Fulham: The Season Preview

Major transfers IN: Maarten Stekelenburg – £4.7 Million- Roma; Sasha Riether – £1.2 million- Cologne; Fernando Amorebieta – Free – Athletic Bilbao; Derek Boateng – Free – Dnipro

Major Transfers OUT: Mark Schwarzer- Free – Chelsea; Simon Davies – Released; Mladen Petric- Released

 
Martin Jol has a big job on his hands to keep Fulham in the Premier League for their 12th consecutive year and their comfortable mid table finishes of the past 5 years may be a thing of the past if their second half of the season form was anything to go by, along with uninspiring transfers.

Fulham started last season well and it was their early season form which saw them finish (what seemed like) comfortably mid-table but most of their points were gained in the first half of the season and in a good spell over Easter before a really terrible run of form towards the end of the season saw them briefly flirt with relegation, which made Fulham’s season somewhat of a rollercoaster.

Their form dipped terribly after periods of strong form, so much so that Fulham’s season can be broken down into 4 distinct stages: First 11 matches, only 3 losses. Next 9 matches, only 1 win. Next 10 games heralded 5 wins before a terrible end of season run of 4 points in their last 8 games.

This kind of roller coaster form makes it hard to analyse what kind of season the Cottagers will have but with teams who finished around them strengthening more impressively, Fulham may be left behind some of their bottom half of the table rivals.

The one man who is key to Fulham’s season is obviously Dimitar Berbatov who looked a good singing no paper and proved to be just that with 15 goals scored in just 32 league games, a brilliant return for a player who would not have cost the club too much money.

Berbatov’s goal scoring record should come as no surprise as he averages 0.44 goals over the course of his career, and showed that he can do it in a team which does not provide him with as much ammunition as he used to like his spells at Man Utd, Spurs and Bayer Leverkeusen.

Berbatov’s contribution to Fulham’s season was enormous, and after he had signed for Fulham he scored 15 of the 43 goals they scored. His importance to the team can be seen when you look at Fulham’s results without him, they only won one game all season, and that was the opening day victory against Norwich.

An injury to Berbatov would be catastrophic to Fulham with the only other out-and-out striker being Hugo Rodellaga, who managed just 3 goals all season despite taking part in 29 league games. Behind the Bulgarian is normally Bryan Ruiz who has shown he is a creative and talented footballer who managed 7 assists last season, alongside his 5 league goals too for a decent campaign.

The rest of the midfield is probably the area where Fulham are the weakest with Damien Duff now 34, and the 36 year old Giorgios Karagounis coming in and playing 25 games last season, showing how weak the midfield is, and may explain the dip in form towards the end of the season.

Steve Sidwell is a steady if not spectacular player and will joined in the middle by Derek Boateng who is a good free signing from Dnipro after they paid nearly £6 million to take him from Getafe two years ago, however he only played 23 times in total for the Ukrainians.

Alex Kacaniklic is a potential creative spark for Fulham who has looked a tricky winger on occasions, and was in favour towards the back end of last season, and looks set for a starting berth on the left hand side of an uninspiring midfield. For what looks a pretty solid defence, Fulham leaked 60 goals last season, the same as QPR.

The aging Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird may finally have had their day as Fernando Amorebieta has been bought in from Athletic Bilbao and has to be an improvement on the formers, and should be solid next to Brede Hangeland. One of two paid transfers Fulham have made is that of Sasha Riether from Cologne for just £1.2 million, after he had a good loan spell last season missing just 3 games in total, but again is a pretty uninspiring signing, even if a good piece of business.

The biggest transfer Fuham have made is that of Maarten Stekelenburg from Roma after Mark Schwarzer left the club on a free to join Chelsea. Stekelenburg is a good signing who has frequently been linked with top European clubs, and at 30 is ten years younger than his predecessor and at nearly £5 million is again good business for a keeper who has long been considered one of Europe’s best.

Considering Fulham’s recent take over a total outlay of around £6 million is not what the supporters want to see, even if Martin Jol is doing pretty solid business.

A move for Darren Bent has been muted but I can’t see him fitting into a team which really does revolved around Berbatov, and he sat on the bench all of last season at Aston Villa. Fulham should look to bring in a more creative midfield player or wide midfielders as their strength in depth is worrying in a number of areas.

 

Betting recommendation

It is pretty hard to be enthusiastic about Fulham’s season with a very average team who revolve around one world class player in Berbatov. Fulham are a definite runner in the relegation market and have been priced up as short as 4/1 with Ladbrokes and are a standout 8/1 with Bet Victor which looks huge value considering their terrible run at the end of last season and a lack of significant improvements.

It is really hard to know what to expect out of Fulham and the goals of Berbatov are going to be crucial in keeping them afloat in a division which does tno have much between the 14 clubs outside of the “Big 6”. Martin Jol is second favourite in the first manager to go market at around 8/1 and a tricky start is not going to help him either, but it would be a surprise if no one was to go before him.

In a wide open relegation market in which there is likely to be bigger price team go down I think it is worth taking Fulham to go down. With a huge over reliance on Berbatov an injury would see them woefully short upfront, and with no reinforcements coming in so far the 8/1 with Bet Victor is way too big considering they are half that price in places.

 

Fulham to be relegated- 1pt Bet Victor.

 

Written by Alex Evans

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexWeemEvans

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