Remember that series previewing the 2013/4 Premier League on here? Well, we are almost halfway through what is turning into one of its most fascinating seasons to date. First up, it’s Martin Hearnden on Fulham
In the latest round of the EPL Fulham recorded a 2-0 win over Villa. This at least provides something of a positive backdrop to a season that thus far, has been bleak. The win broke a sequence of 7 straight defeats. After 15 games Fulham have 13 points and languish in 18th place, they are firmly in the mire.
In the season preview, showing a significant lack of prescience, your correspondent confidently predicted rock solid mid table mediocrity and a 10th place finish. A relegation battle was deemed “unlikely”…whatever.
The simple maths of their situation is not encouraging. If 40 points is considered the benchmark for safety then Fulham need another 27 from their remaining 23 games. Or they need to average nearly 1.2 points per game from here on in against the current average of 0.86.Things are going to have to improve dramatically. The first step has been the change of manager; big Martin Jol is having his Xmas dinner back in the Netherlands this year and contemplating the situations vacant column. Another Dutchman, Rene Meulensteen has taken over.
Rene is widely regarded as one of the best coaches going around. Famously he demonstrated his talents at Manchester United where he under -pinned the later years of Sir Alex’s reign with some success. This is his chance in the top job where his man management skills are going to be tested just as much as his technical ability.
So what has gone wrong? The Fulham faithful were clearly unhappy with what they were seeing right from the off and made their displeasure plain. Displays like this, good or bad, are not the norm at Fulham. Jol just seemed to get even more dour and little changed on the pitch. The squad is an eclectic bunch to say the least, a real potpourri of footballers cobbled together from all corners. It simply is not working. Matters have not been helped by the loss of Mark Schwarzer and injuries to his successor Stekelenburg and the inspirational skipper, Brede Hangeland. And typically of any side struggling, constant tinkering with the team did not help. It is difficult to describe Craven Cottage as a fortress but Fulham have always demonstrated solid home form. This has evaporated this season with only 2 wins out of 8, including 5 losses.
The good news? Fulham actually have 2 away wins thus far, the same as Liverpool and Manchester City. The side put out on the weekend, in a more pragmatic 4-3-3 formation, looked pretty much like the first choice line up with the exception of Hangeland, out for another 6 weeks. Plus Berbatov looked interested for the first time in weeks.
What happens from here? For a couple of reasons – the arrival of Meulensteen, the hint of a revival and the quality of some of the dross towards the foot of the table – I believe they survive. Home form needs to improve dramatically and the players need to demonstrate a degree of togetherness not yet obvious and then 40 points are achievable. Less than 40 will probably do but if you want to be safe…
A disappointing report card so far, can and must do a lot better.
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