It’s back to Wembley on Saturday for Fulham as we head across the capital to take on Spurs in their temporary home of the national stadium. Things aren’t going massively well off the pitch for Tottenham at the minute with no new faces through the door leading to a lot of disgruntled fans and then the delay in the move to their new stadium announced this week. A lot of the Spurs fans I know have stated that they don’t like playing at Wembley as it doesn’t feel like home and we all saw how slowly they started there last season. They struggled to put games to bed at Wembley against teams like ourselves until the second half of the season, which might give us a bit of hope going into Saturday’s fixture.
I’ve heard that Spurs have only sold as few as 25,000 tickets (this isn’t confirmed) for this game as so many fans are frustrated about the stadium situation, and season ticket holders have had to essentially re-buy the Fulham tickets after they were refunded from their original purchase. It’s all a bit strange and so many Spurs fans just don’t want to go back to Wembley. What is certain is that the atmosphere will be nothing like what it was back in May when 85,000 Villa and Fulham fans took the place over. This could play to Fulham’s advantage, especially if we start the game well which will lead to more disappointment for the Spurs fans, which can easily leak into the performance on the pitch.
On the other hand, we are undoubtedly taking on one of the league’s best sides in Tottenham Hotspur. They have a team filled with World Cup stars and players who have been consistently good over the past few seasons. There has been a lot of talk about Harry Kane’s August goal drought, but Fulham are very good at letting teams and players break unwanted records against them (I still have nightmares of Sunderland away last season). Last Saturday we had 7 new faces in the Fulham line-up so it’s understandable that we haven’t quite gelled yet while Spurs have the same team as last season which, while it’s frustrating for their fans, at least means that there will be no danger of them not being comfortable which each other on the pitch.
Despite the result on Saturday, I think Fulham should stick with the same line up against Spurs. Changing things too much after one game for me will only be detrimental to any progress as well as possibly wrecking the confidence of those who are dropped so early. There has been a lot of debate about the keeper situation but I think that’s a position where you need consistency more than most. If Fabri is dropped after 90 minutes then it sends a message out to the rest of the team that any mistakes could cost you your position on the team and I don’t believe that is the sort of atmosphere you want around the squad. I am not saying that mistakes should be over looked, but I’m saying that deal with it on the training pitch in order to create an atmosphere where players can thrive. Obviously if a player is clearly out of their depth then don’t play them, but I don’t think that was the case for any of our players on Saturday. When some of the other new boys like Anguissa and Mawson are fit and ready then they should be integrated into the team, but I’d rather that they were fit and able first.
With the difference in stature of the two clubs I reckon we can go to Wembley on Saturday with very little pressure on us which should allow us to play with a real sense of freedom. I think the playing relationship between Seri and Cairney already looked exceptional on Saturday so I expect it to be even better as the weeks go on. It will be interesting to see how they stand up against the likes of Erikson, Ali and Dier.
One thing that is certain, however, is that the supply up to Mitro needs to be far better than it was against Palace. We had so many opportunities to create chances but our big Serbian was let down time and time again by the crossing of various players. For me, it is that element of last weeks game that should have been the focus this week at Motspur Park. We will find out on Saturday if this has been the case.
My team- Fabri, Bryan, Chambers, Le Marchand, Christie, McDonald, Cairney, Seri, Sessegnon, Mitrovic, Schurrle
Fulham’s return to the big time turned into a day of frustration as Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace ran out 2-0 winners at Craven Cottage. In truth, Palace had the clinical edge that Fulham didn’t, even though they found themselves without the ball for long stretches of the game. It has to be a lesson learned for Slavisa Jokanovic’s side but all in all there are plenty of things to be positive about.
Here are my player ratings from yesterday’s match –
Fabri – 6
The Spanish stopper was at the end of a barrage of abuse from some fans after the second goal that killed the game yesterday, but I personally feel that the response was quite unfair. Yes, he came out far too early to make the finish much easier than it should have been for Wilfred Zaha, but we could also point fingers at Ryan Sessegnon who had been dropped back to LB at the time, and either of our two centre back who were slow to react. Before the mistake I thought Fabri had a solid enough game. He made seven saves – more than any other keeper in the league this weekend, with the one from Benteke’s header in the first half particularly impressive. However, his positioning at times was suspect, and there were a couple of nervy moments. But let’s remember that our back five had never played together before in a competitive match which may have contributed to this.
Christie – 5
The only player from our back line who had played for Fulham last season was Cyrus Christie, who was brought in during the January transfer window when Fuham knew that Fredericks would be away in the summer. He was very lively going up and down the right flank and was constantly getting into the right positions for a cross but his link up play with Schurrle wasn’t quite up to scratch so more time will be required. However it’s his crossing that was the most disappointing part of his play. He attempted 12 crosses yesterday, more than anyone else in the league but I am struggling to remember any that came off. In Mitrovic we have a monster up front, but that monster needs to be fed. The positive thing is that he is getting into the right positions, but I’d imagine that the final ball will have to become his focus over the next weeks in training.
Le Marchand – 6
I was very impressed with our French full-back. With the signings of Mawson and Chambers, and with Ream and Odoi still to come back from injury, it will be interesting to see who will establish themselves as our centre backs, but I certainly saw a lot to be liked from Le Marchand yesterday. Remarkably he made 84 successful passes yesterday, that’s the seventh highest number in the opening weekend in the whole league. He also made a number of key tackles in the middle of the park to break up play.
Chambers – 6
Similarly to Le Marchand, Chambers will have to be up for a bit of competition for the shirt. His first game in Fulham colours was very positive, though, and he is another who I think will only improve as he gets to know his teammates better. However, he wasn’t tight enough to Schlupp for the first goal and Palace were quick to capitalise. A decent enough start for him, but room for improvement.
Bryan – 6
Joe Bryan looks to have been a very smart buy from Jokanovic. Quick feet and solid in both attack and defence. I can’t really give him more than 6 because he didn’t have as big an impact as he could have, but I don’t think he put a foot wrong. It’s interesting to note that while Christie on the opposite flank had 12 attempted crosses, Bryan only had 4. I’m not sure why we played much more down the right than the left, but I think we need a more balanced approach moving forward, especially as Bryan’s crossing ability looks to be better than Christie’s. Hopefully his ankle injury isn’t going to keep him out of the next game.
McDonald – 5
I don’t think that McDonald looked that comfortable so hopefully we will see an improvement next week. He is one of my favourite players in a Fulham shirt, but I thought that he slowed the play down a lot yesterday, which was one of the reasons why we struggled to create as much as our possession warranted. Looked slightly off the pace when trying to be our defensive shield but I think this is more down to an injury that prevented him from starting preseason as early as some of the rest and not down to ability.
Cairney – 6
For the first 30-40minutes I thought that Cairney looked to have made the step up to the Premier League with ease, but he faded a bit as time went on. However, he looks to have already formed a fluid relationship with Seri and their passing stats are very impressive. Cairney made 93 successful passes yesterday, second only to the 102 of James Milner against West Ham today. Who else made 93 passes you may ask? Jean Michael Seri. It could be the start of something wonderful. Watch this space!
I think Fulham have found an absolute smasher in Seri. As already mentioned, he had 93 successful passes. He also had 119 touches (2nd in the league this weekend) and made 6 tackles (1st in the league alongside a few other players). If we can just get the final ball right, then he could be what makes us tick this year. I was very surprised when we was brought off as I think that he was the best man on the pitch yesterday, but maybe so early in the season he is lacking fitness. I think the best is yet to come from him.
A mixed day for one of England’s brightest talents. He was very lively in the first half and was a real handful for the Palace defence, but disappeared in the second half. When he was pushed back to LB he was too slow to react in the phase of play were Zaha scored, which puts questions over his defensive abilities. However, I saw enough in the first half going forward to tell me that can step up. For an 18 year old making his Premier League debut, he was actually quite impressive. He will do damage to defences this year, but we will have to be prepared to be patient.
Again I saw enough to be convinced that Schurrle will be a real weapon for us this year, but he hasn’t quite built a bond with Christie yet. We weren’t quick enough to get the ball to him, so we lost a few opportunities to set him loose. He set up Mitrovic for a really good chance in the first half and on another day probably would have put us in the lead and he really should have been awarded a penalty in the second half. We saw glimmers of quality so hopefully he only improves.
Mitrovic – 6
Mitro did well to work with the limited supply that he got. He made a few chances for himself when he rolled the defender or used his strength to bring others into the game. On another day he could have bagged a couple so there are plenty of signs that he will have a fruitful season at Fulham. We need to supply him with better chances though, as we can’t have our biggest goal threat having to drop deep to get the ball.
Kamara – 5
AK went back to his ‘bull in a china shop’ style instead of the focused player we had at the end of last season. He could be a real impact sub for us this season, but yesterday I just saw him push people over. He made some great runs and put in a few good challenges, but he will need to become more focused. His erratic-at-times tackles will get him in trouble, so he will need to be careful.
Vietto – 5
Another debut for one of our deadline day buys. He looked very lively but didn’t really manage to get into the game, but he looks like he could be useful for us in the little we saw of him.
Johansen – N/A
Wasn’t on the pitch for long enough to really do anything. He did manage to stick the boot in a few times, though, prompting at least one angry response from Palace. Just like old times, eh? I’m not sure how much we will see of him this year, but I’d like to see him given a chance.
It feels very good getting to write a Premier League Preview this season, am I right? As much as I will miss the unpredictability and drama of the Championship (just take last nights game between Nottingham Forest and West Brom as an example of the dramatic) it is so exciting to be once again competing against some of the Worlds best.
I was planning on putting this piece up after the transfer window slams shut tomorrow evening but work commitments have gotten in the way of my Fulham recreation so you’ll have to make do with my preview being incomplete in terms of transfers.
Premier League Champions 2018/19 – Manchester City
For the second season in a row I just can’t look past Manchester City as the overall winners, but I do think their competition will be closer this year. With the remarkable money that Liverpool have spent they really have to challenge this year and if they can keep Salah fit and allow the new boys to adapt then they could do some damage. However, I still think that City have the better squad and under Pep they are unplayable at times. Last year they weren’t challenged so it will be interesting to see if they can handle a title threat, but with the way they just kept blowing teams out of the water I just can’t see anyone taking the trophy off them.
Most Improved – West Ham United
After an awful season where they nearly dropped down to the Championship and had fan protest on the pitch as well as off it, the Hammers and heavily invested in their squad. Pellegrini is a good manager and they have backed him wisely. They finished 13th last season, but if things go well with the squad they now have I reckon they could be in Burnley’s position from last season.
Biggest Loser – Burnley and Newcastle United
What I mean by this is the team who drops the most places from last season. It’s really a toss up between Newcastle United and Burnley, but for different reasons.
Burnley will be safe from relegation, but often when a team plays in Europe for the first time their league form suffers so I can see them dropping as many as five places from 7th to 12th. Losing Nick Pope to injury was a blow and it’s now down to Joe Hart, who has had a rough few years, to fill the gap. Ben Gibson was a bit of a strange signing and won’t massively improve them while Matej Vydra could prove to be a shrewd piece of business if he can find the net even nearly as frequently as he did in the Championship. Smallish squad, possible European commitments and the fact that they overachieved last season means that they will drop places, but will still be comfortably safe.
Newcastle, on the other hand, could be in for a torrid season and I fully expect them to be in a relegation battle. There are worse squads out there so I’m not backing them for relegation but this could change if Benitez decides that enough is enough. I feel for Newcastle fans, as they have the size and stature of a club that could be real heavyweights, but their owner seems to have no desire to improve the squad leading to frustration on and off the pitch.
Relegation looming – Cardiff, Huddersfield and Brighton
Second season syndrome for both Huddersfield and Brighton, while Cardiff could go straight back down. I think it will be a real scrap with a lot of teams in the mix come May which could make for an absorbing, but at times stressful, battle. Watford have lost Richarlison but his replacement in Deulofeu was a decent piece of business. Crystal Palace have brought in Max Meyer and Cheikhou Kouyate so I feel that they will have enough to avoid the drop. Wolves and ourselves, despite having brilliant windows, could be brought back down to earth when up against better opposition. Both sides should stay up, but it isn’t going to be plain sailing.
I just don’t think Brighton or Huddersfield have done enough in the tranfser window to really improve from last year while others have. Brighton may have brought in plenty of faces, but we know that it is about quality rather than quantity and none of the signings really stand out in comparison to other clubs who could be in the mix. Cardiff have brought in four players who I would be thrilled with if I was building a team for promotion from the Championship rather than Premier League survival. They should be tough to beat, but I don’t think that’s enough.
And what about Fulham?
Finally Premier League football returns to the banks of the Thames and Fulham have thankfully invested in their squad as well as keeping Cairney, Sess and Mitro away from prying eyes. Slav seems to be reasonably happy despite not having cover for the defensive midfield position- and ‘reasonably happy’ is likely the best that we can hope for from the moody Serb. The signings of Schurrle and Seri in particular seem to have shown Fulham desire to stay in this division for a long time, while bringing in Mawson and Chambers should improve one of the weaker aspects of our squad. I’m absolutely buzzing to see Ryan Sessegnon finally grace the Premier League and fully back him to make an impact.
We have to be realistic though. Our first target will be getting points on the board early to help us along to the goal of survival. Without a doubt there will be more losses than last year and we won’t have the same levels of possession as we became accustomed to throughout our stint in the Championship. But I do think that we have plenty of reasons to be confident and I expect us to be safe- at least- come May.
Bring it on.
The countdown to the Premier League is on with just two weeks before Fulham officially return to the big time on the 11th August with the home tie against Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace. It will be nice to start the new campaign off with a game at the Cottage, and there is a ‘full circle’ feel to it as our last game in the Premier League four seasons ago was also a home tie against Palace.
It’s going to be a special day for the club and it’s a day that we have dreamed about since relegation was confirmed against Stoke in 2014. The squad is shaping up nicely with the additions of Jean Michaël Seri, Maxime Le Marchand, Fabricio Agosto Ramirez and Andre Schrulle. We have also had new contracts for a number of key players and brought Scott Parker back as a First Team Coach. Things are looking very nice from where I am sitting!
But what about the clubs who we are facing in the first part of the season? Our first set of fixtures before the September International break are against Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, Burnley and Brighton. How are these clubs shaping up before the new season?
11th August – Crystal Palace (H)
Last season’s finish – 11th
Transfers so far-
Vicente Guaita (Getafe) Free
Diego Cavalieri (released)
Damien Delaney (released)
Lee Chung-yong (released)
Yohan Cabaye (Al Nasr) Free
Just the one incoming for Palace so far in goalkeeper Guaita and it was done very early, so you’d imagine that there are some very frustrated Palace fans out there. Yohan Cabaye leaves behind a gap in midfield, while Lee Chung-Young was always a handy player to have when in need of a goal. After being main big contenders for the drop after losing their first five games, they only had to finish the season at a canter to avoid the drop in the end after Roy Hodgson worked his magic. Wilfried Zaha will be the main threat if he is still at Palace come the 11th August, but watch out for Connor Wickham and Jason Puncheon as well who like to pitch in with a goal or two. So far their preseason has consisted of three games, two victories and a draw.
18th August – Spurs (A)
Last season’s finish – 3rd
Transfers so far-
Keanan Bennetts (Borussia Monchengladbach) Undisclosed
Anton Walkes (Portsmouth) Undisclosed
Not much transfer activity to report on in North London, which will be extremely annoying for Spurs fans. They have become the ‘nearly team’ and don’t look like they will be building on last year’s finish unless they get some quality player in now to improve what they already have. That said, they are still one of the most talented sides in the league and will pose the first major test of Fulham and Slavisa Jokanovic. They have only had the one preseason game so far and that was in the International Champions Cup. They are still without many of their World Cup stars but still managed a 4-1 victory over Rome.
25th August – Burnley (H)
Last season’s finish – 7th
Transfers so far-
Dean Marney (released)
Scott Arfield (Rangers) Free
Tom Anderson (Doncaster) Free
Chris Long (released)
Josh Ginnelly (released)
Conor Mitchell (St Johnstone) Loan
Aiden Stone (Lancaster City) Loan
Burnley are another club who have had no incomings this summer so far, which is perhaps surprising considering that they might be competing in the Europa League group stages if they get through the qualifying rounds. So far their only game of the summer has been their first leg of their qualifier against Aberdeen this week and they drew that 1-1. I’d still expect to see some players come through the door at Turf Moor, but if they can’t overcome Aberdeen next week and progress through to the last qualifying round of the Europa League, you’d imagine that the joy of last season will be well and truly gone. Nick Pope went off injured in the game against Aberdeen so that’s another blow for them.
1st September – Brighton (A)
Last season’s finish- 15th
Transfer so far-
Leon Balogun (Mainz) Free
Joseph Tomlinson (Yeovil) Free
Florin Andone (Deportivo) Undisclosed
Jason Steele (Sunderland) Undisclosed
Bernardo Fernandes da Silva Junior (RB Leipzig) Undisclosed
Hugo Keto (Arsenal) Free
David Button (Fulham) Undisclosed
Yves Bissouma (Lille) Undisclosed
Percy Tau (Mamelodi Sundowns) Undisclosed
Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar) Undisclosed
Uwe Huenemeier (Paderborn) Free
Steve Sidwell (released)
Jamie Murphy (Rangers) Undisclosed
Bailey Vose (Colchester) Undisclosed
Liam Rosenior (released)
Connor Goldson (Rangers) Undisclosed
Robert Sanchez (Forest Green Rovers) Loan
Ben Hall (Notts County) Loan
Niki Maenpaa (released)
Henrik Bjordal (Zulte Waregem) Undisclosed
Christian Walton (Wigan) Loan
Steven Alzate (Swindon) Loan
Ales Mateju (Brescia) Loan
It has been a very busy summer so far at Brighton with ten players through the door and thirteen sold, released or away on loan. They had a solid first season in the Premier League but will be hoping for a more comfortable finish to next year’s campaign. I don’t know an awful lot about the players who they have brought in so far apart from David Button so it will be interesting to see how they pan out for them. Their preseason matches haven’t been very successful so far, with a loss to AFC Wimbledon and draws against FC St Gallen and Charlton Athletic. As I write they are also trailing 1-0 to Birmingham, at half time.
Obviously there is a lot that can change over the next few weeks in terms of transfers but looking at the teams who we will face early on only gets me even more excited for the season ahead. Hopefully we can get off to a strong start against Palace and with the calibre of the signings so far, and more in the offing, I can’t see why not.
While most of my previous ‘Strengthening Season’ articles have lamented how thin the different areas of the squad is, I find that I have a lot more faces to talk about this time around. That’s not to say that all of the attacking players that we have are Premier League ready, mind. The club website lists both Ryan Sessegnon and Neeskens Kebano as midfielders, but I will be adding them into the ‘forwards’ section, which maybe explains why we are seemingly top heavy here. Remember, the point of these articles is to assess whether or not the players we have can stand up to the demands of the Premier League, not speculate on possible incomings. While the Mitrovic deal looks extremely likely, I’ll be leaving him off the list for now.
Who do we have?
Touted as the future of England, Sessegnon is the crown jewel of Fulham’s squad and will surely be a vital part of our first Premier League campaign in four seasons. It’s always special when a player comes through the academy to the first team so there is really no surprise that he is loved as much as he is by Fulham fans. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to the top league, but I have no doubt that he is capable of making a difference. A mature head on young shoulders, Sessegnon deserves the plaudits that he has gained so far in his short career.
One of last year’s marquee had a tough first year at Fulham. He arrived with a big price tag and a lot of expectation but his slight figure made him too much of a lightweight up front. My gut instinct is that Fonte will be more effective in the Premier League than he was in the Championship were he was bulldozed off the ball when he got near it. While he didn’t play as much as he would have liked, when he did get on the pitch he showed that he has a real intelligence about him. He makes the right runs, likes to link up with those around him with neat passing and can finish (remember his goal against Ipswich?) I wouldn’t be happy if he was our only hope up front, but I certainly think that he warrants a chance in the PL off the bench.
Our other big signing from last year couldn’t be more different from Fonte. Kamara started the season a bit like a bull in a China shop and left a lot of fans with raised eyebrows wondering why on earth we had signed him but he ended the season as our most improved player. His performances against Derby and Aston Villa in the play-offs were ridiculously good and it will be fun seeing him be unleashed against some of the PL’s weaker defences next season. Certain games will be made for his explosive energy, but I wouldn’t imagine that we will see him every week.
Ayite is a player of real quality, but his inconsistency has held him back for his two year on the banks of the Thames. To be honest, I don’t see his role changing at Fulham much over the next year and he’ll continue to play reasonably regularly but not become one of our star men. I got very frustrated last season watching him play as his decision making when it really matters was so poor. He has moments of brilliance, but doesn’t show it enough. If our squad was bigger, I wouldn’t be too upset to see him go, but right now we need the numbers. It’s very frustrating because I know that he could be a real asset for us, and Slav obviously likes him, but I think he is too wasteful to make it at the top.
Like Ayite, Kebano has been far too inconsistent while at Fulham. I actually prefer him as a player as he is far more direct than Ayite, but Jokanovic doesn’t seem to rate him. Certainly he is better as an impact player than a starter, so he could be useful in the Premier League towards the end of games with his energy, but I wouldn’t want to rest our hopes on him. More of a Championship player I reckon.
Woodrow was once one of our most promising players, but he seemed to find his level when on loan at Burton Albion and Bristol City. As another academy player I am glad that he at least had a chance at Fulham, but he was never really able to fulfil the promise that he had in his younger days. There is no doubt that Woodrow can score goals, but I just don’t think he has it in him to do it in the Premier League. A shame really, but I think we should let him go.
So six attacking players and only one who I think can start regularly and make a real difference while some of the others can be useful off the bench. With just over three weeks to go until we kick off against Crystal Palace, it’s safe to say that we still have work to do!