Football news - Claudio Ranieri sacked: Where did it go wrong for the Italian at Fulham?
From a porous defence to confusing team selections, Claudio Ranieri's departure from Fulham after just 17 games has not come as a surprise, writes Ben Grounds.
When Claudio Ranieri was appointed as Slavisa Jokanovic’s successor at Fulham, the club’s owner Shahid Khan as “risk free”, but the Italian has left Craven Cottage after just 17 games in charge.
So where did it all go wrong for the man who took Leicester to the Premier League title in 2016?
1. Porous defence continued to leak goals
Defender Calum Chambers had been deployed in midfield by Claudio RanieriGetty Images
Ranieri was viewed by the club's hierarchy as a shrewd appointment given his tactical acumen and reputation for building a solid defence. He was not about to turn down this opportunity to work so close to his London home, but he will have been only too aware of the size of the task facing him in seeking clean sheets.
His predecessor Jokanovic had overseen a side that had conceded 31 goals in the opening 12 games, the worst defensive record in the division.
Having famously promised pizza for his Leicester players at the start of that title-winning season if they recorded shut-outs in matches, Ranieri was quoted in December saying, "I need a clean sheet like I need pasta".
A shortage of goals and an over-reliance on Aleksandar Mitrovic hasn’t gone away despite the arrivals of Ryan Babel and Lazar Markovic in January.
Fulham have had to score at least three goals to win Premier League matches this season, with the club paying the price for lacking a recognised centre-half pairing.
Alfie Mawson was brought in from Swansea as part of Khan’s money-ball strategy, while 'having a Tim Ream' has become a byword at the expense of the maligned American. The arrival of Havard Nordtveit - who had failed at this level with both Arsenal and West Ham - hardly set the pulses racing.
2. Transfer turnover left him with hands tied
The recall of club-record signing Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa to the side came as a surpriseGetty Images
Fulham were the highest spenders as a promoted team ever to grace the Premier League with £105.3m spent last summer - and it has proven to have a highly unsettling influence.
Their scatter-gun approach was highlighted by a frantic final day of transfer business when the club broke their transfer record with the signing of Marseille's André Frank Zambo Anguissa for £30m.
It brought their total number of signings to 12 and Fulham made another two in January.
Yes, the Italian inherited a mess but there were few signs that he knew how to deal with a bloated squad.
He enjoyed a better win percentage and accrued more points per game than Jokanovic, but with a minus goal difference of -37 - the worst in the division - it was clear which area was critically undermining results.
Having spent so much money with the need for immediate results, this was never going to click. Everything that was good about this Fulham squad from last season was ripped apart, and supporters were already irked by the steep hike in season ticket prices.
Ranieri found himself at the centre of a storm which has had echoes of the shambolic season experienced by QPR in 2014/15, but the 67-year-old was ill-equipped to deal with it.
3. Kamara the bad apple
Aleksandar Mitrovic and Aboubakar Kamara argue over the penalty against HuddersfieldGetty Images
Things started to turn for Ranieri at the same time that Aboubakar Kamara decided to wrestle the ball from Mitrovic to take a penalty against Huddersfield at the end of December.
Kamara duly missed but the lack of camaraderie was revealed in that show of insubordination towards Ranieri's choice of Mitrovic as the designated penalty taker.
Mitrovic ultimately won Fulham the match, but it was a reflection on the club's dearth of attacking options that the Frenchman was back in the side and scoring in the next match in the 4-1 defeat at Arsenal.
Following another spat with Mitrovic during a subsequent yoga session, Kamara was suspended and put under investigation by the club after an incident at the Motspur Park training ground.
While he was shipped out on loan to Turkish side Yeni Malatyaspor at the end of January, the spate of incidents involving the 23-year-old would surely not have happened under a manager with greater authority.
Ranieri's great charm and popularity among the English press had clearly not registered with some members of the squad, and he was unable to wrestle back that control.
4. Confusing team selections and treatment of fans' favourites
Ryan Sessegnon was dropped to the substitues' bench against SouthamptonGetty Images
Any side who had fielded three different goalkeepers in their opening nine matches represents something of a poisoned chalice, but Ranieri didn't help himself.
Last May, the future looked very bright under Jokanovic, with the 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley seeing the club's young and impressionable captain Tom Cairney taking Ryan Sessegnon's pass to score the all-important goal. Such a promising double-act has not been able to flourish.
Sessegnon was viewed as the jewel in Fulham's crown when they returned to the top flight, and while a lot of business was done last summer in bringing new faces to the club, it was the retention of the England Under-21 international that was viewed as their best piece of transfer news.
But the youngster has been moved around from full-back to left wing, a forlorn and failed experiment in a wasted season, with the sense of relegation becoming an increasing inevitability.
The sight of the 18-year-old named on the substitutes' bench against Southampton with Kevin McDonald named in the side for the first time in two months, Ranieri clearly had run out of ideas.
5. Disaffected fans triggered sacking
Fulham's travelling supporters expressed their feelings in the defeat at SouthamptonGetty Images
Fulham fans vented their anger towards Ranieri and Tony Khan on Wednesday night with cries of "you don't know what you’re doing" as well as a banner which read "Risk free? Are you watching Tony Khan?"
In what proved Ranieri's final defeat, the Italian knew the writing was on the wall.
Supporters who made the trip to the south coast were left scratching their heads at the final team selection, with key players not in their natural positions before the withdrawal of Cairney with 21 minutes remaining brought those jeers from the away section.
Defeat to a direct relegation rival who have experienced a managerial bounce under Ralph Hasenhuttl was always likely to end in this manner, but it revealed a performance that was identical to the non-existent showing at Huddersfield which finally did for Jokanovic.
Scott Parker was touted as his replacement back at the start of winter, but as the season enters spring, he will take on his former club Chelsea in a west London derby on Sunday. The chances are that it has come too late to prevent relegation, but it is at least an appointment that gets supporters back on side.