What's better than a Sunday match vs. Manchester United? A trip to Craven Cottage the following Wednesday. After an encouraging, though far from perfect, match against the Red Devils, Tottenham turns around and heads down the road to take on Fulham with very little turn-around. I was able to have a nice exchange with Andrew Beck of Cottagers Confidential about Martin Jol, René Meulensteen, Wednesday's match, and the present state of Fulhamerica. And I answered a few questions for him as well.
Uncle Menno: Breaking news this afternoon: Martin Jol is out, René Meulensteen is in. What’s your take on it? Did Jol deserve more time? How do you feel about the Meulensteen appointment? Was there another choice you would have preferred?
Andrew Beck: I'm high on Meulensteen as a coach, but unsure of how he's going to do as a manager. All the time with Alex Ferguson couldn't have hurt, and the likes of players like Robin Van Persie saying you are the best coach they've ever worked with is high praise; but he wasn't that successful at Brøndby when he was the manager in charge of everything. My hope is that if he's the permanent manager, he's given the head coach role and a strong technical director is brought in to work beside him. Ideally I'd like a situation like you have at Tottenham with Franco Baldini and AVB working together. Damien Comolli and Frank Arnesen are both currently available, and I think would add a lot to the club. Jol always seemed like a nice guy, but he was out of ideas at Fulham. I had hoped he could move into that technical director position, but the last two losses made it impossible for him to stay.
UM: Fulham have had a rough go of it the past few years, losing some of their best players (including a couple to us… sorry) and being in a constant state of rebuilding. But on paper this year you’ve got a decent looking side. What’s gone wrong thus far?
AB: The club is still struggling to replace Moussa Dembele. They just haven't been very good consistently since he left. They have struggled to get the ball from defense to attack without him. And the players they have brought in are all either attackers (Dimitar Berbatov, Adel Taarabt, Darren Bent) or midfielders that don't do the same kind of job (Scott Parker and Derek Boateng). To make matters worse, the defense has been in shambles this year. With Brede Hangeland out injured (and slowed by injury when he has played), the defense has been a sieve. Finally, Jol was never able to figure out how to get the players to work together. Bryan Ruiz, Berbatov, Alex Kacaniklic, Pajtim Kasami, Ashkan Dejagah, and Taarabt are all very similar players. Trying to use them all at once has just not worked.
UM: Let’s say you’re the Fulham manager and Shahid Khan has opened his wallet and promised a January transfer kitty of £30m. What players would you target that would improve the side and most importantly would be willing to come to Fulham?
AB: My number one fix would be defense. It's quite possible that Hangeland isn't going to be able to come back strong from this injury at his age.In a money's no object world, I'd say buy Neven Subotic. More realistic options are Mike Gonzalez (Real Sociedad), Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Wes Morgan (Leicester City), Grant Hanley (Blackburn), Stefan de Vrij (Feyenoord), and Xabier Etxeita (Athletic Bilbao). If Hangeland looks like he might be back to his old self, you could grab one of the younger ones on that list. If not, I'd go with a more veteran player and hope that someone from the academy (Dan Burn on loan at Birmingham City) is ready for next year.
The next big problem is central midfield. Again if money were no object I'd just buy Moussa Dembele back. If that doesn't work, I'd overpay Roma for Michael Bradley. As that's probably unlikely as well, I'd try to get someone like Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord) or Lerin Duarte (Ajax) to pair with Scott Parker in the midfield. I'd make Parker play the more holding of the two and have the other be the more creative box to box type. Of course, it's quite possible that player is already on the Fulham squad in Pajtim Kasami. He hasn't played that role for Fulham, but he has a lot of the same attributes that Dembele did. Until I know what Meulensteen thinks of the players and their roles, it's hard to be definitive.
Finally, I might start giving some of the Academy kids a shot. Jol was very reluctant to play any of the young players. Which is surprising when you consider how strong the academy has become in recent years. With players like Moussa Dembele (yes we have another one, and no you can't have him too) and Chris David tearing things up at a younger level, you might as well give them a run out.
UM: Let's talk about the match. How do you expect Fulham to approach the game? Park the bus? Play centrally? What are the key match-ups to watch, and who does Fulham need to neutralize to get a result?
AB: I have no idea how Fulham will approach this match. I don't even know what formation they're going to line up in, much less who they are going to play. Jol seemed pretty married to his 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-1-1. Against Swansea (the first game with Meulensteen on staff), it was more of a 4-4-2 diamond or a christmas tree formation. The first 20 minutes or so of that game I though Fulham played quite well, so it wouldn't surprise me to see it rolled out again.
I expect you to torch us down our left hand side repeatedly. Kieran Richardson is not a natural left back and can be beat by trickey/pacey players. He has the speed to recover against most players, but when up against someone as fast as him, he struggles. Expect Kyle Walker and either Andros Townsend or Aaron Lennon to go crazy.
UM: Normally I ask every rival blogger the following question: "Why is your team getting relegated this season? Please be thorough." But somehow, this seems both redundant and somewhat cruel. So instead, isn’t this just the cutest freakin’ kitten you’ve ever seen in your entire life?
AB: If I had to give one reason why we'd get relegated it would be the sale of the club. When Fulham sold Dembele and Dempsey last year, everyone knew it would be a struggle. They were sold too late to really re-invest the money, and it took some January loans to hold things together. This summer would have been the proper time to invest and re-group. Unfortunately with Al Fayed selling the club right in the transfer window, I don't feel the outgoing group wanted to spend any money; and the incoming group wasn't sure how much or where to spend. Hopefully there is enough investment to keep the club up in January. I imagine Kahn knows how much value the club he just bought loses if it goes down. If he can stay up, the strong academy and redeveloped Riverside stand will allow the team to be a fixture in the top 10 for years to come.
UM: Let's get you on record: a score prediction for Wednesday's match, and why.
AB: I'd like to say this is the game Fulham gets off the snide. But I can't go so far as to predict a win. I'm thinking it's a 1-1 draw with Tottenham dominating most of the game, but unable to finish.
UM: Your view on Michael Jackson statues: "You Rock My World" or "Wanna Be Startin’ Something"?
AB: Personally, I'd say "Rock With You". I just don't think you can make much of an argument against that song. However the kindergartner who loved "Thriller" still lurks inside me. He's probably still wearing his red leather jacket and glitter glove and socks. He might be mad if I picked anything else.