As they have done on many previous visits to Manchester United, Fulham eventually succumbed to a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford. The Cottagers’ defeat however, was a little different to the previous humiliating reversals that have often come against the Red Devils.
Martin Jol’s men may have inevitably found themselves on the back foot for periods against the likes of Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa but overall, the mood in West London remains one of quiet optimism for the season ahead.
With all the pre-match headlines focusing on the never-ending Clint Dempsey saga, Jol’s team seemed to enjoy turning their attention to football matters rather than their missing-in-action midfielder. The Cottagers were hugely impressive at Old Trafford, particularly in the second half where they dominated the dying stages as they searched in vain for an equaliser to continue an impressive start to the campaign.
As this column has noted, Dempsey and his representatives would do well to look to the example set by Moussa Dembele. The in-demand 25 year old was one of the stars of the opening win over Norwich and against one of his many potential suitors, Dembele showed why he is so highly rated as he produced a quite mesmeric performance of poise, power and technique to at times single-handedly take the game to United.
Though the cynics may point to Dembele’s opponents and intentions as reason for his heroics, regular Fulham watchers will tell you that Dembele has been a star turn for some time now. Dempsey may get the goals but Dembele is key to Fulham’s entire game plan. Rightly, Jol has made keeping Dembele at Craven Cottage come the transfer window’s end as one of his highest priorities.
Fulham’s encouraging start to the season begs the question of just why Dembele would want to leave at this moment in time. Indeed, the signs at Old Trafford were that Jol has put together a formidable outfit capable of mixing it with the big boys this season.
Dembele is obviously crucial to such hopes but Bryan Ruiz, Fulham’s club record signing, put in another vastly contrasting display to the anonymous outings of last season. Elsewhere, Mladen Petric, buoyant after his brace last weekend, ensured Nemanja Vidic had one of his more stressful afternoons at Old Trafford, while youngster Alex Kacklinic consistently had the beating of Rafael Da Silva as well as a final ball to match.
Of course, the new Premier League season remains in its infancy and it must be said that at 3-1 up, the Cottagers looked in danger of complete collapse. Jol will certainly not have been impressed with some of his side’s defending and one would imagine the moves for FC Twente defender Douglas to partner Brede Hangeland will pick up speed with the transfer window’s closure in sight.
However, if Fulham can keep hold of Dembele and continue their sparkling form at the other end of the pitch, the men from Craven Cottage could be winning games more often than not.
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