Like many of the staffers on the Rust I respect the judgment of the Racing Post, so I read their preview of the Championship with interest. Of the five main pundits, four preferred Cardiff, Norwich, Derby and Wigan – though one favours Fulham as outright winner. The bookies have Fulham as third favourite (at 11-1), behind Cardiff and Norwich – only two of the last championship winners have been sides relegated from the Premier.
The Fulham squad divides into three broad categories:
(1) The core from last season. With Sidwell gone to Stoke, the general view is that these boys let Fulham down last season. This group divides again – into those that manager Magath would like to ship out, or who want to go (Stekelenberg, Ruiz, Mitroglou);
(2) The 9 new players recruited over the summer. Here the curiosity is Ross McCormack, who has rarely featured. We wonder if we have bought another £11m crock?
(3) The academy kids, some of whom, like Cawley, established themselves last season. Will someone like Moussa Dembele, who might prove a prolific scorer, get a chance ahead of McCormack, Mitroglou, Rodallega, Taggart and Cawley?
Welding all of these groups into a successful outfit will be the main priority and test for the manager. He cannot complain it’s not his team and certainly we know they will be driven hard in terms of fitness. It’s sometimes forgotten that the glorious football played under Jean Tigana, which resulted in 11 straight initial wins, was underpinned by a high level of fitness and games were often won in the last 30 minutes, when the oppsition could no longer match Fulham’s passing game. The start will be crucial and if we can get off to a good one then I believe we can maintain this. If we do not, and Magath chops and changes the team as he is prone to do, then our stay in the division might prove protracted.