Our Fulham season preview focused on the question of Clint Dempsey’s future. The piece stressed how Fulham’s season looked promising if the Texan stayed. However, Martin Jol’s revelation before their opener vs Norwich that Dempsey would never play for the club again threatened to cast a shadow over both Fulham’s matchday performance and overall campaign.
The glorious, cloudless weather in West London proved to be a fitting enivorment for a Fulham mastterclass, the Cottagers produced the sort of exhilarating, goal-laden football Craven Cottage has become accustomed to under Jol. Both manager and fans will have been pleased to see stellar performances from new arrival Mladen Petric, record signing Bryan Ruiz, want-away Moussa Dembele and exciting young prospect Alex Kacaniklic as the Cottage was treated to a 5-0 victory.
With the now inevitable departure of Dempsey potentially leaving Fulham short of goals, scoring five so comfortably with the knowledge that it could and should have been more will ease some of fears amongst the fans at least, as well as the strikers such as Petric, who has endured a tremendous amount of pressure on his shoulders as of late.
Critics have pointed to Petric’s age as a factor against him but in the sweltering heat, the Croatian looked brighter and sharper than many of his younger counterparts. His two goals, the first well taken, the eye-catching second after a deflection, will get the headlines but his overall play as he both led the line and dropped deep will have pleased his manager to no-end.
In sum, Saturday’s game was a performance that almost shamed Dempsey. His behaviour in recent weeks as he has essentially tried to bully the club that brought him over from the MLS led to chants of “Are you watching Clint Dempsey?” from the Craven Cottage faithful.
Compare Dempsey’s with that of Moussa Dembele, another who has seemingly caught the eye of the bigger clubs. There was certainly no hint of sulking as Dembele orchestrated the play quite magnificently from central midfield alongside the hulking, solid presence of Mahamadou Diarra.
Indeed, aided by the silky skills of Ruiz and the marauding experience of John Arne Riise on the opposite flank, Fulham appear well placed to survive and even progress without Dempsey’s presence. Youthful promise was evident in the displays of Kacaniklic and Pajtim Kasami, while exciting winger Kerim Frei was not even on the bench. There was further evidence of Fulham’s strength in depth as Petric’s replacement, fellow summer signing Hugo Rodallega, produced an eye-catching cameo, winning the penalty for Steve Sidwell to smash in for the fifth and final goal.
Admittedly, Norwich were extremely poor and it is a stretch to say that Fulham have no need for Dempsey, but Martin Jol has quietly put together a quite formidable and progressive squad that bodes well for the season ahead.
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