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Fan Focus: Fulham First Up For Sunderland

We took some time to catch up with Andrew Beck of Fulham FC website Cottagers Confidential to find out his thoughts on the upcoming season and this weekend's opening clash.

Boris Streubel

This summer has seen Fulham’s long time benefactor Mohamed Al Fayed replaced as owner by billionaire Shahid Khan in surely the most significant piece of business done thus far. How have supporters responded to this change of ownership?

Andrew Beck: At first it was a bit of shock, as it happened extremely quickly and without a lot of rumors. I got wind of the first rumors on July 9th and by the 12th it was all done. The supporters so far seem to be optimistic. He's said all the right things in interviews and fans of his NFL Franchise have nothing but good things to say about him. It would be nice if he would splash some cash right away, but he seems committed to figuring out what he has before making a lot of changes.

Despite the arrival of Khan and his wealth, it’s been – on the face of it anyway – a surprisingly quiet transfer window at Craven Cottage thus far. How do you rate the incomings and outgoings up until now?

AB: So far it's been a quiet window, though the players we have brought in have improved things greatly. The CDM position has been improved a lot by Derek Boateng. He's not world class, but you don't have to be when you are replacing Chris Baird and Steve Sidwell. Maarten Stekelenburg should be an improvement over Schwarzer. He's only 30, and lets not forget that he started in the last World Cup Final. The team also brought in Fernando Amorebieta to pair with Brede Hangeland in central defense. The second center back was always one of the biggest problems the club had last year and hopefully this stabilizes things. Fulham was 9th in goals scored last year, but gave up as many as QPR; just fixing the defense should lead to a better record.

Although it can be tempting to simply dismiss pre-season friendlies as meaningless, what’s the consensus of this summer’s performances?

AB: The preseason has been mixed. The team played well against inferior competition when they toured Costa Rica, but has struggled at times against much stiffer competition since they've been back in London. If I had to give one word, it would be frustrated. Most supporters saw the clubs biggest problem as lack of creativity from the central midfield after the loss of Moussa Dembele last year. That creativity hasn't been replaced, and still seems lacking so far.

What are the fans’ views of Martin Jol? A dreadful run of results dragged Fulham into the relegation battle at the end of last season; does the Dutchman have the nous to turn things around?

AB: Last year the team was actually on a great run of form from January 1st until April 1st. They picked up 18 points in 10 matches and their only defeats were to the two Manchester sides. Then while up 3-0 on QPR, Ashkan Dejagah went down hurt with what turned out to be a season ending injury. The team barely escaped with a 3-2 win against QPR and after that the wheels just feel off. Fulham didn't have a lot of depth to replace Dejagah. Also that great run of form at coincided with Dejagah really starting to acclimate to the league. The team has more depth this year at every spot except for central midfield and striker, and it would shock me if at least one player at those positions isn't added before the close of the window. If players are added there, I expect Jol to steer the side to another mid table finish. It wouldn't shock me if they finished anywhere from 9-13.

And any views on Sunderland manager, Paolo Di Canio?

AB: He's entertaining? My biggest concern (if I was a Sunderland supporter) would be that nothing really changed that much from when O'Neil was sacked and Di Canio was brought in. Teams tend to regress to the mean over time, and Di Canio's results weren't much different than the results O'Neil put up early. Because of that, I'd be a little scared that he was given so much money to spend. I'm also not a great fan of such a massive squad turnover. Stats tend to show that the longer a group plays together, the more successful they are. I'm not sure how Sunderland are going to do with so many new faces; especially early in the season. I'm also not sure how Di Canio will deal with things if the club starts slow and the press starts to question him.

Dimitar Berbatov must be a joy to watch as a Fulham supporter – he certainly is from a neutral point of view – but is he the man Sunderland supporters should be most worried about or is there someone else you expect to cause us problems?

AB: As I've mentioned before Ashkan Dejagah is a really talented player. He especially works well when he plays on the right and links up with Sascha Reither (who should have been Fulham's player of the year last season). Other than those two I would normally list Alex Kacaniklic (but he's hurt), Adel Taarabt, and Bryan Ruiz. However Bryan Ruiz is playing a friendly with Costa Rica in Colombia on Wednesday, so how much he plays remains to be seen. Adel Taarabt still isn't 100% fit, so he might not play the whole match either. Given all of that, I'd probably just watch about Berbatov.

In contrast to Fulham’s summer, it’s been all change on Wearside; is there anybody you particularly fear from our squad?

AB: I'm not particularly frightened by anyone, but I am very curious to see how Jozy Altidore does. I'm an American and a big fan of the US National Team, so I want to see him do well (and I though Fulham actually would have been a good spot for him to land). I'm not 100% convinced though that Di Canio's system is going to get the best from him. Of course, given the US Friendly on Wednesday, he might not play that much either.

Fulham’s away form has been somewhat of an Achilles heel in recent years, but you were unlucky to come away with just a point from the Stadium of Light last season. What do you think the score will be this time around?

AB: Last year Fulham were actually better on the road then they had been in the past. They scored 10 more goals away than they had in 2011/12 and only gave up 5 more. They also almost had a result at Old Trafford, impressive draws at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, and were able to beat Spurs at White Hart Lane. The problem was they went from a +10 to a -2 GD at home. Craven Cottage just wasn't the fortress it has been in the past. That being said, I don't see Fulham scoring a lot of goals in this match. They haven't done so in the pre-season, and the squad isn't totally set yet. I also don't seem them conceding very many. So I'd probably guess a 1-1 draw for the result.

What do you predict for Fulham’s season over all and would that meet supporters’ expectations?

AB: I think any season where there isn't too much of a relegation threat would be great for the club. Fulham is just about to start seeing the fruits of an impressive youth development system. They are also going to redevelop the Riverside Stand so that they can increase the stadium capacity and revenue opportunities for their matches. Combining that with some smart spending by Khan should keep the team stable in the top 10 going forward. I'm looking at this season as a transition to the future, and as long as they stay in the top flight, I'd be ok.

Finally, Sunderland have been tipped for the drop by a number of pundits this summer, how do you see it going for us?

AB: I'm not expecting Sunderland to go down. Unless they start slow and the owners panic and fire Di Canio, I think the club will stay up. In my opinion the three new clubs are the weakest clubs coming up in some time and the most likely result is that all three go back down. After that, I'd say Stoke City are by far the most likely to go down. I honestly don't see that much difference between any of the clubs from 8-16 and I think that they could finish in any order. If I had to guess I'd say Sunderland finish 16th or 15th and Fulham finish 12th or 13th.

Thanks to Andrew for providing some great insight and opinions. Check out his work and other cracking Fulham related content over at Cottagers Confidential.

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