By Peter Hall
LONDON (Reuters) – After sealing their Premier League return with a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa in the Championship playoff final on Saturday, Fulham’s attention will already be turning to next season, with the future of several loanees uncertain.
All three of the clubs promoted in 2017 survived relegation this past season for only the third time in Premier League history.
While Brighton & Hove Albion, Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United did so by strengthening their squads in the transfer market, they still preserved a core group of players who had served them so well the previous season.
Brighton, for example, kept faith with veteran striker Glenn Murray after his 23 goals played a major part in their elevation to the Premier League for the first time, before then firing 12 goals in the top flight to steer them to safety.
Fulham’s attacking figurehead as they finished this season in such stunning form — losing just two league games in 2018 — was Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is on loan from Newcastle.
Mitrovic fell out of favour there, but has rejuvenated himself at Fulham and certainly did not rule out a stay at Craven Cottage in the aftermath of Saturday’s win.
“I am really happy here,” Mitrovic told Sky Sports. “I had the best three and a half, four months of my career. We will see what happens.”
The Serbia international is not the only key figure on loan at the club. Southampton full-back Matt Targett has been an ever-present in the Fulham side since joining on loan in January.
There are also Chelsea duo Tomas Kalas and Lucas Piazon, who have been on loan at Fulham for two seasons, making more than 120 appearances between them in that time, while Liverpool’s Sheyi Ojo and Brighton’s Oliver Norwood have made telling contributions this past campaign.
Targett is another who has expressed a desire to stay, while the fact Chelsea cannot loan more than one player to the same Premier League club means Kalas and Piazon would have to be signed permanently.
Fulham were the top goalscorers from open play in the Championship this past season, playing an exciting brand of football.
“We believe we can play this way,” Jokanovic said after the Wembley win.
Employing similar adventurousness in the Premier League will require additional talent, but adopting the lesson of the clubs from 2017 and sticking with a nucleus of the promotion team could be the most sensible approach.
(Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Neil Robinson)