LONDON — “One recreation at a time” was one in every of Claudio Ranieri’s mantras throughout Leicester’s miracle Premier League title triumph in 2016, and if the early days of his Fulham tenure are something to go by, it’s more likely to serve him once more at Craven Cottage.
His first recreation, a knockabout 3-2 win over Southampton, introduced him a primary victory. He was extra inspired by his facet’s show in final weekend’s 2-Zero defeat at Chelsea, and there have been additional positives to be taken from recreation three, a 1-1 draw in opposition to the Leicester membership that he led to sporting immortality.
Fulham defended ruggedly, performed compactly, took a deserved first-half lead by Aboubakar Kamara and have been pegged again with solely 16 minutes remaining.
The west London membership stay backside of the Premier League and have now gone 19 top-flight video games with no clear sheet, equalling their all-time report. However as Ranieri crossed the rain-soaked pitch towards the tunnel at full-time, pausing to applaud the Leicester followers chanting his identify, he wore the look of a person inspired by what he had seen.
“We proceed to progress. I am very proud of our efficiency,” mentioned the 67-year-old Italian, who was sacked by Leicester 9 months after main them to the title. “Slowly, slowly. We now have to work extra. However I am blissful. Quite a lot of the work they perceive. Little issues, however essential issues.”
Ranieri has turned to some tried-and-tested new-manager tropes in his makes an attempt to instill some self-discipline within the Fulham altering room. Meals at the moment are eaten as a staff, and no person is allowed to go away the desk till the final individual has completed. Cell phones are banned within the hours previous kick-off.
Writing within the match programme, Fulham skipper Tom Cairney mentioned that Ranieri has “rapidly stamped his authority.” Followers, in the meantime, have discerned higher metal within the staff.
“The primary factor he is accomplished is so as to add some defensive solidity to the facet,” says season ticket-holder Sammy James, who hosts the Fulhamish podcast. “While I nonetheless have large respect for Slavisa Jokanovic, at instances this season we have regarded horribly open and that has been rectified. Inside three video games, Ranieri has settled on a system.”
Jokanovic, Ranieri’s predecessor, rotated his defensive gamers regularly over the primary 12 matches of the marketing campaign and by no means discovered the suitable mixture. Mockingly, Ranieri has used the identical again 4 that Jokanovic deployed in his closing recreation — a 2-Zero defeat at Liverpool final month — in every of his three matches in cost, whereas centre-back Calum Chambers has continued within the midfield holding position that he first took on in that recreation at Anfield.
“He’ll try to get a secure again 4 and the 2 sitting in entrance of them, [Jean Michael] Seri and Chambers, will keep the identical,” former Fulham defender Tony Gale informed ESPN. “The primary issues [under Jokanovic] have been giving targets away and giving up possession too simply in their very own half. He appears to have rectified that briefly, however there’s nonetheless a protracted option to go.”
Ranieri admitted afterward that he had felt “very emotional” dealing with his former facet, simply six weeks on from the demise of Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and 4 others in a helicopter crash outdoors the King Energy Stadium. Ranieri paid heartfelt tribute to Vichai in his programme notes, describing him as a “nice man” who “made this fairytale doable” and providing condolences to his household and to Leicester’s workers and supporters.
Whereas the context couldn’t be ignored, Ranieri mentioned he had tried to forged it from his thoughts: “When the sport began, I used to be concentrating on my staff.”
There have been eight members of his title-winning squad within the guests’ match-day group and there was a delicate nod to the Leicester triumph in Fulham’s tactical setup, with the house facet shuttling from their 4-2-3-1 beginning formation right into a compact 4-4-2 when their opponents had the ball.
Ranieri may have been involved by a few of what he noticed within the first half. Goalkeeper Sergio Rico was referred to as into motion inside three minutes, blocking along with his chest from Kelechi Iheanacho after James Maddison had picked Seri’s pocket in midfield. Leicester commonly discovered house behind Fulham right-back Cyrus Christie, and the house facet twice switched off at corners, permitting the guests to search out males in house on the sting of the field. On the latter event, Wes Morgan’s downward header from Marc Albrighton’s cross needed to be parried by Rico.
However Fulham confirmed some set-piece craft of their very own. Within the 20th minute, Seri flighted a free kick to the again submit, and from Denis Odoi’s knockdown Chambers drew a superb one-handed save from Kasper Schmeichel.
Fulham attacked with rising objective and there have been openings for Chambers, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Kamara, Christie and Luciano Vietto earlier than they struck within the 42nd minute. After Mitrovic helped on Odoi’s clearance, a heavy contact by Kamara regarded to have taken him too extensive of aim. However by merely checking inside onto his proper foot, he despatched Leicester centre-back Caglar Soyuncu sliding clear off the moist pitch and with the liberty of the six-yard field, the Frenchman steered a shot beneath Schmeichel.
With Alfie Mawson authoritatively marshalling Fulham’s again 4 alongside Odoi, a primary clear sheet of the season loomed into view. Leicester didn’t seem like scoring, however modifications by Claude Puel gave them recent impetus. Within the 74th minute, substitutes Shinji Okazaki and Demarai Grey swapped passes on the suitable and Okazaki minimize the ball again for the unmarked Maddison to tuck away an equaliser.
Odoi squandered a gilt-edged likelihood to win it for Fulham in stoppage time, lifting a shot over the bar from substitute Cairney’s move. However regardless of the house followers’ disappointment, the efficiency prompt a nook has been turned.
“Below Slavisa, we have been careering in the direction of relegation,” mentioned James. “Now I feel we’ve got greater than sufficient to maintain ourselves up.”
Gale, who made 318 appearances for Fulham between 1977 and 1984, was equally upbeat.
“I do not suppose Fulham are within the three worst groups within the Premier League and that is why I feel they’re going to keep up,” he mentioned. “I feel they made the change simply in time.”
Not that Ranieri can be wanting too far forward.