Martin Jol is set to be handed a huge defensive boost with the return of Philippe Senderos to first-team action after a long injury lay-off. Many, particularly Arsenal fans who watched Senderos’ confidence and performances collapse in his spell at the Emirates, will sneer at the suggestion that the Switzerland international’s return to fitness could possibly aid Fulham’s backline. However, there is no doubt at the moment that the side very much need him.
Firstly, the Fulham manager is a huge fan of the 27-year-old and indeed placed much faith in him last season as the first choice central-defensive partner for skipper Brede Hangeland. The partnership on paper looks a little unconventional to say the least, what with neither being the quickest nor possessing strong technical abilities on the ball. However, what they are are simple, old-fashioned defenders and with Fulham’s free-flowing attackers often leaving their defensive counterparts exposed, the central-defensive duo’s unfussy attitude both with and without the ball proved a useful tonic.
However, Senderos’ foot injury picked up in pre-season has left Hangeland partnered by Aaron Hughes for the opening stages of this season. While the partnership was once the byword for solidity during Roy Hodgson’s tenure at Craven Cottage, the two have looked rather paceless and pedestrian at times so far. Flanked by the equally mistake-prone Sascha Riether and John Arne Riise, Fulham’s backline have been alarmingly poor at times, with late concessions against Manchester City and Southampton costing the Cottagers dearly.
Indeed Hangeland, for so long a pillar of strength at the back for the Cottagers has struggled somewhat this season and while Fulham fans may be keen to brush it off as a simple bad patch, the fear is that at the age of 31 the Norwegian’s time may be running out at Craven Cottage. Thus, the return of Senderos, though hardly representing an upsurge of pace or experience from Hughes, may in turn coax the best out of his captain once again, simply through familiarisation if not anything else.
Additionally, Senderos‘ appearances last season seemed to suggest a return to somewhere near the sort of confidence that saw him burst onto the Arsenal scene in early 2005 and display form that kept Sol Campbell out of the FA Cup final victory over Manchester United – Arsenal’s last trophy let’s not forget – that May. Indeed, such were the quality of his displays that Senderos was even being talked of in the same breath as Tony Adams, particularly after he was awarded the Arsenal number 6 shirt for the 2006-07 season.
However, although his Gunners career would eventually crumble around him, that should not detract from his extremely competent displays in a Fulham shirt and if he can recapture the form that made him a regular at Craven Cottage last season, then Martin Jol may well have found the answer to his defensive prayers.
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