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Fulham: The end of the road….


 FOOTBALL Lawrie Sanchez Fulham - 0

(an extremely unnecessarily huge picture of Lawrie Sanchez)

Pre-Season:

Mid-table mediocrity comes with a curse: comfort. Chris Coleman had done what few expected him to when he took the plunge into management; he created a decent team despite the lack of resources at the club. Having hovered above the relegation zone for much of the previous campaign only to finish in mid-table, Coleman’s place was reportedly under threat last summer, only for club chairman Mohamed Al Fayed to categorically deny he was planning on replacing the Welshman. A big blow came when playmaker and fans favourite Steed Malbranque rejected the offer of a new contract. While Franck Queudrue’s arrival brought strength to the defence, a huge blow came when Jimmy Bullard’s season ended after a horrifying injury, suffered in an accidental clash with Newcastle’s Scott Parker.

06-07 Recap:

A hammering at the hands of Manchester United was an early blow for the Cottagers, however eight points from their next twelve set about steadying the ship. A shcok Carling Cup exit at home to eventual semi-finalists Wycombe did them no favours as a decent cup run would have provided a tonic to all connected with the club after Bullard’s horrendous injury. However, a steady trickle of points, including wins over Arsenal and Everton meant pre-Christmas, Fulham weren’t in bad shape.

Wins over Leicester and Stoke saw a home tie with Spurs in the FA Cup fifth round, however a 4-0 hammering and newly loaned star Vincenzo Montella’s red card triggered off a disastrous run of results as Fulham took just four points from twenty-seven, a sequence that led to Coleman’s sacking on the eleventh of April barely a day after having spoken out by saying he refused to walk away from the fight and had belief he could turn around results with a win. Coleman wasn’t afforded that opportunity, instead Lawrie Sanchez came in and guided them to safety. Safety was secured with a contraversial 1-0 win over Liverpool who fielded an extremely weakened line-up and thus afforded Fulham the opportunity to scrape clear of the relegation zone, infuriating rival managers and perhaps contravening the laws of the game.

Strengths:

Lawrie Sanchez has proven with Northern Ireland that he can take a squad of players of far less strength than rivals Spain or Sweden for example, and still give them a fighting chance of success. Critics argue that his style of management makes for very one-dimensional football, several players have expressed their desire to leave as a result, however with Fulham’s squad, fighting characteristics are a huge part of the ability to survive in the league. Sanchez will offer that style of coaching and is perhaps aware of the fact that the style of football a team plays can be very physical and direct, but can breed results, as Bolton have shown recently under Sam Allardyce.

Mohamed Al Fayed has also promised funds to help strengthen the squad. Fulham have a decent bunch of players around whom Sanchez could build a good team. Michael Brown, when he’s not trying to hurt opposition players, is a good player and might mature with the captain’s armband after Luis Boa Morte’s departure to rivals West Ham. The likes of Dempsey, Rosenior and Zat Knight will all be looking to improve on their performances and are each capable of becoming top players for their club.

Weaknesses:

Defence: Fulham and Charlton had the joint-worst defensive record in the Premiership last year with Fulham conceding a whopping 42 goals on the road, more than any other team. While Antti Niemi is a good keeper, an experienced alternative is needed to push him for a starting place. The defence contains numerous impressive players but certainly needs reinforcements, with coaches perhaps the most pressing concern. The likes of Bocanegra, Pearce, Queudrue, Volz and Knight should provide a solid defence in front of Niemi and that they haven’t may be testament to poor planning off the field.

Strikers: While Fulham scored a reasonable amount of goals last season, they rely heavily on Brian McBride, who at 34 could do with someone younger doing the bulk of the running alongside him. Collins John looked an impressive striker two seasons ago but lost his way a little last year while Radzinski has been let go and Helguson could be used as part of a deal to bring West Brom’s Diomansy Kamara to Craven Cottage.

Transfer Targets:

As with any new manager, new faces will replace existing members of the squad. Diomansy Kamara and QPR’s Lee Cook have already been targeted though Fulham have had bids rejected for both as the inflated transfer market takes a hold. Sanchez told Fulham’s official magazine: We are going to have major changes this summer, probably having six or seven players coming in. That recruitment drive has already kicked off and others linked with the club include a plethora of strikers in Leeds’ David Healy, Mido from Spurs, Marlon Harewood from West Ham and Soth Korean International winger Lee Chun-soo.

Sanchez will also look to bring in defensive reinforcements (note: in the past hour it has been announced Fulham have signed Aaron Hughes from Aston Villa, the defender whom Sanchez made captain of Northern Ireland) while playmaker Jason Koumas has also been linked with the club. What is clear though, is that Sanchez wants to bring greater firepower to the club and his International connections make David Healy an obvious choice given their terrific working relationship at Northern Ireland. Mido would be an excellent target man given the mord direct style Sanchez will employ, likewise Marlon Harewood, however given the creative talents in Fulham’s midfield, Sanchez may be looking to surprise people with a more attacking game than is expected of his new recruits.

Next Season:

With Claus Jensen and Tomasz Radzinski having been released, two reliable squad members have gone and Sanchez will need to replace them quickly. Franck Queudrue has also slammed Sanchez ‘long-ball’ tactics and it remains to be seen what future he will have at the club. Reinforcements are needed desperately, and given Sanchez inexperience at this level coupled with the huge competition for Premiership ascendency, we believe Fulham may struggle next year. While they will most likely avoid relegation, Moritz Volz’s claim that they should break into the top ten next year looks a little far fetched. A new manager needs time to mould his squad out of his predecessor’s and Sanchez will look to stay in the Premiership next year while developing his squad the whole time.


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