Premier League Preview: Fulham

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Fulham rose from the lowest tier of the English game, making the journey from bottom to top in just five years and reaching the Premier League in 2001. The ascent was largely thanks to the support of Egyptian billionaire and club legend Mohamed Al Fayed. Al Fayed just this summer has cashed out, selling his debt-free club to Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. Fulham reached the Europa League final in 2010, losing in heartbreaking 2-1 fashion in extra time to Atletico Madrid as they were in search of their first major trophy. It’s been a bit downhill since then for the club. American entrepreneur Khan will now lead the club into battle for the first time this season, looking to return to the table’s top half following last year’s edgy 12th place finish that saw a late-season slump almost slide the club into a tight battle for relegation.

Transfers in: GK Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma, Italy), D Sascha Riether (FC Koln, Germany – loan made permanent), D Fernando Amorebieta (Athletic Bilbao, Spain), M Derek Boateng (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine), M Adel Taarabt (Queens Park Rangers, England – loan)

Transfers out: GK Mark Schwarzer (Chelsea, England), D Chris Baird (free agent), M Simon Davies (free agent), F Mladen Petric (free agent)

source: ReutersKey Player: With the Fulham squad in a bit of a state of flux, and hardly a soul left from the 2010 Europa League run, their key addition last summer up front remains vastly important. Management convinced Manchester United cast away Dimitar Berbatov (pictured) to join the ranks, and he promptly fired 15 Premier League goals.

A former Golden Boot winner at Old Trafford, Berbatov is a quiet fellow off the pitch, avoiding the media spotlight whenever physically possible, although you wouldn’t know it by his emotions on the field. He’s developed a fiery on-field relationship with Bryan Ruiz and young winger Alex Kacaniklic, the latter of whom Berbatov has taken under his wing and is often seen forcibly instructing during matches.

Usually clad in long sleeves and the occasional gloves, Berbatov caught the attention of the Premier League last season when, during a Fulham-wide goal drought, Berbatov scored and promptly ripped off his shirt to reveal an undershirt with the message “Keep Calm and Pass Me The Ball.” Such a mantra is a fantastically accurate description of the forward’s playing style, often wowing crowds with his on-the-ball skills of control and placement, but sulking if he doesn’t receive enough touches.

Now 32 and in the final season of his 2-year contract, it remains to be seen what will happen to Berbatov after this season, and it certainly will be a key talking point throughout the year. For the time being, however, he without a doubt holds the key to the Premier League’s top 10 for Fulham.

Manager: Dutchman Martin Jol will be entering his third year in charge of the London club. While fan opinion on him remains mixed, there can be no doubt that Jol has brought both shrewdness and ambition in the transfer market.

Aside from Berbatov, Jol isn’t afraid to splash the cash, like he did on Deadline Day for Costa Rican attacking midfielder Ruiz in his first summer in charge. He has also found gems in the depths of the market, such as last season’s loan for right-back Sascha Riether made permanent this summer for pennies on the dollar.

Jol is a genuine manager, often forming a good relationship with both the fans and players such as he did during his time at Tottenham Hotspur where he was sacked much to the dismay of many fans at White Hart Lane. It remains the same while he strolls the touchline at Craven Cottage, but improvement will be necessary or Shahid Khan himself has stated he will hold those in the skill positions responsible.

Outlook: Following the 2007/08 season which saw the Whites escape relegation on goal differential (known to fans as the Great Escape which required defeats of Manchester City and Portsmouth in the final two weeks to stay up) Fulham has found success previously unknown to the club. Along with the Europa League run in 2010, they’ve also finished in the top half of the league three of the last five years, something which they’ll be aiming for again this season.

Having brought in a few key players who will crack the starting lineup, Jol has yet to finish filling out a thin and porous squad, and without a few more additions it’s hard to see a top 10 finish, especially with a few well-placed injuries. However, rumors of the addition of Darren Bent swirl around the banks of the Thames, and the former England striker alongside Dimitar Berbatov could see the side make its way back to the coveted top half.

Milivojevic free kick, Sako deflection lead Palace past WBA

AP Photo/Kin Cheung
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Goals from Luka Milivojevic and Bakary Sako led Crystal Palace to a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion in the third place game of the PL Asia Trophy.

Palace had lost 2-0 to Liverpool in its semifinal, while West Brom fell to Leicester City in penalty kicks after trading goals over 90 minutes.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Milivojevic’s free kick, won by Wilfried Zaha, was super. Whipped in with force and a wicked curl, Baggies keeper Ben Foster didn’t have a chance to reach it with his dive.

Sako created his goal with a darting move off a long dribble, though it needed a pair of deflections to get behind Foster.

The Baggies had their chances, and Julian Speroni made an outstanding save on Matty Phillips late in the match.

STREAM LIVE: Liverpool-Leicester duel for PL Asia Trophy

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Goals from Bakary Sako and Luka Milivojevic spearheaded Crystal Palace’s 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion in the PL Asia Trophy third place game, and now Liverpool and Leicester City tangle for the title.

The final will be staged at 8:30 a.m. ET, when Liverpool will hope to build on a 2-0 semifinal win paced by Divock Origi and Dominic Solanke goals.

[ LIVE: Stream PL Asia Trophy here ]  

West Brom lost to Leicester City in its semifinal when youngster Sam Field missed the side’s seventh attempt in penalty kicks. Jay Rodriguez scored the Baggies goal in regulation of a 1-1 draw.

Here are the lineups for Leicester City and Liverpool:

Strootman loving life at Roma, aims to keep paying club back

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Kevin Strootman is in love with Roma.

The club, the city, the fans, name it: The relentless 27-year-old has renewed his commitment to AS Roma with a new contract, and understands how players like Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi devote their entire careers to i Lupi.

“It’s Rome,” Strootman exclaims, speaking ahead of the club’s second Stateside match of the International Champions Cup.

“You’re not going to leave easy. This is Rome. We all have the ambition to win something here, and to celebrate with the fans. Totti told us when he won the scudetto in 2001, there were parties for three months. If you win something here, it’s going to be really special. About the city you don’t even have to talk, it’s so beautiful you cannot compare it with anything else.”

[ MORE: FIFA’s Infantino in hot water ]

Yeah, the Eternal City is pretty nice, but it’s most celebrated football club is growing in magnitude, too. Roma’s finished second in Serie A three of the past four seasons, and last season came within four points of its first scudetto since the aforementioned win earlier this century.

Strootman was a massive part of the campaign, returning to the elite form displayed in his first season at the club and in previous campaigns with PSV Eindhoven. He scored six times with seven assists between Serie A and the UEFA Europa League, averaging 2.7 tackles per game, 1.7 interceptions, and 1.4 dribbles per Serie A contest.

That his reclamation of that status came after knee surgeries limited him to 18 matches over the previous two seasons was sweet (if nervy).

(Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)

“For me it was like such a relief, especially in the beginning you’d play a game and you’d be happy to play,” Strootman said. “If you won everyone was happy with the win, but I was just happy that I didn’t get injured again. The fitness coaches and technical staff did a great job. I played 50 games, we made the Champions League, and I signed a new contract. I was happy to pay them back on the pitch. I feel good.”

Payback is a theme in our talk with Strootman, who speaks glowingly of club chairman James Pallotta, the American businessman who stood by the midfielder during his injury struggles (NOTE: PST profiled Pallotta in depth last summer).

“He brought me here when he started the project, and he’s always supported me even during my injuries,” Strootman said. “He would call me, and was always there for me. I always told him, when I’m fit I want to pay you back with my play on the pitch. He’s like a president should be.”

It’ll be different from Strootman this season, and not just because of the changes to the Roma roster. Gone are Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rudiger, Leandro Paredes, and retiring Francesco Totti. Arriving are Maxime Gonalons, Hector Moreno, and reports of bids for Riyad Mahrez and the impending arrival of Aleksandar Kolarov excite the fan base.

I Lupi are a club which has been on the precipice of greatness for some time. Now with the Champions League group stage and battles with not just Juve and Napoli but surging AC Milan and Inter Milan, Strootman says it’s time to stop talking big and start acting it out.

[ MORE: Vertonghen says Spurs need to raise game ]

“The last couple years we talked in the preseason about winning the scudetto, winning cups, but we have to show it on the pitch,” he said. “We still need some time, that’s normal, but we need to show on the pitch that we are hungry. We’re a young team with some experienced players. It’s a good mix. We have to show it from the first competition and game by game.”

Strootman also admitted, as many have, that American soccer continues to grow in renown around the Netherlands and Europe in general.

“I think it’s rising,” he said. “A lot more players from Holland are going over to MLS. I don’t see a lot of the games because they don’t show them in Italy. But when you’re here and see the friendly games against the big teams, the level is going up. MLS is getting higher and higher.”

Roma faces Spurs at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday before a July 30 battle with Juventus at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

2-year doping ban upheld for Finland, CSKA Moscow player

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld a two-year ban for CSKA Moscow midfielder Roman Eremenko for a positive test for cocaine.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea ]

CAS says the ban imposed by UEFA was “appropriate” and dismissed the Finland international’s appeal.

[ MORE: Vertonghen says Spurs need to “level up” like rest of PL contenders ]

The ban will expire on Oct. 5, 2018, when Eremenko will be 31.

Eremenko tested positive after playing in a Champions League game for CSKA Moscow against Bayer Leverkusen last September. The 2-2 result was not affected despite Eremenko scoring CSKA’s second goal.

Born in Moscow, Eremenko grew up in Finland and has represented its national team 73 times.