Season Preview - Fulham

Quick Reminder, Real Life

An odd season at Fulham saw them lose their very successful manager to Liverpool where he was a flop. His replacement managed them to a very solid 8th place finish in the standings with no reason to expect that it was either a fluke or that a huge regression was coming but then he left too. On the pitch, the season saw US International Clint Dempsey stake his claim as one of the top few players outside the top six clubs. He joined Brede Hangeland (also born in Texas) in that category as the big Norweigan had another strong season at the center of Fulham’s defense. The Hangeland-led defense was good enough to tie Arsenal for 4th in the “goals conceded” category. Of the teams below them in the table, only Stoke were even close to being as stingy and they conceded 5 more goals (about 12% more).

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

As noted above, Dempsey made the leap from occasionally spectacular fantasy player to consistently dangerous. Hangeland gave you exactly what you expected - albeit for a higher price as his price caught up to his output. Guys like Mark Schwarzer, Chris Baird, and Damien Duff were solid in stretches and very much viable options when Fulham were home to modest opposition. The interesting developments for Fulham in fantasy last season were at the forward position. When healthy, Bobby Zamora and Mousa Dembele were productive options. We’ve seen it before in stretches from Zamora. It was a little less clear as to whether Dembele was just hot for a stretch at the start of the season and then cooled down to what will become his normal level of production or if his early season form was the norm with the rest of the season derailed somewhat by injury.

Summer Changes

  • An Old Favorite Returns - Fulham haven’t done much despite another new manager (is this a trend?) but they have brought back old fantasy favorite John Arne Riise to man the left side of their defense. For those who were watching when JAR was with Liverpool, you’ll remember that he is very much an attacker from his left back spot and he has a rocket for a shot. He’ll certainly be an upgrade over Carlos Salcido who never really seemed up to the task (despite having his moments in fantasy).
  • New Blood? - Pajtim Kasami arrives in West London at 19 years old with likely more hype than any Fulham purchase since Andy Johnson. He entered his first match for Fulham in place of Zamora with the score tied so one can assume that he is an attacking player - that said, he failed to score in 14 matches in Serie A (Palermo) last season so I wouldn’t start clicking him into your team quite yet. Definitely one to watch though, as is fellow forward Lauri Dalla Valle.
  • Pantsil Out - I have to admit, I’ve always liked Pantsil (or is it Paintsil?) as a fantasy player. His first full season as a starter for Fulham was a nice combination of inexpensive and productive in the Yahoo format. His performances have degraded over the last couple of seasons though and he took the move down a level to join Sven in an attempt to get Leicester promoted.

2011-12 Outlook, Real Life

Similar to Everton really in that the core has stayed together, which is good. There haven’t even been rumblings about Schwarzer and Hangeland leaving like there were last season. With a little luck and health from their forwards, Fulham could move up a spot to 7th but that’s probably their ceiling. If things turn in the wrong direction with health or a bigger club comes in for Hangeland or Dempsey late in the transfer period, the downside could be the fringe of the relegation fight. That said, I fully expect another solid, fundamentally sound season at the Cottage that sees Fulham finish 8th or 9th. They will need to find fresher legs for the joint (no pun intended) demands of the Premier and Europa Leagues as Danny Murphy and Damien Duff slide toward retirement.

Probable Starting XI

Schwarzer, Riise, Hangeland, Hughes, Baird, Etuhu, Murphy, Duff, Dempsey, Zamora, Johnson

2011-12 Scouting Report, Yahoo Fantasy
  • Fantasy Gold - Hangeland and Dempsey are both great bets when Fulham are playing at home against modest opposition despite their prices. Neither are so transcendent that they are great picks on the road or against top opponents.
  • On The Rise - Every season a variety of factors create opportunities for value buying in the Yahoo! game:
    • Riise (considered a newcomer by Yahoo) wasn’t an attacking powerhouse in Italy while he was there but really, who is? Expect Riise to get more than the occasional clean sheet at home to go along with solid attacking numbers for a defender. There’s a chance he’s slowed down since his Liverpool days but at his opening price, it’s a bet I’m willing to make.
    • Dembele ((relative newcomer) started off strong last season but then got hurt and never quite recovered his early season form so we’re not sure exactly what to make of him. He's currently coming back from another injury but did get 15 late minutes in Fulham's second leg win against RNK Split.
    • Briggs (young gun) Pencilled in a starter in defence before Riise's arrival, Briggs began to make an impact at the club last season. Jol should give him a chance to play, and while he's dirt cheap in the Yahoo! game, at the moment at least, it doesn't look like he's going to get a run from the start.
  • Traps - There aren’t a ton of “traps” here because the Fulham squad doesn’t have that many players who are extremely expensive in the Yahoo game. If you’re looking for risky plays early in the season then you have to look at the trio of Duff, Baird, and Hughes. All performed solidly last season but Duff is seemingly still priced like he was in his prime while the other two have gone from unheralded bargains to likely being a little over-priced.

2011-12 Outlook, Official PL Fantasy

Studs: This is a major gamble and perhaps a bit premature (see above) but Matthew Briggs could be the fantasy steal of the season. The youngster has featured in Fulham’s Europa League matches as a left winger and he is priced at 4M and classified as a defender. Briggs was starting in part because Clint Dempsey (another Fulham stud) had yet to return from an extended vacation after his Gold Cup exertions. If, and it’s a big if, Briggs starts or new signing Riise (6M) picks up an injury, than the academy product is a must buy. Massive gamble but one to monitor. Fulham’s strikeforce should improve under Martin Jol and Zamora (7M), Dembele (5.5M) and Johnson (5.5M) all have their merits depending on playing time. Zamora is capable of 10 league goals and another 5+ assists as the main target man, while Dembele and Johnson have potential ‘bargain’ stud classification should Bobby Z go down with injury or lose form.

Duds: Riise didn’t score last season for Roma in 32 league starts though he did score 5 goals the season before. I expect that range to hold true as he returns to the Premier League (2-4 goals) though I think at 6M he’s a bit expensive in the Official PL game. Hughes and Baird are both 5M and Schwarzer is too, so you’re really putting a lot of pressure on Riise to bring in assists and goals for the extra 1M. Keep an eye on his positioning as, like Briggs, he could turn from a dud to a stud if played regularly on the left wing but classified as a defender.

On the fence: Duff (6.5M) and Murphy (6M) are two Premier League veterans who will play big roles for the club but won’t light up the fantasy scoring charts. Dempsey should be the main man in midfield once again but the two aforementioned veterans could contribute as 4th or 5th midfielder if Fulham have a kind run of fixtures and they find some form. You could do worse than those two but also much better. Generic. Vanilla. Mediocre risk, mediocre return.

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