In what I hope will become a recurring feature on TSF, I spoke this week with Andrew Beck, lead blogger for Cottagers Confidential, SBN's Fulham blogothing, who seems like a wonderful person despite his love for the Sounders. I asked him three questions, he asked me three questions; his answers are below, and you can find mine at Cottagers Confidential. So, here's my questions and his answers:
TSF: Everyone knows about Arsenal's transfer window escapades, or I guess lack of escapades. But what did Fulham get up to this summer? Did Fulham buy anybody that the fans are really excited about?
Andrew Beck: Even though Jol didn't spend a lot of money this window, he did bring in quite a few players. The most expensive was Maarten Stekelenburg, a goalkeeper from Roma. He fell out of favor there, but was the starter for the Netherlands in the last World Cup Final; so it's not like he doesn't have a pedigree. Unfortunately, he bruised his shoulder badly in Fulham's last match; so he's unlikely to play. Jol also brought in a new center back, Fernando Amorebieta. He was injured/tired from international duty last week; but I think he plays on Saturday.
Jol also brought in two new CM's. Scott Parker I'm sure you know. The other is Derek Boateng. At this point of their careers, neither is world class, but compared to the Steve Sidwell and Chris Baird combo that was run out last year; it's an almost infinite improvement. To add to the attack Jol brought in both Adel Taarabt and Darren Bent. Both are talented players who bring a lot to the table, the biggest problem is going to be figuring out how to use them. None of the signings are particularly exciting, but it is a much deeper and more talented squad than it was last year. I still expect to see a versatile LB and possibly one more CM brought in. Depending on who those players are, the team could be much more exciting.
TSF: Fulham is under new ownership. Fayed seemed well-regarded as an owner, so is his departure viewed as a bad thing?
AB: The general consensus is that Al Fayed was a great owner. I myself wouldn't be a Fulham supporter if it wasn't for him. Because I live in Seattle, there's no way I would have picked a 3rd division club to support. However, as he aged there was a little uncertainty about what would happen to the club after him. The worst case would be infighting among his children for control.
The fact that he picked an owner who is well regarded by the fans of his other franchise and is also obscenely wealthy can only be seen as a good thing. The biggest downside is that last year seemed like a transition year for the club. However, due to the new ownership it seems this year is a transition year as well. The fans are fairly eager to stabilize themselves as a club who finishes in the top 10 every year with an occasional run at a Europa League spot. Basically, we'd like to be Everton.
TSF: Fulham's win over Sunderland was built on what seemed to be pretty solid defending. Fulham conceded 60 goals last season, tied for fourth-most in the Premiership; is Martin Jol focusing more on defending this season, and if so will that fundamentally change Fulham's style of play?
AB: Even though fans were mostly urging the club to buy a striker, defense was the much bigger issue. The club scored as many goal as anyone midtable last year. But as you noted, they gave up 60, which was as many as QPR. Which probably explains why Jol's first three signings were a new goalkeeper, a new center back, and a new defensive midfielder. Plus, he finalized the transfer of Sascha Riether, a wonderful right back who was just on loan last year. I don't think Jol is going to fundamentally change his style of play this year. Fulham will never be a Roy Hodgson style club under him. He's much more willing to attack and as a result Fulham will concede more.
The defense that the club plays is much more dependent on the players fitting into Jol's system. The loss last year of Dempsey, Dembele, and Danny Murphy all at once kind of put Jol in a hard place as the players he counted on just weren't there. Because they were missing it also really exposed the flaws in the distribution of Mark Schwarzer and the mental and physical mistakes of our second center back (Phillipe Senderos or Mark Hughes). Hopefully the new players plug some of those gaps.
TSF'S SUPER SECRET BONUS TRACK: Predicted lineup, players to watch, score prediction?
AB: For the lineup I'm guessing a 4-2-3-1 (or 4-4-1-1 depending on how you want to look at it). David Stockdale starting in goal for the injured Stekelenburg. A back line of Sascha Riether, Brede Hangeland, Fernando Amorebieta, and Matthew Briggs. A central midfield of Scott Parker and Derek Boateng. Bryan Ruiz, Dimitar Berbatov, and Adel Taarabt will be interchanging behind Darren Bent alone up top.
The key thing to watch is how the the team rolls out its attackers. Adel Taarabt, Bryan Ruiz, and Dimitar Berbatov all bring a lot of the same qualities and working them all in together could be quite hard. Fulham do have a lot of other attacking options though (Alex Kacaniklic, Patjim Kasami, Ashkan Dejagah, Damian Duff), so it wouldn't surprise me at all to see some of them.
I'm actually guessing the game plays out to a 2-2 draw. Hopefully the game is less heart attack inducing than the 3-3 draw at the Emirates last year.
Thanks to Andrew and Cottagers Confidential for taking the time to do this.