
Biggest sale: Otavio, £28 million to Roma
Top Scorers: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (20), Richarlison (13), Jose Juan Macias (9)
An improved league position for the Toffees, who now seem resigned to bobbling around mid-table in perpetuity, and the numbers say it all. They were good in attack, where Calvert-Lewin’s goals put him on Spurs’ radar and into the England squad. At the back they were porous. Despite the shielding presence of new signing Declan Rice it was easy enough to break through, where their keepers Jed Steer and Zan-Luk Leban turned out to be eminently beatable. Oh, but for the days when it was Jordan Pickford… They should be doing better really. Our win over them in the FA Cup, where we frankly blew them away, ought not to have been as simple. The Toffees were busy substituting good pros like Fekir and Bowen for Gomes and Calvert-Lewin, so they have the depth and the ability. Perhaps a change in manager is in order…

Norwich City (11th, 49 points)
Manager: Daniel Farke until October, then Frank de Boer
Head-to-head: we won 1-0 at Carrow Road and 2-0 at home
Goals scored and league ranking: 46, 9th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 64, 14th=
Star player: Emi Buendia (36 appearances, 6 goals, 8 assists, 7.18 rating)
Flop player:  Kasper Dolberg (35 appearances, 5 goals, 5 assists, 6.79 rating)
Biggest transfer: Dolberg, £14.5 million from OGC Nice
Biggest sale: Callum Mallett, £31 million to Brighton
Top Scorers: Bruno Petkovic, Michael John Lema (11), Buendia (6)
Not so long ago the Canaries seemed to be upwardly mobile and building towards offering a genuine challenge to the status quo. That time has passed. Maybe it went with Daniel Farke, sacked early in the campaign after overseeing a truly horrific run, or perhaps it started when Norwich went into selling off some of their brightest assets. Todd Cantwell went to Wolves. Callum Mallett, a teenage wonderkid who was developing into their striker off the future, was sold to Brighton.  Emi Buendia is still here and while he is the team will always carry a sense of threat, but the future doesn’t look so bright. Defensively they were poor, and Kasper Dolberg’s first season as centre-forward ended disappointingly.

Aston Villa (12th, 43 points)
Manager: Dean Smith
Head-to-head: we drew 1-1 at Villa Park and beat them 1-0 at home; in the Carabao Cup Quarter-Final we won 2-0
Goals scored and league ranking: 43, 12th=
Goals conceded and league ranking: 67, 18th=
Star player: John McGinn (38 appearances, 2 goals, 2 assists, 7.08 rating)
Flop player:  Galeno (36 appearances, 2 goals, 3 assists, 6.74 rating)
Biggest transfer: Robert Bozenik, £32.5 million from Feyenoord
Biggest sale: Douglas Luiz, £12.25 million to Leon
Top Scorers: Leo Baptistao (12), Bozenik (9), Jack Grealish (6)
More of the same for Villa, our future ground sharers, who do enough year after year to stay safe. They’ve become the new Newcastle, haven’t they? Despite Fernando Pacheco in goal and the presence of Engels and Mings in defence, they were far too easy to score against, with recent signing Josh Tymon especially poor. Grealish and McGinn continue to do what they do in midfield, and Leo Baptistao is their most potent attacking force, however there’s no cutting edge to them. Bozenik, their Slovakian main striker, scored nine from forty appearances, and behind him there’s a vacuum. This, I guess, is what happens when you change next to nothing. You get to stay afloat, but that’s about it. All the same they were brittle enough to force a draw from us at Villa Park, so you can see how they accumulate the points.

Bournemouth (13th, 41 points)
Manager: Stale Solbakken until December, then Frank Lampard
Head-to-head: we won 3-0 at home and did for them by the score of 2-1 at their place, which for the present is the Madkeski Stadium in Reading
Goals scored and league ranking: 42, 14th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 61, 11th=
Star player: Issa Diop (24 appearances, 0 goals, 2 assists, 7.09 rating)
Flop player:  Kelechi Iheanacho (18 appearances, 1 goal, 2 assists, 6.74 rating)
Biggest transfer: Diop, £44 million from West Ham
Biggest sale: Dominic Solanke, £20.5 million to Everton
Top Scorers: Callum Wilson (17), Ryan Fraser, Ollie Watkins (6)
A promotion season that appeared to be heading straight for the trapdoor changed with the dismissal of Solbakken. Fat Frank was brought in, and with the natural verve of a winning manager he started spending the club’s cash and engineering their move to safety. Diop and Watkins were expensive January signings, and they produced six league victories in April and May to soar into lower-mid-table. Good job. The Cherries relied mainly on players who guided them down, notably Wilson’s goals and the good work of Fraser and Brooks on the wings, though Watkins was an enterprising acquisition and Diop was added to a defence that stopped leaking easy goals. Iheanacho was brought in and did nothing; for someone earning £62,000 per week that’s a wretched return.

Southampton (14th, 40 points)
Manager: Paco Jemez
Head-to-head: two draws; 1-1 at St Marys and a goalless dirge at home
Goals scored and league ranking: 46, 9th=
Goals conceded and league ranking: 65, 16th=
Star player: James Ward-Prowse (43 appearances, 5 goals, 3 assists, 7.16 rating)
Flop player:  Callum Slattery (40 appearances, 2 goals, 2 assists, 6.64 rating)
Biggest transfer: Bosko Sutalo, £17.5 million from Atalanta
Biggest sale: Thierry Correia, £6 million to Sevilla
Top Scorers: Danny Ings (18), Moussa Djenepo (7), Various (5)
An improved effort from the Saints, who had finished just above the drop zone for some years and pulled themselves to safety much earlier this time. The perceived wisdom is that everything depends on Ings’s goalscoring nous, Ward-Prowse marshalling things from midfield and Nathan Redmond’s acceleration on the wing, but Jemez is holding on to his stars and augmenting them with a fine supporting cast. Daniel James looks like a canny player for Southampton, and a gritty defence led by veteran Alexander Scholz doesn’t give goals away easily. We struggled to get anything from them, and in a title winning season failed to achieve victory against the Saints on both occasions.

Middlesbrough (15th, 37 points)
Manager: Jonathan Woodgate
Head-to-head: a 1-0 win at the Riverside followed by turning them over 4-0 at home
Goals scored and league ranking: 35, 16th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 62, 13th=
Star player: Lewis Wing (31 appearances, 4 goals, 3 assists, 7.15 rating)
Flop player:  Enzo Le Fee (21 appearances, 1 goal, 0 assists, 6.61 rating)
Biggest transfer: Mauro Arambarri, £17 million from Getafe
Biggest sale: Alexander Djiku, £10.5 million to Torino
Top Scorers: Shoya Nakajima (8), Jonathan Calleri (6), Ebere Eze (5)
Boro replicated last season’s finish and accumulated three fewer points on 2021/22’s tally. In doing so they produced a continuation of their previous achievements, scoring at a rate of less than a goal per game and defending stiffly enough to prevail. In the summer the misfit striker pairing of Assombalonga and Fletcher reach the end of their contracts. Neither forward kicked a ball in anger across the entire season, and considering they earn a combined £65,000 per week that’s an expensive amount of talent to sideline. Hopefully Woodgate will get to reinvest the funds on someone he actually does like and who can improve their goals tally. Midfield is where Boro are at their strongest. Wing, paired with Vladimir Dragomir and Nakajima patrolling the left wing, can offer a decent pressing challenge, and it’s from this quality where they must build.

Brighton and Hove Albion (16th, 37 points)
Manager: Graham Potter
Head-to-head: we drew 0-0 at the Amex and won 2-0 at home; we also saw off their challenge in the FA Cup with a 2-0 scoreline
Goals scored and league ranking: 34, 17th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 61, 11th=
Star player: Pontus Dahlberg (39 appearances, 12 clean sheets, 6.98 rating)
Flop player:  Aaron Connolly (24 appearances, 2 goals, 0 assists, 6.66 rating)
Biggest transfer: Callum Mallett, £31 million from Norwich
Biggest sale: Viktor Gyokeres, £11.75 million to Watford
Top Scorers: Neal Maupay (8), Mallett (6), Pascal Gross (5)
A poor season considering the tenth placed finish they achieved in 2021/22. While never falling into the bottom three they spent the campaign skating just above it, routinely hovering between twelfth and seventeenth. Any success hinged on the difficulty opposition sides found in breaking them down. We struggled here, meandering to a goalless draw at the Amex with keeper Dahlberg in Yashin’s clothing, while at the other end the Gulls rarely troubled our defence. Sure enough, most of the plaudits go to a fine effort at the back. Dahlberg was protected by a formidable line featuring Ben White and Lewis Dunk, with Leo Ostigard protecting their right flank ably. Further forward they had Shaqiri and Gross to spearhead their thrust, yet little finishing product as Maupay and record signing Mallett struggled to make an impression. Safety means Graham Potter lives to fight another day, but they require inspiration and in finding it they will need to do better than rely on Championship standard former Rams like Jatta and Ivan.

Leicester City (17th, 33 points)
Manager: Phillip Cocu until October; Jose Luis Mendilibar until April, then Viktor Pereira
Head-to-head: a 3-0 home win followed by a 1-0 victory at the Crisps Stadium
Goals scored and league ranking: 28, 20th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 51, 10th=
Star player: Hamza Choudhury (33 appearances, 2 goals, 3 assists, 7.27 rating)
Flop player:  Deyovaisio Zeefuik (26 appearances, 1 goal, 0 assists, 6.78 rating)
Biggest transfer: Francis Coquelin, £12 million from Manchester City
Biggest sale: Youri Tielemans, £44 million to Manchester United
Top Scorers: Arkadiusz Milik (10), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7), James Maddison, Harvey Barnes (4)
The Premier League’s most desperate team is now on their sixth manager during the time I’ve been with Derby, which is four years. This seems to be the root of their problem, as the finances have drained away and a set-up that looked destined at one point to hand it to the big boys has in turn had it dealt to them. In the meantime managers pay the price for their failures, given inadequate lengths of time to sort things out or being poor appointments ahead of the board handing the poisoned chalice to some new fool. In the meantime, the rump of a very good squad hangs on. Maddison, Barnes, Soyuncu, Gray, Chilwell, Choudhury and the ever-present Schmeichel remain, failing to score anything like enough goals while relying on goalkeeping heroics and stiff defending. For worrying lengths of the season they were fixed in the drop zone, sure fire relegation fodder, until a very late spurt of form dragged them out at the moment of truth. Congratulations Foxes – you’re the new Southampton.

West Bromwich Albion (18th, 32 points)
Manager: Kurban Berdyev
Head-to-head: two victories, 1-0 at home and a 4-1 cruise at the Hawthorns
Goals scored and league ranking: 31, 18th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 68, 20th
Star player: Matheus Pereira (27 appearances, 6 goals, 4 assists, 6.96 rating)
Flop player:  Cristian Benavente (30 appearances, 2 goals, 2 assists, 6.64 rating)
Biggest transfer: Panagiotis Retsos, £26 million from Sheffield United
Biggest sale: Semi Ajayi, £14.25 million to Watford
Top Scorers: Jonathan Leko (9), Bradley Dack (7), Pereira (6)
I remember playing against this lot in the Championship, when they were really difficult to handle and looked far more the promotion package than we did for some months. In the interim the Baggies have stood still while we have boldly gone where we’ve gone, went up eventually because someone had to and failed to make much of an impression. Last placed in the division defensively, no doubt a consequence of trying to handle the top flight with a second tier group of players, and no great shakes in attack either. There was a time when we feared the likes of Leko and Dack. No longer. They will have to do a lot better if they make it back here, perhaps building the team around Sam Field, a fine defensive midfielder who is wanted by Bournemouth but who they could do with retaining.

Swansea City (19th, 30 points)
Manager: Marco Silva
Head-to-head: a 3-1 win at home and 1-0 to us at the Liberty
Goals scored and league ranking: 38, 15th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 65, 16th=
Star player: Billel Omrani (41 appearances, 13 goals, 2 assists, 6.96 rating)
Flop player:  Zsolt Kalmar (27 appearances, 1 goal, 0 assists, 6.71 rating)
Biggest transfer: Bryan Mbuemo, £17.25 million from Brentford
Biggest sale: Ales Mateju, £4.6 million to Fenerbahce
Top Scorers: Omrani (13), Bersant Celina (9), Mbuemo (5)
A reasonable effort from the promoted Swans, who went up via the playoffs, having finished sixth in the Championship, and proved to be just a bit too short of possessing the quality required. Until the last few weeks of the season they were outside the drop zone, but a string of defeats when it mattered did for them and killed off their challenge. Marco Silva spent a fair amount, £51 million in total, introducing the likes of Ben Davies, Emiliano Martinez, Marc Albrighton and Japhet Tanganga, all bringing top flight experience to south Wales. Grafted on to a stubbornly second tier exoskeleton, they couldn’t do enough to save their new side and in the end Swansea went down rather meekly. We didn’t find them to be the easiest team to turn over, because they could pile bodies behind the ball and were able to counter-attack, but it never felt like they had enough. So it proved.

Fulham (20th, 21 points)
Manager: Scott Parker until February, then Jess Thorup
Head-to-head: easy street after winning 5-0 at home and securing a 3-0 triumph at Craven Cottage
Goals scored and league ranking: 29, 19th
Goals conceded and league ranking: 67, 18th=
Star player: Sylvester Jasper (33 appearances, 7 goals, 7 assists, 7.12 rating)
Flop player:  Matt O’Riley (28 appearances, 2 goals, 0 assists, 6.65 rating)
Biggest transfer: Che Nunnely, £18.75 million from Burnley
Biggest sale: Jason, £10 million to Newcastle
Top Scorers: Jasper, Aleksandar Mitrovic (8), Sofiane Boufal (6)
Awful. We continued our perfect record against the Cottagers, but elsewhere any residual fight left in them drained away as they posted the worst Premier League campaign we’ve seen in recent memory. It wasn’t quite as bad as our own past sorry achievements in this area, yet it was turgid stuff as the softness we experienced against them was offered out to just about everyone. Fulham won five league games all season. Scott Parker was put out of his misery and his replacement posted one further victory in the division, admittedly a fine 4-0 triumph over Aston Villa but a horror show everywhere else. Nothing was good. They didn’t score a lot of goals, with each opposition coach knowing they had to halt Mitrovic and if that was achieved then the Cottaging machine ground to a halt. A lot went in at the other end. Ben Gibson and David Costas formed a reasonable defensive line, but you could cut through their midfield with terrible ease and Marek Rodak in goal wasn’t anything special. We’ll miss their charitable attitude towards our forwards, but playing them was like bullying a cute little puppy.

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