Despite last Saturday’s defeat at Old Trafford, things are looking good for Fulham at the moment. Martin Jol’s men followed up their opening day mauling of Norwich City with a competent and confident performance against Manchester United last weekend.
Truthfully, Fulham will be disappointed that their first half performance was, despite taking the lead, so poor. In the opening half the West Londoners failed to impose their neat passing game on United and allowed them back in to the game. Their failure to keep the ball, in the period after taking the lead, gave United a simple way back in to the game and allowed them to bombard the Fulham goal in the first half.
Fulham, however, showed great courage to attempt to play their way back in to the game and while there can be no doubt that Nemanja Vidic’s own goal helped them, the vision and purpose of Moussa Dembele and Bryan Ruiz were also instrumental in their revival. In truth were it not for the heroics of De Gea then Fulham might well have grabbed an unexpected point from Old Trafford.
The West London side have already showed in their first two games that this season could be the season that they return to European competition which offered them so much happiness and joy under Roy Hodgson.
Fulham’s good start is all the more remarkable given the level of upheaval that has taken place at the cottage this summer. Last season’s star man Clint Dempsey is unavailable as he is on strike in an attempt to force through a move to Liverpool. Jol also decided that the time had come this summer for Danny Murphy, a key player for Fulham, to move on to pastures new.
Jol has undertaken a slow but none the less radical change of side that had up until now remained relatively unchanged through Roy Hodgson’s and Mark Hughes’s spells in charge of Fulham. Jol has added Hugo Rodallega, Mladen Petric and blooding other younger players to add freshness to a squad that already includes quality players such as Byran Ruiz and Moussa Dembele.
Against Norwich on the opening day, the Croatian striker scored with a header at a corner just before the break and nine minutes into the second half claimed his second with a speculative 25-yard effort. His performance at Old Trafford also showed that he has more to offer than just goals. His performance illustrated that he has the technical ability to hold the ball up and link well with the likes of Dembele and Duff.
In Dembele, Fulham have one of the best players in the League. The Belgian is blessed with a wonderful mix of lung busting power and vision, constantly striding forward with the ball always looking for the next opportunity to slip one of his forwards in on goal. On a stage as big as Old Trafford, the Belgian imposed himself on the game and in truth ran it from midfield for the entire second half.
Unfortunately for Fulham, if the Belgian continues this form then surely it will not be long before one of the big clubs makes Fulham an offer they cannot refuse. This summer there has already been talk about a potential move to Real Madrid. Thankfully for Fulham fans, Madrid’s pursuit of Luka Modric means that they are unlikely to move for Dembele at this point in time.
Sadly for Fulham, how far Jol’s new team can go depends on their ability to keep this group of players together. If they do manage to hold on to Dembele and Ruiz, then a top 8 finish and victory in one of the cups is not out of the question for this season.
In the long term, if they keep this group together and allow it to develop the way Hodgson’s team did then Fulham can realistically aim to become regular qualifiers for European competition under Jol.
Jol like all good managers knows that time is crucial in squad development. Ideally he would like to keep his current crop of players together and add another quality player next summer but Jol realistically knows that he will more than likely spend next summer trying to replace one of his star names.
In an era where many clubs are terribly run with no sign of any long term vision or structure, Fulham are refreshing, they have introduced youthful talent such as Matthew Briggs and Alex Kacaniklic.
They also have the wonderfully talented and graceful Kerim Frei who will light up the League on a regular basis in the future. These young players offer some hope that when the likes of Ruiz and Dembele do eventually move on that the effect on the team will not be as traumatic as some would think.
Fulham have the right manager is in place, the squad is in place but sadly for Fulham it will not be long before the vultures are hovering, waiting to pounce on their star players. Sadly, in modern football success for clubs such as Fulham’s is often just fighting off the vultures for as long as possible.