It’s back. The 2020/21 Premier League campaign kicks off on Saturday lunchtime with the visit of Community Shield winners Arsenal to Craven Cottage, home of newly promoted Fulham.
The Cottagers finished 3rd in the Championship last season, earning their place in England’s top flight by defeating west London rivals Brentford in the playoff final. The Gunners, meanwhile, finished 8th, and will be pushing to secure a Champions League spot this time around.
Fulham head coach Scott Parker addressed the media virtually ahead of the match — here are his most noteworthy quotes, as per the official Fulham website.
On new expectations
“The challenge now is that we’ve gone from being expected to win the majority of weeks and trying to get promoted, and we now go into a division where we understand it’s going to be a lot more difficult. It’s a challenge that we have to embrace and take on, and I feel we are in a good place to do that.”
It's true that the transition from the Championship to the Premier League is one of the toughest in football, perhaps mentally more than anything; the momentum that can be created by a good spell of form suddenly becomes so much harder to conjure, and swapping the pursuit of victory for a mere avoidance of defeat can be a bitter pill to swallow for a squad so accustomed to winning.
But it’s all part and parcel of establishing yourself as one of England’s 20 elite clubs.
The point is particularly pertinent for the playoff winners, seeing as just 44% since 1995 have gone on to beat the drop in the season after promotion, compared to 64% and 62.5% for the champions and runners-up respectively.
On examples to follow
“We saw it last season with Sheffield United, and that’s no disrespect to them and Chris Wilder and the job they’ve done because they’ve been absolutely fantastic, but that’s the sort of team we need to look at.”
Parker's absolutely right here because, of last season's newly promoted trio, Aston Villa stumbled their way to safety by the finest of margins while Norwich City limped straight back down to the second tier — Sheffield United, though, looked every bit as if they belonged in the big time.
A big reason for their success was Wilder's reluctance to alter or compromise his unique yet effective tactical philosophy, that which had brought so much success to Bramall Lane in previous campaigns.
This may prove more difficult for a possession-based coach such as Parker, but if Fulham commit to working as hard as the south Yorkshire outfit and kindling a similar ethos and spirit, they'll give themselves a fighting chance of survival.
On the power of unity
“Other than tactics — which we obviously understand — there is a bigger dynamic which is a squad that is together, a squad that is united, a squad that is on one page, a squad that understands what this league is going to be and what we’re going to have to bring every single time. And with that, you’ve got a chance of being successful.”
In Fulham's last season competing in the top flight, 2018/19, the club didn't feel unified in the slightest. Players quickly lost confidence in manager Slaviša Jokanović and then in his replacement Claudio Ranieri, too; fans then became disillusioned with the players, and with the club's transfer activity which failed to improve the squad despite a £100m outlay.
Truth be told, relegation was all but confirmed prior to Parker's appointment as caretaker in February.
But with lessons learned and a full season as head coach under his belt, the 39-year old will be determined to prevent a repeat of that adversity. It's important for him to highlight the brawn that can be mustered by good team spirit, and a man of his aura and with his affinity with the club will surely ensure the atmosphere remains a positive one whatever the season may hold
On the opposition
“There’s no denying the quality Arsenal have, the players they have. Mikel’s done a fantastic job in a short space of time with his team, so I think this year’s a big one for Arsenal. The quality in their ranks is vast, and you’ve seen that in the last few months.”
The opposition on Saturday certainly started to come to life towards the end of 2019/20, and the Mikel Arteta era could prove to be an exciting and fruitful one at Arsenal, even if there remains a magnitude of work to be done.
From Héctor Bellerín, Bukayo Saka and skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to new signings Gabriel Magalhães and Willian, the Gunners possess a squad of players classes above that which Fulham were competing against last season.
For Parker and his team, they can hold on to the fact that matches won’t get much tougher in this division, and could lay down a marker of their own qualities by putting in a positive display on Saturday.
On pre-match mindset
“Like always — like we did last year and we will this year — we’ll prepare for this game to try and get a result, we’ll prepare for this game to try and hurt them where we feel we can punish them. It will be the same for them, we understand their threats and where they can hurt us, and we’ll try to counteract that and limit them.”
It’s business as usual for Parker, and that will doubtless be a key message for him to transmit to his squad: the glitz and glamour, the shining bright lights of the Premier League can’t be allowed to dazzle Fulham into a state of subservience. They are here to fight.
If they prepare astutely enough and maintain a positive mindset through everything the top flight will doubtless throw at them, the Cottagers will give a good account of themselves this season.
It remains to be seen whether the squad will have enough in its arsenal — technically, physically and mentally — to stay up, but one thing’s for sure: the head coach is ticking all the right boxes thus far.