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.

Is something amiss with Romelu Lukaku?

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Maybe he was sick. Maybe he was tired. Heck, maybe he’s still exhausted from the World Cup.

But something isn’t right with Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku, and it was on full display in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Juventus in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Match recap | Mourinho reacts ]

Lukaku was fighting his touch, and just plain out-of-sorts, which is unusual for the industrious center forward.

The 25-year-old has just four goals for United in 13 matches across all competitions this season, all coming in the Premier League and none since a Sept. 15 marker at Watford.

Tuesday’s performance could be down to one bad night, but Lukaku has been much better for country than club in the same time span. The Belgian scored a pair against Switzerland on Oct. 12 and two more the previous month versus Iceland.

While Eden Hazard certainly isn’t unlocking defenses for him at Old Trafford, Lukaku has struggled in a few different ways. He’s getting less shots off per game, his key passes are down, and so are his dribbles.

Moreover, his offsides are higher than they’ve been since 2014-15, so perhaps he’s even cognizant of his struggles and trying to cheat a bit more.

If Harry Kane‘s post-World Cup struggles, relatively speaking, can be down to exhaustion, perhaps someone should check on big Rom.

Lukaku is still grinding through performances, for better or worse, and his four goals do lead United on the season. And it’s paramount to note that the side’s uncharacteristic 16 goals allowed per game (5th worst in the PL) is a bigger reason for its record than the 15 goals for (tied-7th).

A visit from former club Everton could snap Lukaku back into form, but perhaps the big man needs more than adrenaline right now. Mourinho hasn’t subbed him once this season in any competition, and he’s being leaned on heavily by Roberto Martinez at Belgium, too. After running him 90 in the 2-goal performance against the Swiss, Lukaku got another 45 in a friendly against the Netherlands.

Maybe this is where the loan for Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes into play, or perhaps Marcus Rashford should get some time running atop the United attack. Either way, it’s a good bet that the big man could use a respite.

Allegri: Juventus tried to ‘attack around Nemanja Matic’

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Max Allegri’s plan to attack without Mario Mandzukic got the job done.

Juventus took a 17th minute lead against Manchester United at Old Trafford and did not look back, deprived of a multi-goal halftime lead by United backstop David De Gea.

[ MORE: PL club power rankings ]

Without Mandzukic, his towering talisman, Allegri turned to less hold-up play and more active runs through the midfield.

And he wasn’t shy about the tactics, with the numbers showing that Nemanja Matic was a very busy man. From Football-Italia:

“Naturally we can play without Mandzukic, someone has to get into the box. It was important against Manchester United to keep the ball to ground and attack around Nemanja Matic.

“We still make too many mistakes on the final ball, as we had so many more chances and half-chances that we didn’t develop properly. A couple of times it was the player with the ball, another couple it was the player who didn’t peel away from his marker to reach the space.”

Allegri has long been said to be a fan of Matic’s, but Dybala shook the center midfielder on this goal.

The win was Juve’s first at Old Trafford since a 1996 visit in the Champions League. All told, Juve is 2W-2D-3L at Manchester United in its illustrious history.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview: Spurs need W

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Tottenham Hotspur’s UEFA Champions League dreams aren’t quite hanging by a thread, but anything less than six points from their next two matches will leave them all but dead.

Spurs and PSV Eindhoven begin a home-and-away run in Group B on Tuesday, with both sides 0-2 from matches against Barcelona and Inter Milan.

[ MORE: PL club power rankings ]

The Premier League side showed better than its Eredivisie hosts, but that matters little as both sides hope for a double while Barca and Inter square off in Spain and Italy over the next fortnight.

Eric Dier is hopeful that Spurs’ away form can carry over to the Netherlands:

“We’ve done well away from home so far this season. We’ve had some tough away games. Last weekend at West Ham was another and we managed to get another win. We feel very good at the moment. We have to try to continue that feeling tomorrow.”

Liverpool, meanwhile, has to get off the UCL mat following a stunning late loss in Napoli. The Reds are hopeful that a pair of matches against the weakest side in the group, Red Star Belgrade, does the trick.

At Anfield for the first match, Liverpool will be atop the group if it manages a win while PSG wins or draws Napoli in France.

American winger Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund open their pair of matches with Atletico Madrid as well, and the opener comes at the Westfalenstadion. The other group match sees Thierry Henry’s AS Monaco away to Club Brugge and hoping for a an almost necessary three points.

Finally, there’s the chaotic Group D, with Porto and Schalke opening Wednesday atop the group. USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie and Schalke are at Galatasaray, while Porto visits desperate Lokomotiv Moscow.

Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco has prepared his men as best he can for Turkey:

“During the training session we had soundbites from Galatasaray’s last home game playing through the Veltins Arena’s sound system, in order to give the players a taste of what to expect,” Tedesco said.

Schedule
PSV Eindhoven vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge vs. AS Monaco — 12:55 p.m. ET
Barcelona vs. Inter Milan — 3 p.m. ET
Liverpool vs. Red Star Belgrade — 3 p.m. ET
Borussia Dortmund vs. Atletico Madrid — 3 p.m. ET
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Napoli — 3 p.m. ET
Galatasaray vs. Schalke — 3 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Porto — 3 p.m. ET

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 9

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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This is getting good.

[ ARCHIVE: Premier League club power rankings ]

Five teams sit within two points of the Premier League lead following nine weeks of play, and Champions League midweek action will only raise the potential for tumult atop the table.

And there are a number of eyebrow-raising litmus tests for mid-table sides once we reach another weekend of PL play.


20. Huddersfield Town — Scorers of four goals through nine matches, the Terriers were stout but non-threatening against Liverpool. Better needed, and fast, with points for the taking in their next six PL fixtures.
Last week: 20
Season high: 18
Season low: 20

19. Newcastle United — The weekend’s loss to Brighton and Hove Albion was the first one in some time which couldn’t be written off due to opponent or injury. That the Seagulls were without Davy Propper and still controlled the midfield is not a good sign for Rafa Benitez‘s punchless attack.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 19

18. Fulham — Fulham has allowed 25 goals through nine matches.

Googles “Most goals allowed in Premier League season.” 100, Swindon Town, 1993-94. 

That’s history-making pace, Slavisa.
Last week: 18
Season high: 11
Season low: 18

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

17. Burnley — A week after drawing Huddersfield at home, the Clarets were absolutely worked by Man City. That happens. Chelsea, West Ham, and Leicester are next.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

16. Cardiff City — Huge win for the Bluebirds, who clobbered Fulham to show a bit of hope to their supporters ahead of trip to Anfield.
Last week: 19
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

15. Crystal Palace — Three-straight league losses and a slumping Wilfried Zaha have taken the shine off Roy Hodgson‘s tenure at Selhurst Park. A visit from high-flying Arsenal in next.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 15

14. Southampton — A visit from Newcastle provides Saints an inviting chance to experience breathing room from the relegation race.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 17

13. West Ham United — Andriy Yarmolenko‘s injury is a concern for an attack which was coming together. Two-straight losses, but a litmus test at Leicester City awaits the Irons.
Last week: 12
Season high: 9
Season low: 20

12. Leicester City — Maybe the most difficult team in the league to read on a week-to-week basis, the Foxes were a bit hard done by after taking a lead at Arsenal. See: West Ham for prognosis.
Last week: 11
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

11. Brighton and Hove Albion — Back-to-back wins have Chris Hughton‘s men envisioning a run up the table, and a win over Wolves would be wonderful for those ambitions.
Last week: 10
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

10. Wolves — A 2-0 home loss to Watford? We didn’t see that coming.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

9. Watford — Javi Gracia‘s men are capable of any result in the book on any given week. Can they built on win at Wolves by getting an expected win when Huddersfield visits?
Last week: 14
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

8. Everton — Three-straight wins on the road to Old Trafford, and a fixture worth circling on Sunday.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

7. Bournemouth — There have been few stumbles this season for Eddie Howe‘s men, who simply must handle their business at Fulham this weekend.
Last week: 6
Season high: 6
Season low: 12

6. Manchester United — Where’s the mentality? That’s the question after a comeback win over Newcastle and draw with Chelsea yielded to Tuesday’s loss to Juventus. If Mourinho has hold of this crew, it’ll be just fine when Everton arrives on Sunday. If he doesn’t?
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

5. Chelsea — The draw with Manchester United keeps Chelsea unbeaten, but the Blues have just one win in their last four PL matches. A trip to Burnley three days after Europa League duty is next.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

4. Spurs — Four-straight wins, three away from home and three without conceding a goal. Hugo Lloris and Tottenham are breathing a bit easier and have until Monday to regroup and face Man City.
Last week: 7
Season high: 3
Season low: 8

3. Liverpool — Here’s the good news: Liverpool’s first “slump” of the year has cost them very little and includes a number of “gut it out” results. Expect the Reds to “get healthy” at Cardiff.
Last week: 4
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

2. Arsenal — A tricky week for the red-hot Gunners, who start a Europa League pair with Sporting Lisbon before visiting desperate Crystal Palace. Arsenal has now won 10-straight in all competitions under Unai Emery since losing its first two matches of the PL season.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 9

1. Man City — Kevin De Bruyne is back, and the Citizens are basically beating back anything in their path. A trip to Tottenham is next.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 2