Fulham are back in the big time and Fulhamish’s previews are back for the year—bigger and better than ever before. As ever, our resident statto and match analyst George Singer is the man on the buttons with his Before the Whistle previews!
Hello and welcome to the first Before The Whistle of the season! After 4 years away, we’re back in the big time, we’re a Premier League club once again. Our prize for our Wembley win is a chance to welcome Crystal Palace, and our old friend Roy Hodgson, back to the Cottage. Will our return to Match of the Day, inevitably in the final slot, be a positive one?
May 2014 Fulham 2-2 Crystal Palace
October 2013 Crystal Palace 1-4 Fulham
January 2005 Fulham 3-1 Crystal Palace
Last time we played
In a nice twist of fate, the last time we played in the Premier League was a repeat of Saturday’s match: facing Palace at the Cottage. Relegation had already been confirmed for us, having collapsing to a 4-1 defeat up at Stoke the previous weekend, so this was a risk-free way of glimpsing the supposed future of our team.
Looking back that season, our squad was a bunch of clumsily assembled past-prime journeymen, and in truth relegation was rightly deserved. It felt fitting that it was the two youngsters in the team that scored our duo of goals, to bring a silver lining to our grey cloud of relegation.
Chris Gayle opened the scoring on the day, timing his run perfectly to tap home Joel Ward’s shot from deep. On the 60th minute, Scoreley Woodrow equalised – with his first professional goal from the Whites. It looked like Gayle had stolen all 3 points for the Eagles, curling home a sumptuous free kick on the 82nd minute. However, the young Dutchman Chris David saved a final Premier League point for the Whites, whipping home a shot from deep with the last kick of the game.
The match report that day stated that this was to be the sign of a younger, more successful, Championship Fulham side. Whilst it wasn’t truly to be (David only played 5 more games for us, and Cauley struggled to nail down a first team place) it at least gave the fans a brief glimpse of positivity after a dour season.
Palace’s Summer Signings
After a few seasons of chopping and changing managers, it’s perhaps not surprising that Roy has decided to avoid an overhaul of his squad. However, as you’d expect, the few dealings have been shrewd.
Outgoings have seen some of the older players in the squad move on to pastures new. Notable departures include veteran CB Damien Delaney, Bakary Sako and Yohan Cabaye – who have all departed for free.
On the other side, 3 new players have come into the side. Keeping backup has come in in the form of Guaita from Getafe, and Cheikhou Kouyate has moved across London from West Ham. However, the most notable signing has been Max Meyer on a free.
Once widely rumoured to sign for Arsenal, he has struggled to find consistent minutes in a mediocre Schalke side, and has seen his stock fallen. However he will still provide excellent midfield cover for the Eagles, and will desperately want to recreate the form which earned him interest from the top sides.
Expected Palace lineup
Whilst it’s difficult to predict a team’s first lineup of the season, it’s likely that Roy will stick with his trusty 4-4-2. It’s also likely he’ll stick with the majority of players who helped the side impressively climb out of the relegation-shaped hole dug by Frank De Boer.
The only real question is whether summer signings Kouyate and Meyer will slot into the first XI. With both lacking pre-season practice, it’s more likely we may see them come off the bench instead.
One to watch
After a disastrous stint at Manchester United, Wilfred Zaha has turned his career around over the last couple of seasons. Last year was something of a breakout, with the Ivorian flourishing in a more central role. Over the season he amassed an impressive haul of 9 goals and 7 assists, and will look to continue the fine form into 2018.
He’s a well balanced attacker – both creating lots of chances for teammates through balls from wide. He averages 4.1 dribbles per 90 minutes, the 5th best in the league, and has improved his shot location to be one of the best poachers in the league. Keeping him quiet will be no easy job.
Notes for Slav
It goes without saying that there are no easy matches in the Premier League. However, if we are to have a successful & (relatively) stress free first year back – we have to see this as a match which we should aim to get points.
Starting quickly has been an area of weakness for us in recent seasons, and with us overhauling a fair proportion of the squad again this is something we need to avoid. Whilst we have the benefit of the transfer window being over before the first game, which should help our stability, fresh faces will not have had the benefit of lots of time to bed in.
Therefore, I’d like to see Slavisa to prioritise new players like Seri and Schurrle, who have had the benefit of preseason, rather than squeezing all our new names in.
Crystal Palace, as with all Roy Hodgson sides, will be heavily organised and difficult to break down. Direct running, and invention between the lines, will be the key to unlocking the defence – something Schurrle and Seri will hopefully bring to the side.
This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.