Fulham players reading from the Book of Jol

"This season was always likely to be another reshuffle for the Craven Cottage"

Fulham players reading from the Book of Jol

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March 13th, 2012

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Martin Jol was appointed as the Fulham manager on the 7th of June 2011. Just over nine months and nearly 40 games on from that appointment, the Fulham players have evidently got the hang of the new manager and his tactics – before their injury-time defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday, they’d won their last three Premier League matches and most recently beat Wolves 5-0 at Craven Cottage.

Recent managers at Craven Cottage had utilised a structured and hard to break down 4-4-2 formation. A consistent back-five was shielded by Danny Murphy and a midfield partner; and that left the two wide men, so often Clint Dempsey and Damien Duff, tasked with providing service to and then supporting the front two. The system was functional and a long way from the style of football Jol likes to see his team playing.

As such, Fulham – much like the game on Saturday – started the season slowly. In the reverse fixture of Saturday’s game on the opening day, Fulham and Aston Villa battled to a 0-0 draw. At the time, it was Fulham’s seventh game of a season that started on June 30th and a sign that both new managers were building from the back with their teams.

Just 23 days after taking over, Martin Jol and Fulham’s 2011/12 season started in the very first qualifying round of the Europa League when most other teams were still on their holidays. Any grand plans and ideas of introducing his style of play on a well-drilled squad had to be placed on the back-burner by the former Ajax manager and his back-room staff. Instead, they resisted the urge to fix what in truth wasn’t broken.

That meant Fulham played their early games under Jol looking like the same side they had been under Roy Hodgson and Mark Hughes. Over the course of the season, Martin Jol has been tweaking his team while negotiating the Premier League.

Aaron Hughes, the partner to Brede Hangeland consistently for the last three seasons, has been switched to right-back and replaced by Philippe Senderos. Bobby Zamora, a back-to-goal target man and a leading star for Hughes’ Fulham last season was allowed to leave and replaced by the more rounded Pavel Pogrebnyak. The Russian has already scored five times at his new club and quickly alleviated the fears of those that pointed to his record of one goal in the first half of the season for Stuttgart. Andy Johnson, throughout his career a striker who played on the shoulder of his marker, has in recent weeks dropped deeper into the attacking midfield trio interchanging positions at will and breaking late into the area and Moussa Dembele has dropped even deeper into the midfield, playing alongside club captain Murphy in a central pairing which much more creative expectation.

Thanks to the general progression of the team, the Cottagers are a much more fluid side with a common continental structure and a host of technically skilled players. On Saturday, despite stuttering their way through the first half, Fulham produced the better of the play and the move of the match in the second half. Neat play between Hangeland and former Real Madrid player Mahamadou Diarra eventually worked the ball to Duff. The Irishman, a constant threat on both wings, worked a give-and-go with John Arne Riise but he could only lash his effort from seven yards into the side netting.

This season was always likely to be another reshuffle for the Craven Cottage side with the arrival of Martin Jol. Despite the upheaval they are odds on for a comfortable top-half finish, and key for the Dutch tactician, who will no doubt be relishing the chance of a full and proper pre-season with his players in the summer, will be keeping hold of his prized assets. It was reported over the weekend that a string of recent Champions League winning sides, including Manchester United, Juventus and Liverpool, are keeping tabs on almost every member of Fulham’s now front-six even if they were nullified very well by Aston Villa‘s experienced defence.

The manner of the defeat was a kick in the teeth for Fulham. Thanks to Mark Schwarzer’s uncharacteristic error and Andreas Weimann’s instincts, the South-West London side walked away from Villa Park empty handed. In truth, having only registered a single goal on target throughout the whole game, they didn’t exactly deserve much. They were far from their best. Fans can for now however take comfort from the fact that more is to come from Martin Jol and his players.

Words by Ryan Keaney

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