At times last season Martin Jol’s Fulham were one of the most entertaining sides in the Premier League. Fielding up to six attacking or creative players at a time, Jol’s team were a far cry from the positional discipline of Roy Hodgson, albeit following a season’s interlude with Mark Hughes at the helm. The performances were occasionally wonderful to watch, with a 5-2 victory over Champions League chasing Newcastle the probable highlight, but they were also capable of being overrun. It was little surprise to see Manchester United secure a 5-0 victory against a side using Danny Murphy as a holding midfielder.
This season Murphy has gone, which would suggest Jol will refrain from playing a playmaker as a defensive shield, but the other attacking midfielders remain. Clint Dempsey continues to be tracked by Liverpool and Moussa Dembele has been linked with Real Madrid, but neither move has reached the ‘probable’ stage and fans will hope that they can continue to line up alongside the unpredictable Bryan Ruiz and the experienced Damien Duff. If Mahamadou Diarra replaces Murphy as a ball-winner Fulham should be able to play with some added protection whilst also giving greater creative responsibility to the exciting Dembele. In fact Fulham’s stock of young attackers seems to be overflowing, and it will be interesting to see how Kerim Frei and Pajtim Kasami develop throughout the campaign.
Jol’s biggest problem will be replacing last season’s forward line. While Andrew Johnson was able to work off a strike partner, it is an effective target man that will be crucial to Fulham’s success. Problems between Bobby Zamora and the manager in the first half of last season were swept under the rug when both realised how much they needed each other. Jol needed a player to lead the line and bring his talented midfield into play whilst the striker was hoping to attract interest with some headline-grabbing performances. In January Zamora was sold to QPR and replaced with Pavel Pogrebnyak who continued converting chances and making space for others. One would think Fulham would be disappointed to lose Pogrebnyak to Reading, but the ease at which the club appeared to give him up, coupled with the speed in which they signed Hugo Rodallega, would suggest that Jol has identified another strong forward to fill the Zamora void.
Jol certainly enjoyed a successful first season at the club and with one of the league’s most supportive owners behind him the Dutchman will hope to continue to develop the team further. Fulham are one of a few Premier League clubs that comfortably float around mid-table, strengthened by good management but restricted by limited resources. A lack of potential was probably the reason for Hughes’ exit a year ago, and it is likely Jol will also want more than to simply compete for a top-half finish. Considering what Jol has achieved so far – turning Fulham from a systematic unit into an attractive footballing side – it is hoped that he stays long enough to see his project find some success.