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Fulham: Jol’s band of brothers need to bond

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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.

@Mark_Jones86

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Gameweek 8 preview: The case for the defence

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As Fantasy managers we’re all guilty of paying too much attention to the goalscorers and the Fancy Dans – or rather the Fancy Edens, Santis and Shinjis – but what about the case for the defence?

After a Gameweek 7 which saw goals for Leighton Baines (£7.5m), Aleksandar Kolarov (£5.7m), Branislav Ivanovic (£7.2m), Steven Caulker (£4.7m), Jonny Evans (£5.8m), Patrice Evra (£6.8m) and two from Jose Fonte (£4.0m) – not to mention the large amount of clean sheet and bonus points handed out to defenders – perhaps it’s about time to appreciate the men at the back as much as those further forward.

A solid back line can make or break Fantasy seasons in the same way that a Polish roof can determine whether a game goes ahead or not, and we start our celebration of the often underappreciated with the man at the top.

Baines is the most expensive defender in Fantasy Premier League, yet there aren’t many better ways of spending imaginary money outside a game of Monopoly.

With two goals and two assists so far this season, Baines might be behind Chelsea’s three-goal Ivanovic in terms of points at the moment, but the Everton man’s penalty taking prowess suggests that it won’t be long before he bypasses the Serb at the top of the defenders’ table.

He scored a penalty in Everton’s last match away at Wigan, but it is Baines’ frequent forward runs and regular chance creation which make him worth the admittedly expensive punt. Money doesn’t so much talk as shout in the case of Baines, but with the Blues no doubt confident of taking something from their trip to Loftus Road to face QPR on Sunday, he could be a man to bank on again and in the weeks and months to come.

Whilst Baines’s price indicates that most would have predicted him to be a defensive star throughout the campaign, there are cheaper options who have also muscled their way towards the top.

At the start of the season the odds of Arsenal’s Carl Jenkinson (£5.1m) being a hit amongst Fantasy bosses would have been as high as Felix Baumgartner was at one point on Sunday evening, but a series of consistent displays have seen the Gunners full-back find himself in more than a fifth of teams.

Having played every minute of all seven of Arsenal’s league games this season – and seen his Fantasy price rise by almost £0.1m per game as a result – Jenkinson appears to have matured as a player from the Bambi roller-skating on ice tribute act he often resembled during his debut Arsenal campaign, and with a potential England call-up on the horizon he’ll be in a mood to impress when Arsenal go to Norwich on Saturday evening. A clean sheet looks on that horizon too.

Manchester United and Liverpool will also be confident of keeping their own sheets spotless as they host Stoke and Reading respectively, and whilst Rafael (£5.9m) and Glen Johnson (£6.4m) are perhaps the best long-term defensive options from both sides, Liverpool’s Andre Wisdom (£4.5m) presents an interesting choice after starting the Reds’ last two league games. The 19-year-old has slotted into the team at right-back, and picked up three bonus points in Liverpool’s last match against Stoke.

It is to a man who has long left Liverpool behind that we turn to for our third main defensive choice though, as John Arne Riise (£5.5m) looks to help build on Fulham’s reasonably optimistic start to the season.

The Norwegian – who has over 100 caps for his country – has yet to score for the west Londoners, but he has contributed three assists so far this season, and will be hoping to add to that total when Aston Villa head to Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon. Paul Lambert’s side haven’t exactly been prolific this season, and so the potential for clean sheet points cannot be ruled out.

They might not be as glamorous as the ones you get from your big name attackers but they all count the same in the end.

The Fancy Leightons, Carls and Johns deserve their moment in the spotlight.

@Mark_Jones86

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.

@Mark_Jones86

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