If you haven’t seen the fixture list yet, which was released today, do yourself a favor and check out the path Fulham will look to traverse next season as they take on their Premier League foes in the 2012/13 season. Martin Jol is setting out on another full campaign that is sure to be littered with peaks and valleys, euphroia and heartbreak, celebration and controversy. This year is the first in many that Fulham will be starting the season with the same manager they ended the previous one (knock on wood, hopefully Martin Jol doesn’t pull another Mark Hughes that no one saw coming. Not saying he will, just saying no one saw the last one coming). So with the road paved, now all Fulham have to do is perambulate the meandering path of the Premier League. To me, there are three sections of the fixtures that Fulham must conquer to have a successful season. The definition of “successful season” for the upcoming year is also up for debate (another post? I think so!) but whatever that goal is, these two portions of the season must end in Fulham’s favor. Let me explain:
Section 1: The first 2 months
Fulham have been notorious in the past 2 seasons at least of getting off to some pretty crummy starts, having fans question the manager, then beasting in the second half and finishing strong. Now, imagine last year that the club hadn’t needed the break-in time with a new manager in the beginning of the year. Imagine they started how they finished. 9th doesn’t seem so good anymore does it? They could have finished 7th, or even better, and all the fans know it. Well, this year, there’s no break-in time. Sure the club will have new signings to get settled in, but who doesn’t? That’s why this year the stretch of the first 8 games is ESSENTIAL to this season’s success. If progress is to be made, they need to perform where they didn’t last year, and that’s in the beginning.
The first 8 matches are as follows:
(H) Norwich City
(A) Manchester United
(A) West Ham
(H) West Brom
(H) Manchester City
(H) Aston Villa
The way I see it, best case scenario we finish with 18 points from that stretch. That’s best best case scenario obviously, so it’s slimly realistic. But it’s attainable. There are 5 winnable matches in that stretch. You know what we need to do to maximize points from this stretch? WIN AWAY. It’s time, folks. This club showed at the end of last season that the monkeys may be off our back. But to do this they need to start early. Fulham won 3 of their final 7 away matches last year. While that’s not great, it’s better than it has been. We’ve gone SEASONS with 3 away wins. If you look at that stretch, there are 6 winnable matches of the 8. 3 of those 6 are away. If Fulham is to separate themselves from the middle of the pack and step into an upper echelon of clubs such as the Evertons and the Newcastles, this is where it’s going to get done.
Section 2: December
If Fulham finishes off the first half of the season on a good note, the wins will come in the second half, bottom line. Also, there are some huge matches against teams that Fulham are looking to emulate the success of, and these matches will be vital tests to see if the club has indeed reached that level. This month will be the busiest for the staff at Craven Cottage, as there are four, yes that’s FOUR, home games in the month of December, and 6 matches overall. That includes an exhausting stretch at the end of the month where there are 3 matches in 8 days. Here’s the month of December fixtures:
Dec 1: (H) Spurs
Dec 8: (H) Newcastle
Dec 15: (A) QPR
Dec 22: (A) Liverpool
Dec 26: (H) Southampton
Dec 29: (H) Swansea
Yikes. The first 4 are the roughest, although the stretch of Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday matches to end the month will be brutal for the players. Think about this though. Last year, Spurs finished 4th, Newcastle finished 5th, and Liverpool finished 8th. If Fulham are to progress into the top 7 consistently in the table and challenge for a Europa League spot on a yearly basis, they need to prove they can challenge these clubs. Last year, Fulham lost to Spurs at home 3-1, destroyed Newcastle at home 5-2, and beat Liverpool away 1-0. To me, that’s competing. However, this is a new year. If Fulham are to once again have those kind of results, they need this stretch badly. It’s going to be tough.
Section 3: April
Just like they need to start strong, this club is going to have to finish strong to have a shot at the top 7. I don’t need to tell you any more about Fulham’s away form for you to get where I and just about every other fan stands on the subject. With that in mind, take a look at April:
(A) Aston Villa
Yikes. That’s a tough way to bring the season to a close. May isn’t as difficult, but this has the potential to bring the club to a screeching halt. They need to perform well here to not ruin any good form they had leading up to it. If they can navigate this month with 6 points, I’d consider it successful.
So what are everyone’s thoughts? Are there other areas of concern or stretches where the Cottagers should excel? What are your expectations for this season?