The Whites’ season began long before any other Premier League side, with the UEFA Fair Play League success throwing Fulham into action on June 30, barely a month after the end of the previous term. While this quick introduction into competitive fixtures is likely to give Jol’s men an early fitness advantage over their rivals, the effects of the Europa League – which, should Fulham reach the final as they did in 2009, means an extra 23 games, including qualifying – could take its toll on the squad without major reinforcements.
The manager has so far been shrewd in the transfer market, spending a small amount on John Arne Riise – expected to be a starter – a back-up goalkeeper in Hungarian Csaba Somogyi and two young midfielders, Marcel Gecov and Pajtim Kasami, although neither of these are expected to yet press for a first-team slot. They will, however, help improve the strength of a squad depleted by the free-transfers of two fringe players from last term in John Pantsil and Zoltan Gera, and Nottingham Forest’s capture of Jonathan Greening.
With the slim squad size and the possibility of two games per week for almost the entire season, Jol will no doubt be looking to further strengthen his numbers and especially hold on to his existing, key, players in the face of persistent rumours regarding player departures, including Clint Dempsey and Andy Johnson. Despite the need for reinforcements in a few areas, Jol has recognised the same thing his predecessor did before him¬ – that there is a solid base of professional and well-drilled players who are in need of tweaking as opposed to needing wholesale changes. His team selections in the important qualifiers so far reflects this notion, with a recognisable starting XI taking to the field against RNK Split – the exception being slight experimentation at right-back and central defence.
Fans will be dreaming of a similar Europa League fairytale that was achieved under Roy Hodgson in 2009/10, but success in both Europe and the Premier League cannot come without strong performances from squad players – just as Gera, Chris Smalling, Stephen Kelly and the like managed in that incredible run – as well as a strong element of luck. That luck must stretch to injuries, too. Last term, the loss of Bobby Zamora and niggles to Moussa Demb