This weekend, the Eagles make the short trip to Craven Cottage to take on newly promoted Fulham so we had a good chat with our pals at FULHAM FOCUS on their return to the top table, thoughts on the game and much more.
Q. How does it feel being back in the Premier League?
Mixed feelings to be honest. On one hand, it’s good for the financial stability of the club. It also gives a sense of pride to compete amongst the countries elite and despite having the reputation of being a yo-yo club in recent years, we do have a proud record in the Premier League for a club of our size.
On the downside, I don’t think Fulham belong in the Premier League bubble and we’ve already become a bit of a laughing stock, written off by most ‘experts’ before a ball was even kicked. It’s a very patronising world the Premier League lives in where most clubs are seen as not worthy unless they are one of the big six and/or deemed to be a ‘big club.’ So despite being 17th in the all-time Premier League table, I’ve never felt Fulham earned the seal of approval by the armchair supporters.
Q. How did you find the Championship, still as crazy as ever?
It’s mental but I love it! It’s such a weird situation to find yourself in. We’ve been one of the better teams competing at that level in recent years, always having a realistic chance of being promoted. So you win more than you lose which is nice, you feel much less like ‘just a number’ and the games are more even, making for a better game of football. But ultimately the purpose of the Championship is to go up to the Premier League and whenever we get here, I wonder what for because the Championship is more enjoyable in my opinion. There’s no league quite like it.
Q. It is no secret that Fulham have had such a short time to get ready for the new campaign, do you think that could end up being a hindrance this season?
It’s definitely made it a tougher ask. Unlike the last time we were promoted under Jokanovic, I wasn’t convinced by Parker’s team last season and didn’t feel we were good enough to go up. Notoriously the play-off winner has less time to prepare for life in the Premier League and that was even worse this time around, having just 5 weeks between the play-off final and the opening fixture against Arsenal! We’ve signed some decent players but it’s going to be a very big ask and a big achievement if we can pull it off somehow.
Q. How active were Fulham in the transfer window and are there any areas that still need attention?
Parker showed loyalty to the team who got us up at Wembley and fielded the same eleven in the opener against Arsenal. I don’t think a single player will be starting for us in our best eleven now! So in a way, I suppose the club have done well to sign as many players as they have in a short space of time. Loftus-Cheek and Ademola Lookman are probably the two most notable additions and were much needed to give us a bit of quality in the attacking third. We still lack goals and rely an awful lot on Mitrovic. So, someone like Josh King would have been ideal but everyone seemed to be after him.
On the other end of the pitch, we’ve needed new centre backs for about 4 years now and we signed two on deadline day. I’ll reserve judgement on whether they’ll be the answer because I’ve never seen either of them play, time will tell…
Q. What can we expect from Fulham this season?
Parker is passionate about his style of football which is built on keeping the ball and playing out from the back. You wouldn’t think it so far but we are usually set up to be hard to beat! The problem is that last season all of our results were determined by who scored the first goal. If we score first, we haven’t lost a single game under Parker. If we concede first, we rarely win. So starting games a lot quicker has to be key going forward to give us half a chance. What can you expect? An honest side that will give it a go, trying to play decent football but a bit soft in places and prone to individual mistakes.
Q. We are keen to see young players coming through the ranks here at TEB so is there anyone that we should keep an eye on who could make the breakthrough into the Fulham first eleven?
Not at the moment. There are a couple who would maybe have had a chance if we were still in the Championship but Steven Sessegnon (Ryan’s twin brother) has gone out on loan to Bristol City. I very much doubt Sylvester Jasper who made a couple of cameos last season will get a look in and Jay Stansfield has bags of potential but I don’t think we will be in a position to give kids charitable appearances here and there. We have a big squad now, currently 29 first team players on the books and you can only register 25, so I can’t see where an opportunity arises where the kids are thrown in. Hopefully the situation will change this time next year but you can only play them if they are good enough and ready.
Q. Let’s have some predictions from you for the season;
Premier League Champions – Liverpool.
Champions League spots – Spurs, Manchester City, Everton.
Relegated – Burnley, WBA, Sheff Utd (Fulham just survive in 17th…)
Surprise package – Everton to break into the top 4. Villa to make a top half finish and Fulham to somehow pull off a miracle and stay up. Wolves to be a surprise package in a negative sense and be bang average after two back to back 7th place finishes. Somewhere underwhelming by their expectations like 14th.
FA Cup – Spurs. Mourinho needs a trophy and has a pretty strong squad now.
League Cup – Anyone but Brentford! Probably Manchester City. It’s become a very predictable cup in recent years.
Q. What are your thoughts on the return of fans to games this season?
The games nothing without fans, it’s as simple as that really. Obviously the pandemic has changed our lifestyle in general whilst we try to get over the worst of it. But football clubs mean so much to their community and are a huge part of supporters lives. So many clubs risk going out of business the further down the football pyramid you go and no true fan could wish that on another club. So hopefully we get fans back in the stadiums sooner rather than later and priority has to go to the clubs in the lower divisions because they need the financial support from match days a lot more than clubs like ours do.
As a spectacle, it’ll make for some interesting results and will make home advantage almost irrelevant. We’ve seen that already with some very unusual results this season.
Q. What do you make of Palace ahead of the new season?
Typical Roy! I thought you’d really lost that spark towards the end of last season and you went on a poor run after the restart. I honestly thought you’d be in big trouble this season. But you have the perfect double act to steer you clear of any relegation scare. Hodgson and Lewington are legends at Fulham and although the football might not be mesmerising, it’s effective and those hard earned unflattering wins/draws will always do the job. I don’t see you being any more than that, the Premier League is going to be as competitive as ever with clubs like Everton, Leicester etc emerging to challenge the big six. So you’ll do a job, but in fairness we’d take that at the moment if you want to swap.
Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.
Fulham – Loftus Cheek: I know he had a loan spell with you guys and usually players do well against their former clubs.
Palace – Wilfred Zaha: Got to be honest and say I find Palace a bit one dimensional in this respect. I don’t know an awful lot about Palace but it seems from the outside that he’s been your go to man for years. I suppose other clubs would say that about us and Mitro and they’d be right, we are one dimensional.
Q. …and finallly, your all important prediction?
You’ll have this down as a must win for the return fixture. I know home advantage isn’t the same without the fans but without disrespecting Palace, if we are to have any chance, this is a game we have to win, especially after the start we’ve had. I’m going to go for a 2-1 Fulham win. Mitro brace and Zaha with the goals…