Premier League preview – Fulham

Last Season:

Premier League – 9th

FA Cup – Fourth Round

League Cup – Third Round

Europa League – Group Stage

The Roy Hodgson days are well and truly over at Craven Cottage. After talisman Bobby Zamora was allowed to depart in January, this summer saw Martin Jol continue his purge of Hodgson’s trusty lieutenants, with club captain Danny Murphy, his midfield partner Dickson Etuhu and Zamora’s previous partner Andy Johnson swiftly sold without much ceremony by the club.

In their place come continental names such as Hugo Rodallega, Mladen Petric and Sascha Riether as Jol looks to build on last season’s promising campaign, which saw Craven Cottage become one of the most entertaining places in the country to watch football, thanks to Jol often playing a daring front three with 23-goal star Clint Dempsey playing from midfield.

Keeping hold of Dempsey, who is enjoying the form of his career and who Fulham build their play around, from the clutches of Liverpool has dominated Fulham’s summer. The Texan has stressed his desire to make the move to Anfield and after he was left out of the club’s summer tour to Switzerland, the move appeared to be on the brink of happening. However, after several close-calls, Dempsey looks set to begin the new campaign at Craven Cottage. What mental state the 29-year-old is in could hold the key to Fulham’s season in whether they will toil near the bottom of the table or push on for European contention. With Dempsey involved, Fulham’s squad has an exciting look to it. The back four and goalkeeper take care of themselves, led by new skipper Brede Hangeland. The midfield, still containing Dempsey is backed up by the experienced Mahamadou Diarra and the exciting Moussa Dembele, another target for the bigger clubs and one whose potential is frightening, while from the bench, the young Swiss Kerim Frei will look to build on last season’s highly exciting cameos.

Goals look as if they may be a problem for the Cottagers, despite their exciting style. Russian goal-getter Pavel Pogrebnyak has left while new signings Rodallega and Petric have never been prolific goal scorers, and Petric turns 32 in January. Club record signing Bryan Ruiz had a disappointing season last time out but if he can tap into the potential that saw him strike fear into Dutch defences and catch the eye of Tottenham Hotspur and Harry Redknapp this time last year, Fulham will have one hell of a player on their hands.

These hypotheticals however mean the pressure is on Dempsey to hit double figures and his departure would put a serious dent in Fulham’s ambitions. Potentially though Fulham can reasonably expect another upwards season under Jol’s stewardship

The Cottagers are often slow starters but barring a trip to Old Trafford on week two, the fixture list offers Fulham a genuine chance to hit the ground running. Last season Fulham appeared to be getting the grips with their chronic poor away form and with Craven Cottage continuing to be a fortress, it is this which holds the key to the Cottagers perhaps emulating Newcastle and flirting with the Premier League’s upper echelons.

Manager – Martin Jol: The affable Dutchman continues to rebuild his Fulham side from the dependable and somewhat one-paced old guard that flourished under Hodgson. Jol’s summer signings point to a continued attempt to speed up the Cottagers play but will hope for more defensive solidity as he looks to build on last season.

Key signing – Hugo Rodallega: The 27-year-old Colombian has come off the back of a difficult campaign at Wigan where he lost his place in the side to Franco Di Santo. With the new surroundings at Craven Cottage and a manager who will play to his strengths, Rodallega may prove an inspired free transfer.

Key sale – Danny Murphy: The mainstay in Fulham’s midfield throughout the successful Hodgson era, Murphy’s departure to Blackburn represents a significant changing of the guard at the Cottage. Indeed, with Murphy’s creativity, nous and experience despite his advancing years, it represents a risky move on behalf of Jol to allow him to move on.

Keep an eye out for….Bryan Ruiz. Fulham’s club record signing at over £11m flattered to deceive in an immensely underwhelming 2011-12 season that yielded only two goals and sporadic flashes of genius. Appeared to struggle with the rigours of English football but now one year on, should be better placed to pay Fulham back on their investment.

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