Rich ran a very interesting experiment over at CCN earlier today. I wanted to respond to his survey asking about our squad but a hundred people beat me to it, which is a testament to his site’s deserved popularity. Anyway, the results were fairly conclusive and threw up the same sort of questions that Martin Jol must be mulling over in his mind:
- At what point do I replace Schwarzer with Stockdale? If it’s not now, how much football should I give the younger man?
- What to do about the left back conundrum?
- What’s my first-choice midfield?
- Where do Dembele and Dempsey play?
There are no easy answers – or we’d all be football managers. I’d advocate a fairly high diet of first-team football for Stockdale for the simple reason that he’s going to replace Schwarzer at some point in the near future and needs to be ready. The left-back question really centres around Matthew Briggs. If he’s the long-term answer, the solution is to slowly introduce him to the Premier League (rather than throwing him in at the deep end, as Mark Hughes did/had to do). If he’s not, then a foray into the market is needed quickly.
The midfield questions really concern the wide men. I’d be fairly sure that Jol would consider Sidwell and Murphy the first choice for the central positions, however harsh that might seem on Dickson Etuhu. Damien Duff had a mixed season last year: moments of absolute brilliance contrasted with injury frustrations. Bearing in mind that Clint Dempsey’s coming off a far more hectic summer schedule than any of our other first-teamers, it’s by no means certain that either them (with Duff still recovery from injury) will be 100 per cent right by August.
Much comes down to shape, too. For the most part, Fulham have operated a fairly rigid 4-4-2 over the last couple of seasons. A change of shape could get the best out of Dembele, who seems to enjoy roaming behind a central striker, and Dempsey, but might leave us markedly more open at the back. I’ve already offered some thoughts on Moussa’s role going forward, but of course the picture may change if Jol invests substantially in new faces over the summer.