Spurred On

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

#COYW

Fulham face Exeter City in League Cup second round

Fulham will face League Two Exeter City in the second round of the League Cup following tonight’s draw.

The Whites were drawn as the home side so they will host the Grecians at Craven Cottage in the week commencing Monday 27 August. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side were knocked of last year’s competition at this stage by Bristol Rovers.

Fulham 0-2 Palace – Player Ratings

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!

Seri- 7

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.

Sessegnon -5

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.

Schurrle- 5

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.

Substitutes –

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.

Jokanovic upbeat despite Palace defeat

Slavisa Jokanovic refused to be downcast after Fulham’s Premier League return ended in a defeat by Crystal Palace at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

The Whites were beaten by a splendid Jeffrey Schlupp strike and a piece of predatory finishing from Wilfred Zaha after a mistake from Fabri in the Fulham goal. But Jokanovic told his press conference following the final whistle that the Whites would learn from the defeat and come back stronger.

The Serbian head coach said:

We wanted to start the competition with a positive result. We showed some positive things, and some negative things. It’s the first time we’ve tested ourselves at this level – we found more power, speed and quality, and we must adapt ourselves fast.

I can’t fault my players. They put everything into it. We created some chances. Crystal Palace’s keeper made a few great saves. We followed our style and moved the ball. On the defensive side, we found it hard to stop [Wilfried] Zaha and [Christian] Benteke, who showed quality.

He felt Palace’s experience of top flight football and their clinical finishing in the final third was the true difference between the sides:

Palace know this level better than us. We competed well and didn’t change our philosophy. Generally, I’m happy we followed the plan, but they punished us with speed, power and quality. For the first goal, [Jeffrey] Schlupp turned really quickly and smashed it in. For the second goal, we made a few mistakes and they finished the action and killed the game.

At this level, you normally pay an expensive price for mistakes. We’re in a process of working and learning, and I’m sure we’ll be better during the weeks in front of us. It’s a fantastic afternoon. We can’t start crying after the first day. Premier League is back at Craven Cottage after four years.

Jokanovic hailed the Fulham fans for their support and insisted his side would emerge stronger from the experience.

The atmosphere was fantastic. Our crowd pushed us, like always. It’s a shame that we can’t make them completely satisfied, but the fans know it’s not going to be easy. We’re ready for the challenge. We’re ready for the fight

Zaha punishes Fulham on their Premier League return

Fulham were taught a harsh lesson in the realities of the Premier League as a clinical Crystal Palace side claimed their first top flight win at Craven Cottage since 1968 this afternoon.

Slavisa Jokanovic’s side dominated possession throughout the contest and looked more than a match for former Fulham manager Roy Hodgson’s outfit for much of the first hour, but the Eagles eventually showed the evidence of their Premier League class in both boxes to record what became a comfortable opening day win. Fulham began brightly and showed some classy touches in midfield, with Ivorian debutante Jean-Michael Seri to the fore, but they failed to add a cutting edge to their pretty approach play and found Wayne Hennessy in fine form in the Palace goal.

The home side made an encouraging start with Cyrus Christie, who had oceans of space in front of him down the right flank all afternoon, almost surprising Hennessy at his near post with a low shot from outside the box inside the first three minutes. Captain Tom Cairney, who faded as the match went on, played in Ryan Sessegnon down the left and the teenager’s deflected shot almost fell for Andre Schurrle but the German winger was unable to provide a decisive touch. The Whites should have gone ahead on thirteen minutes when Sessegnon’s smart through ball put Schurrle away but Aleksandar Mitrovic’s side-footed finish was palmed to safety by a diving Hennessey. From the ensuing corner, a clambering Mitrovic sent a header wide of the far post.

Palace soaked up the pressure and gradually began to get a foothold in the contest. Their first sight of goal fell to Andros Townsend, whose sighter from range was easily fielded by Fabri – preferred in goal to the deadline-day signing from Sevilla, Sergio Rico. Christian Benteke almost gave the visitors the lead with a trademark powerful header on the half hour, but the backpeddling Fabri was able to turn his effort on to the crossbar.

At the other end, Mitrovic was warming to the task. He almost marked his return to Craven Cottage as a permanent Fulham signing with a goal, wriggling away from the attentions of Tomkins, keeping his feet and placing a shot inside the far post but Hennessey pulled off another fine save. Palace went up the other end and opened the scoring with a lovely, flowing move. Patrick van Aaanholt guided a pass into the feet of Jeffrey Schlupp, who held off the otherwise excellent Calum Chambers to work a yard of space, and lashed a venomous finish into the roof of the net.

The goal galvanised Hodgson’s men. van Aanholt thought he had added a second with astonishing curler into the top corner from the right angle of the box, but an offside flag ruled it out. The former Chelsea full-back still might have handed the visitors a more comfortable cushion to take into the half-time interval, but Fabri snuffled his snapshot after he had burst past Joe Bryan brimming with attacking intent.

Fulham continued to pour numbers forward and the game’s major talking point arrived after an hour. Schurrle looked to have been felled in the box by a poor Mahmadou Sakho challenge after the German winger had stolen possession from the Palace centre back but Mike Dean theatrically waved away the appeals. Jokanovic was incensed on the touchline and swiftly introduced Aboubakar Kamara but Fulham struggled to find a way past Palace’s stubborn defence.

The Eagles were looking menacing in attack and might have doubled their lead when Wilfred Zaha left Maxime Le Marchand trailing in his wake only for Fabri to improvise and save with his feet. At the other end, Hennessey dived smartly to his right to snaffle Mitrovic’s glancing header from a delicious delivery by Bryan, who eventually succumbed to an untimely ankle injury. Jokanovic went for broke by throwing on attacker Luciano Vietto and the Argentinian showed some silky touches, not least in setting up Aboubakar Kamara for a rising curler from the edge of the box that drifted agonisingly over.

But Fulham’s hopes of a comeback were extinguished by a ghastly error from Fabri with ten minutes to play. He rushed off his line as the impressive Aaron Wan-Bissaka threaded a through ball towards Zaha but never looked likely to reach the ball before the Ivorian forward, instead allowing him the simplest of finishes to put the game to bed. Fulham, to their credit, continued to go forward with Hennessey producing another excellent stop to claw away a Sessegnon header in the final minute before Kamara lashed a finish into the side netting in injury time.

It wasn’t the start the Fulham faithful had been dreaming off, but there was more than enough to suggest the Whites could surprise a few opponents once their myriad of deadline day signings bed in.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Fabri; Christie, Bryan (Vietto 71), Chambers, Le Marchand; McDonald Seri (Johansen 82), Cairney; Schurrle (Kamara 61), R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Fosu-Mensah, Cisse, Kebano.

BOOKED: McDonald.

CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2): Hennessey; Wan-Bissaka, van Aaanholt (Souare 90), Tomkins, Sakho; Milivojevic, McArthur, Townsend (Kouyaté 88), Schlupp; Benteke (Sorloth 83), Zaha. Subs (not used): Guaita, Ward, Kelly, Riedewald.

BOOKED: Zaha, Schlupp.

GOALS: Schlupp (41), Zaha (79).

REFEREE: Mike Dean (Birkenhead).

ATTENDANCE: 24,821.

Match Preview: Fulham v Crystal Palace

It only seems like yesterday when Tom Cairney stroked that sumptuous winner into the Aston Villa net in the glorious Wembley Stadium sunshine, but the new Premier League season is upon us. We’ve had a World Cup to distract us over the summer, but every Fulham fan has been counting down the 77 days between that memorable day in May and the Whites’ return to the Premier League. The opening game at Craven Cottage was always going to be a big day, but the fact that former Fulham manager Roy Hodgson returns with Crystal Palace this afternoon, makes it extra special.

Fulham’s incredible exploits in the summer transfer window have whetted our appetite even more – if that’s even possible. Slavisa Jokanovic has a squad that looks like it could be competitive in the top flight, but the Serbian head coach has urged his side not to get carried away on the eve of the big kick-off. He’s wary of maximising expectations following a strong close to the window and Palace, always well-organised and tough to beat under Hodgson, made some good signings of their own, bringing in Max Cheikhou Kouyate from West Ham, Jordan Ayew from Swansea and most notably, the highly-rated Max Meyer from Schalke. As we know from his time by the Thames, Hodgson is not the type of manager to make sweeping changes during a window. Instead, he will carefully identify the areas where his squad can be improved and Palace should have another good season with him at the helm. The Eagles will definitely provide an intriguing test of our own suitability for the top flight.

You would expect that Palace will line up in a similar fashion to way they finished last season. With only Yohan Cabaye and Reuben Loftus-Cheek no longer being at the club, they will still have a very recognisable Hodgson identity about them. Palace will likely prove tough to break down and be happy to play on the counter with the likes of Zaha, Townsend and Benteke up top. They also have the pace and trickery with Van Aanholt down the left and the creativity of Milivojevic through the middle. Palace will be pleased to have been able to ward off interest in the excellent Wifried Zaha, which was arguably their most successful bit of business of the whole summer. His presence and the sheer quality of attacking talent could make for an open game with both teams eager to make a strong start.

Jokanovic’s first eleven of the season will also be eagerly awaited. Tim Ream’s absence with a problem picked up in training is a blow, especially given his importance to that promotion winning side, and with Alfie Mawson also missing, Fulham may need to switch their back four around a few times early in the campaign. It could be Arsenal loanee Calum Chambers and French defender Maxime Le Marchand, who has at least had the benefit of a full pre-season, at the heart of the defence with Cyrus Christie at right back.  I also expect Christie to start at right back after the summer transfer of Fredericks to West Ham. The arrival of Joe Bryan should allow Ryan Sessegnon to roam threateningly on the left wing. Jokanovic has a dilemma over who to select in goal, having spent £5m on Fabri and signing Sergio Rico on deadline day,

Given that we have home advantage tomorrow, I expect us to take the game to Palace with our fluid passing and high work rate. I think the first 15 minutes will be cagey but I am hoping for a positive result. I am in a positive mood for this season and I expect us to just edge a nervy encounter at the cottage tomorrow.

MY FULHAM LINE UP (4-3-3): Fabri; Christie, Le Marchand, Chambers, Bryan; McDonald, Cairney, Seri; Schurrle, Sessegnon, Mitrovic.

PREDICTION: Fulham 2-1 Crystal Palace