The Cottagers have experienced a year of highs and lows – the high of exceeding all expectations by reaching last season’s Europa League final only to lose out to Atletico Madrid, while that defeat was obviously heartbreaking for the fans, it would not be considered a low because they were never expected to win the competition. In my view, their low is their losing the manager that guided them there, Roy Hodgson who has since taken over at Liverpool. However, they look to have secured ample replacement in the former Manchester City manager Mark Hughes.
This season, Fulham will be taking part in their 10th consecutive season in the top-flight of English football – with last season being their most successful to date. Despite finishing in 12th position, they reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the second season in a row, while also reaching the final of the inaugural Europa League – beating famous teams steeped in European history along the way such as like Hamburg, Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and Basel. Such was their achievement; Hodgson was voted LMA Manager of the Year by a country mile.
Hodgson’s successor, Hughes, will have is work cut out this season with the Cottagers but with no European football this season his main focus will be finishing as high up in the league as possible. Luckily for Fulham, Hughes seems to have the ear of some of his former players, with Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy being linked with a move on loan to Craven Cottage, both of which would be fantastic to have in the squad for Fulham as extra attacking options.
Already, Jonathan Greening has completed a permanent move to the club and Philippe Senderos from Arsenal who will provide real cover at the centre of the defence after the departure of Chris Smalling – he may even link-up well with current centre-half Brede Hangeland. However, there has been speculation linked current number-one, Mark Schwarzer with a move to Arsenal, but no offer has been put on the table just yet – it is said that the Cottagers will require a bid of at least £4million for him.
While Fulham enjoyed beating the big named sides in Europe, the struggled in the Premier League with their form suffering at points. That said they managed to beat Liverpool, Blackburn and Manchester United quite comfortably at home in the early stages of the season. To say Fulham’s away form in the league was poor is certainly a very big understatement – they managed just won win on the road all season and even then, that was only a 1-0 opening day victory over Portsmouth.
What Hughes will need to do this season is to get the players to perform the way that they did under Roy Hodgson in the Europe League, the problem is and it is quite an obvious one to us all – Mark Hughes is simply not Roy Hodgson. After Martin Jol turned down Fulham he was the obvious choice and seems to be a perfect fit for the club, apart from his lack of organising defences, something which Fulham pride themselves on. It could be a lot worse though, Sven could be in charge.
And now, we come on to the expectations for the season ahead. At this stage it seems that there are so many teams who are destined to finish in the area of 10th place and below and that it ultimately where Fulham will lie at the end of the season, depending on Hughes fares. If he manages to bring in a couple of players from City on loan, then they could have a great chance of finishing high-up in that mid-table bracket.