Season Preview: Fulham

by Back Page Football

With the Premier League currently embroiled in the annual carnival of pre-season transfer speculation, something Fulham F.C. have largely kept out of this summer, it is easy to forget that by the time most of the players were first jetting off on holiday after the end of the last campaign, Fulham had already seen more pre-season drama than most clubs expect to experience in the entire off-season.

Boss Mark Hughes walked out on the club at which it seemed he had slowly laid the foundations for taking them, and him, forward in a serious way.

The ultimately unreciprocated faith and loyalty shown in him by the board, having been under pressure to sack the Welshman after a difficult autumn, was justified. From January to May only five teams, the top five in the final standings, picked up more points than the London club. Fulham won more points in this 19-game period than lauded late-bloomers Everton. They won more points than Spurs.

Enter Martin Jol. A popular appointment amongst fans and neutrals, and a well-liked media figure too, Jol is likely to bring his attacking, attractive style of football to West London. Having said that, the Dutchman is not without his critics, with Guardian columnist Raphael Honigstein tweeting after his appointment at Fulham: “I always thought Martin Jol was a great manager, then I talked to some Hamburg players/agents”. More recently, Jol has underachieved at Ajax with a team which included the brilliant Luis Suarez. So how will Fulham fare this season with Jol at the helm?

Manager Martin Jol
Last Season 8th
2011/12 odds: 1001/1
In Pajtim Kasami (Palermo) £3.5m, Marcel Gekov (Slovan Liberec) £650,000, John Arne Riise (Roma) £2.5m, Csaba Somogyi (REAC) Free, Dan Burn (Darlington) Undisclosed
Out Diomansy Kamara (Eskişehirspor) Free, Kagisho Dikgacoi (Crystal Palace) £600,000, Jonathan Greening (Nottm Forest) £610,000, John Pantsil (Leicester) Free, Danny Hoesen (Fortuna Sittard) Loan, David Stockdale (Ipswich) Loan

Keys to the season

It might work in Fulham’s favour that the Hughes episode erupted and was resolved so soon after the season ended, acrimonious though the circumstances were. It allows for a smoother, more gradual transition into a new season with a new coach, at a club where there have been no other hugely significant changes during the summer. The squad has not been drastically altered, and many of the club’s most important players have been there for a number of years now, meaning that the squad is an established group. It would seem logical that if Jol manages to pick up from where Hughes left off, there is reason for optimism at Craven Cottage.

The Team

In terms of transfers, the versatile and talented Swiss U21 attacking midfielder Pajtim Kasami, and John Arne Riise, probably a more familiar name to English fans, are the club’s biggest transfers this summer. The young Kasami will be eager to impress and will add competition and variation to the midfield, while reliability and consistency will be demanded of Riise, capped 96 times for Norway. Both players appear sensible additions to the squad.

Meanwhile, recognised and respected names such as Schwarzer, Hangeland, Dempsey and the evergreen captain Murphy make up an experienced and gelled core of the team, with considerable fire-power up front in Zamora and Dembélé, and an able support cast. Fulham’s squad has plenty of promise.

But in recent times Fulham have found goals hard to come by when Zamora isn’t in the team, and if Fulham suffer injury problems over the season, this promise may fade.

Key Player

The injury-prone Bobby Zamora. While Clint Dempsey is possibly the best player at the club, arguably one of the league’s best, I think if Zamora stays fit and does well, Fulham will do well. Despite only playing half of last season, Zamora contributed five goals and six assists in the league. It is also telling that the thirty year-old played the second half of the season, coinciding with the Cottagers’ sharp improvement in form. With Euro 2012 coming up, and places absolutely up for grabs, English strikers will want to make their voices heard this season.

Opening fixtures

Aston Villa (H) Wolves (A) Newcastle (A) Blackburn (H) Man City (H)

Looking at these matches, it would seem Jol has the ideal opportunity to establish his team and set-up from the very beginning. With the side playing itself into form and fitness in the Europa League before the season starts, fans would be forgiven for feeling confident about the opening fixtures.

Where will they finish?

Fulham’s squad looks too complete and too settled to be realistically fighting relegation. How well the squad would cope with injuries to important players, however, is questionable. Another deciding factor in whether the Cottagers are to have as successful a season as many fans are hopeful of will be how quickly, and how well, this well-established and smartly strengthened team will adapt to Jol’s coaching methods, and how well they can maintain the standard of football they have shown in 2011 so far. 13th

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