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Fulham: Jol’s band of brothers need to bond


A look at any of Fulham’s recent teamsheets would leave you with inspiration for winning a game of Scrabble.

Ashkan Dejagah, Alexander Kacaniklic, Giorgos Karagounis, Urby Emanuelson and Stanislav Manolev have all made appearances for the Whites in recent weeks, and whilst we are yet to see midfielder Eyong Enoh in action, football writers can only breathe a sigh of relief at the fact that reserve goalkeeper Csaba Somogyi hasn’t got further than the bench yet.

Regardless of the names, what has been apparent is the changing nature of the Fulham team.

Now incredibly reliant on Dimitar Berbatov, Martin Jol’s side appears to be built solely to get the best out of the Bulgarian.

Gone the days of a resilient Fulham based on the consistent performances of the likes of Danny Murphy, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora, the current side is set up solely for their forward. The results have been mixed.

Berbatov has scored just three goals in his last 14 Premier League games, and almost as a direct result Fulham have only won three of their last 18.

Currently six points above 18th-placed Reading, Jol and his 12th-placed side have work to do in order to join the teams who already appear to have done enough to secure Premier League survival – namely those from West Bromwich Albion in ninth and up.

Relying on the enigmatic talents of Berbatov is always going to produce both good and bad days, and Fulham have had plenty of those during a season in which they’ve once again shown themselves to frequently be soft touches on the road. They’ve won just two of 13 away games.

As the season heads towards its climax Jol will be looking to his unlikely band of brothers to offer Berbatov more help, to become more than just new names on those Fulham teamsheets and to step into their own limelights.

The apparent returns of old heads such as Mahamadou Diarra and Simon Davies in the matches to come will certainly help matters, but it is those players around Berbatov who really need to step up.

Dejagah was a Bundesliga champion with Wolfsburg in 2009. Kacaniklic was highly-rated during his youth career at Liverpool. Karagounis was a European champion with Greece in 2004 and has played in a string of Champions League games for clubs of the quality of Panathinaikos, Inter Milan and Benfica. The same can be said of Emanuelson at Ajax and AC Milan, whilst Manolev has played 29 times for Bulgaria.

These are not rookies.

These are players who have the experience and the quality to step up and perform for the team, and when added to the efforts already put in by the likes of Mark Schwarzer, John Arne Riise, Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes, Steve Sidwell and Damien Duff then a solid platform should be assembled. Bryan Ruiz and Mladen Petric add quality, whilst Berbatov is their matchwinner.

Results need to be picked up sooner rather than later though, as Fulham strive to avoid becoming that one team who everyone waits to see get sucked into the relegation mire in the coming weeks.

On paper they have names to ensure that doesn’t happen, but games aren’t played on paper, they’ll be played against Stoke and Sunderland in the coming week and a half; two matches which look crucial to Fulham’s hopes of pulling away from any danger.

To do that plenty of Jol’s players will have to become more than just multinational names on a teamsheet, and instead become names that the Fulham fans can remember and trust that they can lead their team to safety.

They should do just that, although football does have a habit of making fools of us all – just like Scrabble.


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Gameweek 27 preview: Giroud to lift the Gunners’ gloom?


Liverpool eventually delivered for Fantasy bosses on their Double Gameweek, but the absences of Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge this time around will have those managers looking elsewhere.

Neither Liverpool nor Swansea are in action in Gameweek 27 following the Reds’ 5-0 win at Anfield last Sunday, and so without the Reds and the Swans to call upon then points will have to be picked up from other sources. It’s not the happiest of places right now, but maybe one of those sources will be the Emirates Stadium.

Defeats to Blackburn and Bayern Munich have left Arsenal in the grip of the usual ‘crisis’ they go through about seven times a season, but purely in Premier League terms they aren’t doing too badly.

Three wins and a draw from their last four matches have taken the Gunners to within four points of fourth-placed Tottenham, and with Spurs not playing until a tricky trip to West Ham on Monday night then Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa offers Arsene Wenger the chance to lighten both his own and the club’s mood.

Wenger should start with his compatriot Olivier Giroud (£8.0m) upfront, especially given that the French forward has scored five goals in his last five Premier League appearances at the Emirates.

The experiment of playing Theo Walcott (£9.5m) through the middle has produced good results, but Arsenal looked stronger when Giroud came on against Bayern in midweek and can make that strength tell against a notoriously weak Villa back line. If you’re a striker short given the non-appearances of Suarez and Sturridge, then he could be your man.

Elsewhere it’s top against bottom at Loftus Road, where it is simply impossible to ignore the claims of Robin van Persie (£14.0m) as your captaincy pick.

Manchester United’s mercurial Dutchman actually came down in price for the first time since October before United’s last league game against Everton, but he responded by registering a goal and an assist – a 19th and 10th of the campaign respectively – in his team’s 2-0 win. He was rested for his team’s FA Cup exertions on Monday night and so should be primed and ready to go for this visit to Queens Park Rangers.

As always with United it can be quite difficult to pick their midfield, but with an apparent injury to Phil Jones (£5.6m), then Sir Alex Ferguson could look to pair Michael Carrick (£5.8m) – who scored in this fixture last season and is United’s top points-scoring midfielder this time around – with Tom Cleverley (£5.6m, and the pair will be targeting points in what should be a routine victory.

There will be nothing routine about the big game of the weekend, as Manchester City host Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium.

There is an intriguing battle going on to see who will finish as City’s top points-scoring forward, and although he is bottom of the list at the moment the smart money should perhaps be on Sergio Aguero (£10.9m), who has started the last three league games whilst Carlos Tevez hasn’t played a minute of the last two.

Clean sheets might be hard to come by in that clash, but they could be seen in the opening game of the weekend at Craven Cottage.

Stoke have only scored once in their previous five away games, and against a Fulham defence marshalled by Brede Hangeland (£4.8m) they could find that record tough to improve.

The Norwegian centre-back was once a Fantasy favourite but he has seen ownership dwindle due to not yet scoring a goal this season. That could all change here.

Another player who hasn’t scored as often as he’d like this season is Papiss Cisse (£8.8m), but it might be worth keeping an eye on Newcastle’s Senegalese forward ahead of what looks a huge game against Southampton at St James’s Park.

A goal there could kick off a much-needed run of form for both him and his team, and perhaps provide you with that all important edge in the coming weeks.


Check out our new Club article – This week Fulham

International breakdowns; a Fantasy manager’s nightmare


Reykjavik on a Friday night.

It’s not the most obvious of places to cast an eye over, but there will be more than a few of you keeping up with events in the Icelandic capital at the end of your working week.

At the time of writing, Fulham’s Brede Hangeland features in 13.9% of Fantasy Premier League teams, with John Arne Riise – his fellow defender for both Fulham and Norway – popping up in 8.3% of them.

Given that the amount of Fantasy bosses has now exceeded 2.3million, then that makes for a fair chunk of you who’ll be anxious to hear of the fate of Hangeland and Riise on international duty in Reykjavik, where an injury could wreck your week.

Norway play Slovenia at home next Tuesday too. A pull here or a strain there and suddenly the duo are out of their club sides, and more importantly they throw your plans into disarray as well.

International breaks have long been the scourge of club managers, but what about the problems they cause Fantasy ones?

Without the power of Sir Alex Ferguson you can’t tell the Holland boss Louis van Gaal to leave Robin van Persie out of the World Cup qualifier in Budapest next Tuesday because you’re thinking of making him your captain when Manchester United face Wigan at Old Trafford the following Saturday and you want him to be fresh.

Similarly, Eden Hazard might not have far to travel for Friday’s qualifier in Cardiff, but the Belgian has got another game at home to Croatia on the Tuesday and you want that little assist-making machine in top condition for Chelsea’s highly-charged trip to QPR.

And what’s that Roy? Ashley Cole has got an ankle problem that’s keeping him out of the Moldova game? Good. Now send him back to Chelsea, get them to find all the cotton wool they can get their hands on and don’t you dare think about picking him when England play Ukraine.

Fantasy bosses have to be selfish when watching their players in club action in cup competitions too of course – although you might have a team in one of those leagues on the side – yet somehow it is easier to take when a blow affects one of your boys when in their club colours as opposed to their national shirt. Club 1 Country 0.

For the clubs who lose those players for a week to 10 days, it almost becomes a case of the bigger they are the harder they fall.

Manchester United have published a list of 24 of their players who are on international duty over the next week or so on their website, as have Liverpool for their 19 – which is probably the size of their entire squad as a whole after recent dealings – whilst Chelsea have six in the England squad alone.

It’ll be next Wednesday at the earliest before their managers see all of them again, as air miles are clocked up and tired limbs are transported across all four corners of the globe.

Will they be back in top shape? Has the jet lag affected them? Is it possible for Luis Suarez to get from Montevideo to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light in less than four days? Do they do direct flights?

All are questions that many will consider in the days to come, as eyes dart furiously from Argentina to Amsterdam and virtually everywhere in between.

Is it Reykjavik or bust for your Fantasy team?

It could be both.


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