Monday, August 04, 2008

The Return of Fulham of 2007-2008

In a club friendly against the newly relegated Birmingham City (thanks to Danny Murphy's header) Fulham looked an awful lot like last year's form. Although the match was a draw at one goal apiece, Fulham let Birmingham back in the game late in the second half. Once again, Fulham jumped out to a one goal lead early in the game with a Simon Davies goal from the top of the penalty area. Fulham then dominated the first half with decent possession and to be honest, was unlucky not to get a second goal with newly acquired Bobby Zamora showing why he was a good summer signing. Zamora sent two cracking volleys at goal, only to miss both early in the first half.

Paul Konchesky, the workhorse left back for the Cottagers had a chance as well, sending what looked like a short half-volley over the bar as well.

But the second half was a different game. Birmingham controlled most of the possession and certainly had the lion's share of chances. The best chances of the half for Fulham were when Davies hit the woodwork and Zoltan Gera's fine header was stopped by Birmingham's Mark Taylor.

A marking lapse let Birmingham's Sebastian Larsson put one past Mark Schwarzer for the tying goal. These are the kind of missteps late in teh game that cost Fulham a boatload of points last season. There were the kind of lapses that didn't seem to be happening against other teams in friendlies this preseason. Quite frankly, they cannot continue to happen or Fulham will find themselves fighting another relegation battle.

Fulham will have one more friendly, against Italian side Torino, on Saturday. Manager Roy Hodgson has been experimenting with his attacking lines, but it looks like the back four is about 75% solidified, with Paul Konchesky on the left, combined with Brede Hangeland and Aaron Huges in central defense. It remains to be seen who will see the regular right back slot. New signing Frederik Stoor saw action Saturday, but John Pantsil also had a solid performance.

In the midfield, I think Jimmy Bullard and Zoltan Gera are fairly well locks for the staring 11. That leaves probably two slots, and Simon Davies, Danny Murphy and David Healy have all made solid claim. U.S. International Clint Dempsey has not seen a lot of action with the first team in the pre-season, but since he is guaranteed to get a call-up for the World Cup qualifiers later this month, it is not surprising. It will make it hard for him to make the first team, let alone the starting 11 and given his performance both for the U.S. and Fulham, I wonder how much he has broken down physically.

Hodgson, though seems to have a problem of plenty up top. Bobby Zamora, I think, has cemented his position in the starting 11. His preseason play has been strong, he has created chances for himself and others and quite frankly has been unlucky to not have more than his single goal. If he can avoid injury, I think his signing is Hodgson's true bright spot for the summer. The hard part will be to find his partner for the season. Eddie Johnson has made a number of appearances, as had Erik Nevland and Seol Ki-Hyeon. Johnson and Seol have the most to prove that it makes me think that Nevland will see more action. But Hodgson could set up a rotational that would keep his strikers and midfield fresh and rested, avoiding the problem that the Cottagers had last season where key players simply lost their form through being tired.

As long as Fulham can avoid the late game breakdowns, I will be happy.

No comments: