- Associated Press - Thursday, October 18, 2018

For American sports magnate Shad Khan, the collapse of ambitious plans to purchase Wembley Stadium won’t have been his only source of frustration in recent days.

He might also be concerned about the plight of the English soccer club he owns, too.

Fulham’s return to the Premier League is turning sour, with a five-match winless run exposing the deficiencies in its squad and the dangers of a promoted team failing to adapt to the challenges of life back in the big time.

The club from an affluent area of west London was lauded for its expansive style of play last season as it secured promotion to the Premier League - via the playoffs - after a four-year absence. At one stage, Fulham went 23 league games unbeaten.

Such is his commitment to attacking soccer that Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic is refusing to sacrifice his approach even though his team now is playing against much tougher opponents.

It’s laudable, but possibly naive.

In its last game before the international break, Fulham lost to Arsenal 5-1 . That came on the back of a 3-0 loss at Everton. Fulham has conceded 21 goals in eight games, four more goals than any other top-flight team, and has yet to keep a clean sheet.

Fulham is carving out more chances than most teams - it had 21 shots against Arsenal alone - but continues to get picked off easily at the back, especially on the counter-attack. Put simply, the team is paying the price for being far too open.

There is no suggestion Jokanovic’s job is at risk after 2 1/2 years in the role, but the results of Fulham’s three upcoming league games - two of which come against Cardiff and Huddersfield, who are in the bottom three - might shape opinions on the first Serbian ever to manage in the Premier League. Khan, after all, can be ruthless: He fired three managers in his first 14 months as the club’s owner.

Fulham is in fourth-to-last place, with one win so far.

A big challenge for Jokanovic has been integrating 12 players signed in the offseason at a cost of about 105 million pounds ($134 million), making Fulham the first promoted club to spend more than 100 million pounds in a single transfer window. Only Liverpool and Chelsea spent more in the Premier League. Five of the signings arrived on the final day of the transfer window, meaning that Jokanovic’s preseason was turbulent.

He has played a different back four in each of Fulham’s eight games, likely another reason for the team’s defensive instability, with Ryan Sessegnon switching from playing in midfield to full back to sometimes not at all. The 18-year-old Sessegnon is widely regarded as among the most talented young players in the country but he has struggled to settle in his first season in the Premier League.

There are some reasons for optimism. Aleksandar Mitrovic has been Fulham’s standout attacker and much of the team’s offensive play goes through the physical Serbia striker, who has five goals. Jean-Michel Seri has been a robust presence in center midfield, while Germany winger Andre Schuerrle has netted three goals and looks to have secured a place in the starting lineup.

But at the end of a week when Khan gave up on buying English soccer’s national stadium for 600 million pounds ($790 million), a loss to last-place and winless Cardiff on Saturday - in a match between two promoted clubs - would leave Fulham’s larger-than-life owner with more thinking to do.

Not that Jokanovic appears concerned about his position.

“In some countries, you can be thinking about games and it’s, ‘Are you are going to die or survive the day?’” he said before the Arsenal game. “Here, it’s more calm and the criticism is more logical, there’s more sense.”

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80


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