The Full Premier League Season Preview – Fulham
Fulham are a club in recent seasons that haven’t been unfamiliar to change. For the first time since 2009, the Cottagers haven’t had a managerial switch. The season which followed three years ago was the best campaign in the club’s history, with the infamous run to the Europa League final. Another groundbreaking season looks unlikely in the coming year.
Martin Jol has remained this summer and there have been some unsurprising changes to the squad. After all, Fulham had the second oldest squad in the division last season. Four players arriving and seven going doesn’t seem severe, especially in the hyperbolic world of the Premier League but some of the departed had played big roles at the club in recent times.
Club captain Danny Murphy was pivotal to Fulham’s continued stability. Dickson Etuhu and Andy Johnson were regular starters too under Roy Hodgson whilst Pavel Pogrebnyak, who enjoyed a great start at Craven Cottage earlier this year, chose Reading over Fulham in June. This is football though – money talks.
In have come two strikers in the form of Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega along with defender Sascha Riether on a season-long loan from Cologne. (Sixteen-year-old George Williams arrives from MK Dons too but he’s unlikely to feature in the first team.) Most importantly though, Mousa Dembélé and Clint Dempsey remain at the club, for now.
Off the pitch too it’s been a productive summer for Fulham with planning permission being granted for the Whites to extend the capacity of Craven Cottage to 30,000. What’s more, the Johnny Haynes Stand has a new roof and you can even expect to see video screens in SW6 next season.
How will Fulham fare on the pitch though?
One to Watch:
Last season, Bryan Ruiz failed to find any real consistency. The Costa Rican certainly showed he had the talent though with the two goals which he did score – one a fantastic chip over Tim Howard and the other a scoop over Jussi Jaaskelainen. The pace of the Premier League looked to be getting to Ruiz as he wasn’t allowed much time on the ball. In preseason, Ruiz appears stronger and with a 4231 system likely to be more prevalent as Martin Jol restructures the team, the Costa Rican is more likely to flourish this time round. If Ruiz doesn’t, Jol might be in a difficult position the next time he wants to justify spending over £10 million on a player to Mohamed Al-Fayed.
Kerim Frei took the majority of the headlines when it came to young Fulham players last season, as he tore through Chelsea in three appearances against the Blues. However, slightly more in his shadow was Alexander Kacaniklic. “Kaka” was originally brought in as part of a swap deal which saw Paul Konchesky move to Liverpool. This season will be the year when Fulham see to a better extent just how well they did out of that deal. He played on a few occasions last year but he’s likely to have more of a chance to impress this season. A diminutive winger with pace and agility, expect Kacaniklic to be tearing down the wing at a Premier League ground near you over the next few months.
Fulham are not traditionally strong starters in the Premier League. It took until October for the Whites to register their first win last season, albeit an emphatic one over QPR. With Martin Jol trying to adjust how Fulham play, it may take a little while for the side to bed in to the Premier League again this season. It must be emphasised how big a role Danny Murphy has played over the five seasons he spent at Craven Cottage. With Murphy gone, Jol’s challenge is to get a talented squad playing in a more fluid fashion than seen previously.
Defensively, Fulham should be fine. With Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes and Mark Schwarzer, fans can breathe easy, although there were more than a few mutterings from supporters when Senderos was played ahead of Hughes last season. If Jol repeats the trick and it fails, as it did for the large part last year, he will come in for criticism.
Going forward is a slightly more interesting prospect. Retaining the services of Mousa Dembélé and Clint Dempsey is crucial, especially after the season which the American had last year. The new attacking talent of Petric and Rodallega will be intriguing to watch too. Then, add to that the experience of Damien Duff, the raw talents of Kerim Frei and Alexander Kacaniklic and the unpredictable Bryan Ruiz.
Something suggests it might take a while to click. When it does though, Fulham can expect to find themselves back in the warm comfort of mid-table, an achievement which shouldn’t be sneered at either. A top half finish is never out of a reach either but Fulham fans will be hoping for more. The last time a manager stayed for longer than a season at Fulham, the club managed to reach a major cup final, namely the Europa League, for the first time in 34 years. A similar performance in a domestic cup wouldn’t go amiss.