Sitting rock bottom of the Premier League with well over half the season gone, Fulham find themselves in a precarious position with not much hope of survival. They have invested heavily in the January transfer market (breaking their transfer record like 7 of the other bottom 10 teams), hoping that the likes of Konstantinos Mitroglou and Lewis Holtby can initiate an upturn in form and help Fulham escape the relegation zone. With only a few football fans predicting the Cottagers would go down before the season began, the question remains, what exactly has gone wrong?
Having finished the season twelfth last term, there were reasonably high expectations coming into this season, and then-coach Martin Jol made what seemed to be a few shrewd signings in the summer, including Scott Parker, Darren Bent and Fernando Amorebieta, who arrived from Athletic Bilbao with a good reputation. Adel Taarabt and Maarten Stekelenburg were two other players who came to Craven Cottage, and the latter even played the 2010 World Cup Final for Holland. However, it’s fair to say that none of the players who came in last summer have performed. Bent looks nowhere near like his former self, while Stekelenburg has underperformed massively. To be fair to the former Chelsea midfielder, Parker has looked one of the better players on show at the Cottage, but even that isn’t saying much. Amorebieta has been unfortunately plagued by injuries and so has been limited to 12 starts in all competitions. Playing at right-back, Sascha Riether has started the majority of games so far, but like most of his colleagues, has underperformed, and at the age of 30, isn’t likely to improve a great deal more.
Martin Jol’s Fulham career seemed to end just like his time at Spurs – he was greatly unfortunate in that everything that could have gone wrong, did. He couldn’t have expected some of his signings to perform so poorly (Darren Bent in particular), while age seems to have caught up with a few players too (Berbatov and Duff etc). Duff especially seems to have lost everything that once made him such a good player – pace, trickery and ability to ghost past to defenders. Towards the start of the season, Jol relied on the creativity of the Swiss youngster Patjim Kasami in the number 10 role, the skill of Duff and Taarabt on the wings, the steady partnership of Sidwell and Parker in the middle, and the sturdiness provided Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland at the heart of defence.
Kasami started the season well but has faded to the extent that he is now effectively a bench-warmer, Duff has declined significantly and Taarabt has been so inconsistent, a criticism that has been present throughout his short career so far. Hughes has been sold mid-way through the season, Hangeland has only played a handful of matches, with the duo replaced by Senderos and Amorebieta (and even now Senderos has been sold to Valencia).
With Rene Meulensteen currently in charge, Fulham’s defensive solidity doesn’t seem to have improved much more. They conceded 17 goals in his first month in charge (including a frankly abysmal six against Hull City) and boast the worst goal difference of any team in the top four leagues. Holtby had a poor outing on his debut, while Clint Dempsey has looked a shadow of the player who lit up Craven Cottage a few years ago.
With the relegation battle due to go down to the wire, let’s just hope for Fulham’s sake that their new signings step up and help the Cottagers to perform a miracle escape.