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Bernd Leno has been a steal for Fulham the 3m signing keeps

เวลาปล่อย:2023-01-13    เรียกดู:

Picking a signing of the season is not going to be easy at Craven Cottage. At the halfway stage, you could make a strong case for many of their summer arrivals.Joao Palhinha, signed for €20million (17.7m) from Sporting Lisbon,has transformed Fulhams midfieldwith his ball-winning tenacity. Andreas Pereira, signed from Manchester United for a fee worth up to 10m,has slotted into Marco Silvas system with easeand has been hugely influential both in open play and from set plays. Even Willian, who initially drew great scepticism when his free transfer was confirmed on deadline day,has to be in the running.

But when it comes to a pound-for-pound impact on thisFulhamcampaign, it is difficult to look beyond goalkeeperBernd Leno. AgainstLeicester Cityon Tuesday, as Fulham fought for victory, the German produced a match-winning performance.

For me, its the same as for the (outfield) players, they fight for their lives, and me as well, Leno tellsThe Athletic. I made some good saves. But I dont want to take any credit. All of us were fighting until the end and we all deserve the credit.

Fulhamspersonality and collective spiritcame to the fore as they resisted Leicesters second-half pressure. But while Leno distanced himself from praise, his saves were of a high calibre.

He made six in total, three of which were particularly eye-catching. For the first, he repelled Harvey Barnes after the winger was in behind the Fulham defence. Leno was out sharply and stayed on his feet in order to block Barnes attempted chip. Not long afterwards, Jamie Vardy was played through on goal from the right-hand side, but Leno saved with his legs. Ayoze Perez would also be denied, as Leno showed his reflexes to dive low to his right to palm a placed effort around the post.

Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC)January 4, 2023

Leno was duly awarded man of the match, but this is not the first time Fulham have had to rely on his services. Most games tend to involve some form of Leno intervention take the match againstSouthamptonon Saturday, when he made an outstanding one-on-one save to denyChe Adamswith the scoreline 0-0.

There are other examples which may not have stolen the headlines but were still crucial. During the 3-2 win overLeeds Unitedearlier in the season, he made a one-on-one save to denyPatrick Bamfordwith the score tied at 1-1.

AgainstBournemouth, with Fulham trailing 2-1, he made a double save to repelJefferson LermaandAdam Smith the latter save was nominated forPremier Leaguesave of the month.

AgainstBrighton, he made a late save low to his left to denyLeandro Trossard, while he thrivedagainst both Tottenhamand former clubArsenalto keep Fulham in those contests.

He was impressive, he has been all season, Marco Silva said. Because of that, we really did everything to have him with us. We knew his quality. We knew what he can add to our club, to this group of players. He is a top, top goalkeeper. He is performing at a high level, in my opinion, and that is not a surprise. We are really pleased. Fulham fans have to enjoy having a goalkeeper like him in our shirt.

As per Opta, Fulham have conceded the most high-quality chances of any team in the Premier League this season from open play (23.44 xG), meaning Leno has had no choice but to be busy. His goals prevented number (3.8), which takes into account the expected goals of shots that are on target minus goals conceded, ranks him fourth among Premier League goalkeepers. He has not always taken the limelight as he did at Leicester, but his value to the team this season has been noteworthy.

My job is to help the team as much as possible, Leno says. As goalkeeper, you concede goals all the time. Against Southampton, I could make the save against Che Adams, and (against Leicester) I could make some saves its part of my job. I think Im in a good moment, like everyone else. Im really enjoying it here (at Fulham) the work with the goalie coach (Hugo Oliveira), with Marco Silva, the team, and the way we play. You could see the passion on the pitch, the smiles of all of us, and also for me. Enjoying football is really important.

It felt pertinent that Lenos man-of-the-match performance came against Leicester, a team that were linked with signing him following the departure ofKasper Schmeichel. Fulham ultimately bought the 30-year-old from Arsenal for an initial fee of just3million ($3.5m). That could rise to8m depending on several requirements being met. These include1m based on Premier League appearances,2m based on Fulham staying in the Premier League for one season and then another2m for another campaign in the top flight.

It seems a snip for a German international who had his eyes set on finding a rhythm again and re-entering his national-team conversation. Leno, who played as a midfielder until he picked up the gloves aged 10, began his career at VfB Stuttgart before he joinedBayer Leverkusen, where he spent seven years and made over 300 appearances. He has nine Germany caps, the last of which came against Liechtenstein inWorld Cupqualification, back in February 2021.

Leno was signed by Arsenal for a reported20million over four years ago and went on to make 125 appearances. But after falling down the pecking order following Aaron Ramsdales arrival, he jumped at the chance of joining Fulham.

Ive enjoyed it since the first day, he says. Good people, good players. The coaching staff are fantastic, the goalkeeper coaches are great and when you win games with good performances, it helps a lot. The team and staff made it easy for me. There was no barrier because of the language. Im adapted to the UK after four years at Arsenal. Its the same city; Im enjoying London. There was nothing complicated for me. It was easy.

It was the right step because I wanted to stay in the Premier League. Fulham convinced me. I didnt want to go to another league or take another option. I was very convinced and Im happy I took this decision.

Leno spoke of his enjoyment of working with Oliveira, Fulhams goalkeeper coach and a long-time assistant to Silva. Oliveira first started working with the Fulham boss atHull City, having previously worked with Benfica and the Portuguese national team. At Benfica, he coachedJan OblakEdersonand the now-retired Julio Cesar. AtEverton, he also worked withJordan Pickford.

Im very impressed with him, says Leno. The way he trains suits me. Its a modern way, a modern goalkeeping way. Thats the type of goalkeeper I want to be. Thats why they signed me as well. Im really enjoying it with him because hes not only a top goalie coach, hes also a good guy, a very honest guy. When something is wrong, he tells it to me straight away, saying this is bad, this is good. Thats very important for me that I can trust my goalkeeper coach. Goalkeeper coach and goalkeeper is always a special relationship and I have the feeling that its matching.

Leno was not initially thrown straight into the team at the start of the season, withMarek Rodakresuming duties after helping Fulham secure promotion last year. Replacing Rodak after two gameswas always going to be a notable moment especially as Rodak had faced a similar scenario two seasons ago with the arrival of Alphonse Areola on loan.But in the same way Areola quickly answered any doubts about his ability, Leno has had the same response.

His form, and that of his team-mates, has Fulham fans singing of Europe (they are currently seventh and occupy the Europa Conference League qualification spot). But Leno, who has played in theChampions Leaguewith Bayer Leverkusen, is staying grounded.

Its always a good sign that the fans are dreaming, Leno says. But I think we should stay humble and go game by game. The manager says it all the time. We prepare game by game. We enjoyed it today, we will enjoy it tomorrow. But then we prepare for Hull in the FA Cup, which is another important game. Then we go for Chelsea. We dont look to the table because theres still a long way to go.

The fans have emotion, they love it: the way we play, the passion, especially at Craven Cottage. The atmosphere is fantastic. Hopefully, we can make them dream even more. But thats for the fans and not for us.

(Top photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

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Peter Rutzleris a football reporter covering Fulham for The Athletic. Previously, he covered AFC Bournemouth. Before The Athletic, he worked as sports journalist for MailOnline, the Scottish Daily Mail, the Independent and the i newspaper.Follow Peter on Twitter@peterrutzler

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