Fulham have come to a crossroads in the season. “But they’ve only played two games!” you cry. Well, let me tell you why, at just two games and three points into the season, Fulham are at a crossroads.
Fan confidence is at a low. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many Fulham fans across the board angry with how the squad has shaped up. In fact, it’s marketably worse than last year when the front office did nothing but watch Spurs suck the life out of the Fulham midfield like a dementor, and in turn bringing in nobody of significance (ok fine they brought in Sascha Riether who is now a keystone part of the squad, but he was nobody of significance at the time).
Scores of people are calling for Martin Jol to be sacked to due his inability to tactically arrange his squad to make the most of the individual player abilities. Some, having used up all of the kool-aid supplied during the purchase of the club, are even pleading with Shahid Khan to splash the cash at the deadline to fix a midfield that remains somewhat stagnant.
So, surrounding the turmoil, the Whites head to Newcastle Upon Tyne, with pressure mounting and jobs even possibly on the line. Not immediately following this match, but certainly in the near future. Shahid Khan has been very public about his displeasure in sacking a coach – NFL or Premier League – during the season. But for the first time as a sports owner Shahid Khan has found himself face to face with the devil-eyed monster that is relegation, and who knows if he would blink if the results weren’t even close to what he had expected early on.
A beatable team on the road while under early fan pressure. Sounds like a crossroads to me. I rest my case.
State of Fulham:
Besides the monologue above, Fulham will be without Maarten Stekelenburg for at least another week following an injury to his other shoulder during training. At least his original injury has healed. Kieran Richardson is also out (get used to hearing that one, if you aren’t already) and Fernando Amorebieta continues to be sidelined, much to the chagrin of his new manager.
Darren Bent is set to make his full debut, after Martin Jol told Sarah Brookes and the official website that he was impressed with Bent’s poaching abilities, including his consolation goal against Arsenal. It would seem that if we can take anything from the Arsenal match, it’s that the lineup on the pitch at the final whistle is most likely what should be our lineup at the start of the match – with Bent up front, Berbatov with free range to roam anywhere behind him, and Kasami and Kacaniklic on the wings. Adel Taarabt has impressed so far this season, but his beyond poor match fitness means he continues to run out of gas by halftime. Ashkan Dejagah also most likely remains in the same boat, as he got a terribly late start to his season due to the ankle ligament damage suffered at the end of last season.
Fans aren’t happy, I get it. I’m losing patience in the management myself – how can you not? But let’s all give it some time. There are new players who it would be impossible to expect to slide right in and do well. In fact, if anything we should be praising Scotty Parker, who looked as fluid in the middle as anyone could have dreamed for against Arsenal, and his passing skills are precisely what this team is starving for. Is he going to run directly at a central defense partnership and create chances like Mousa Dembele did so beautifully? Of course not. But his technique and savvy for creating space in the center of the pitch were the precursor to a multitude of openings in the Arsenal back 4.
Let’s give time for Martin Jol to figure out the proper starting lineup. I give him credit for finally holding Bryan Ruiz accountable for his mediocre overall resume since joining Fulham. When I asked my twitter followers what they would like to see the lineup look like, not a single lineup I received was the same. They’re like snowflakes! Nobody knows which one is best at the moment, and therefore we need to give the leaders of the team time to figure out what they believe will work best. Are they responsible if whatever they decide doesn’t work out? Of course. But let’s hold our horses before we start calling for heads.
State of Newcastle:
To Yohan Cabaye or not to Yohan Cabaye? That is the question for Newcastle as he has reportedly been unsettled about the possibility of transferring to Arsenal or PSG. It sounds like he’ll play, but it’s impossible to predict with these kind of situations. And Cabaye playing or not playing could have a massive effect on the outcome of the match.
The Magpies are also facing a nervy start to the season, with just one point. 10-year signee Alan Pardew is a bit on edge, and it’s been clear by his whiny approach to the media – odd for such a likeable character – that he’s feeling the nerves as well. Strike options have been hard to come by, and much of the attacking weight has fallen on wingers like Hatem Ben Arfa.
Newcastle have a host of injuries that could affect them in this match, but it would seem Loic Remy may be able to return to help said thin attack force. Cheick Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, and Steven Taylor will all miss out, the latter from a red card suspension for a poorly aimed blow at Sergio Aguero’s domepiece.
EA Sports Stats of the Match:
-Newcastle have managed just 1 shot on target in their first two matches of the season. One. Yikes.
-The Magpies are sitting on a home scoreless streak of more than four games and exceeding six hours. Their last home goal was Papiss Cisse against Fulham in stoppage time back in April.
-Fulham have won two straight away matches. The last time they won 3 in a row was back in March of 2008
-The home team has won each of the last five of this fixture
-Hatem Ben Arfa’s played twice against Fulham, and scored in both matches.
I really would like to see Boateng paired with Parker in the midfield, as I feel the enforcer mentality of Derek will allow Parker even more space than he created himself last Saturday. Wish Briggsy would get the run-out at right back but Jol is stubbornly sticking with John Arne Riise for whatever reason. So here goes:
Riether – Hughes – Hangeland – Riise
Kacaniklic – Parker – Boateng – Kasami
While both teams are struggling, I do believe Fulham can scrounge a point from this match. They were lucky on the road at Sunderland to come away with all three, but it wouldn’t seem either side have the cutting edge to grab the bull in this fixture. Luck could swing one way or another, but as things stand either a 0-0 or a 1-1 draw would seem fair here.
Fulham fans are upset. A win would quiet the fires temporarily, and a draw would keep the status quo. But I hate to see what a loss to a struggling Newcastle side would do for this fanbase. It has the explosiveness of an atomic bomb. Let’s hope we don’t have to pick up the pieces.