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Cottagers looking for big improvement

It is hard to believe that it was just three months ago that Fulham Football Club finished one point and one place above the relegation zone in what was a disappointing 2006-2007 season. One away win, one sacked manager, countless disappointing performances and numerous injuries made for it to be a tough season for the players and supporters alike.

However, in the last three months, new manager Lawrie Sanchez has done his best to push aside the disappointments of seasons past by instilling a new attitude and belief that his first full season in charge will bring about positive results along the River Thames for Fulham supporters all around the world.

Gone are captain Michael Brown, Frank Queudrue as well as Heidar Helguson. In thus far are Aaron Hughes, Paul Konchesky, Lee Cook, Diomansy Kamara, David Healy, Chris Baird, Steven Davis and Adrian Leijer. Not only has Lawrie Sanchez reshaped the team with new faces, but he has also brought with him a new found belief that this team can compete with any other Premiership team at home, on the road or anywhere in between.

The 2007-2008 season has a lot in store for the future of Fulham Football Club. After last season's near relegation miss, chairman Mohamed Fayed decided the time was right this summer to splash some much needed cash to inject some life into the club and excite the supporters. And that is exactly what the Egyptian chairman did in the last two months in bringing in eight new players and spending nearly £22million trying to bring the Cottagers back to respectability.

For the first time since the Jean Tigana era, Fulham has spent like a Premiership team rather than a Coca-Cola Championship team. While there was talk before last season of a top ten finish from Chris Coleman, it was very unrealistic to think that it would actually happen. I was one who was drinking the champagne before last season and I learned my lesson heading into what will surely be a better campaign for Fulham this season.

Despite the new acquisitions at the club, I feel that Fulham will still struggle to finish the season in the top ten. Not only has Fulham spent money this summer, but other clubs like Newcastle, Everton, Manchester City, Portsmouth and West Ham have also spent loads of money bolstering their own squads. Thus, the competition for a top ten finish will be fierce throughout the 2007-2008 season.

One area of great improvement from last season for Fulham is the depth of the squad. In season's past one or two injuries would cause huge problems for Fulham. At times last season after Jimmy Bullard's injury, Chris Coleman had to field Moritz Volz and Carlos Bocanegra, two natural defenders, in the midfield. While the two did a commendable job, they were outside of their element and it made it tough for Fulham to compete and hope to win week in and week out.

This season, the depth concerns have been answered with the signing of eight new faces. There should not be a time this season where an injury makes a player play out of position. Therefore, Fulham should be able to field a strong team each and every match of the season. Starting at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal on Sunday, Fulham has the depth and talent needed to start the season on a high note with a positive result against the Thierry Henry-less Gunners.

Looking closer at Fulham and suggesting how they will do this season, there are some keys if Fulham is to have a strong season.

• 1. The defence MUST improve. Last season Fulham gave up a whopping 60 Premiership goals. Of those 60, 42 came on the road against Premiership opponents. The likes of Zat Knight, Carlos Bocanegra, Philippe Christanval and Ian Pearce had a difficult time.

The additions of Chris Baird, Paul Konchesky and Aaron Hughes should go a long way in improving the team on the defensive side of the ball. If Lawrie Sanchez cannot field a strong defence, the club will struggle once again this season.

Another experience center back would go a long way in improving what will be the weakest part of the team. If Sanchez can bring in one more defender to solidify things in the back, the Cottagers might have a shot at competing for a top ten spot.

• 2. The new signings must adjust quickly to life in the Premiership. Of the eight new signings, only Aaron Hughes, Paul Konchesky and Steven Davis have played significant roles on other Premiership teams. Diomansy Kamara has played in the Premiership but not on a regular basis like Konchesky, Davis and Hughes have. The remaining newbies like David Healy, Lee Cook and Chris Baird will have to adjust quickly to the pace and physical nature of the league.

If Lawrie Sanchez's new signings can quickly adapt to life in the rough and rugged Premiership it will go a long way in determing how this team will finish.

Many experts and pundits have noted that a majority of Sanchez's signings have little to no Premiership experience and that this will hurt Fulham this season. While they do have a point, you can't pre-determine how a player will perform without first seeing him play in a Premiership match.

It is my belief that Kamara, Baird, Healy and the others will find their form in the Premiership and be able to contribute to the team right away. Manager Lawrie Sanchez has experience with Healy, Hughes, Baird and Davis from his time at Northern Ireland and he will be able to put these players into positions where they can succeed and help the club.

• 3. Fulham MUST win some matches away from home. In the past two seasons Fulham has won a grand total of two matches on the road. One at Newcastle this past season and one at Manchester City late in the 2005-2006 season. If Fulham is to find some space between themselves and the relegation zone they MUST find a way to win some matches away from Craven Cottage.

While the home form of Fulham has been strong the past few seasons, not winning on the road has been a huge problem for this club. Lawrie Sanchez must get the players to believe in themselves both at home and on the road. If the team can play with the same sense of urgency on the road that we have come to expect of them at home the team will surely pick up some road wins this season which will go a long way in pushing the Cottagers up the table.

• Conclusion. It will be an interesting season for Fulham with the new faces and new excitement amongst the supporters. I can't remember the last time Fulham fans were this excited and optimistic about a new season. The new manager, the new players, the new tactics and the new methods used by the club are all reasons for the supporters to think this could be a special season for the club.

However, if the defense does not improve and the new players have a hard time adjusting to life in the Premiership, it will be another tough season for the Cottagers. Thus, while Lawrie Sanchez has done an exceptional job bringing in new faces, he must now adjust and help those new faces adapt and mold the newbies with the other players to form a cohesive, strong team that can challenge and beat its Premiership opponents week in and week out.

I like the direction Fulham is headed in. If the 2007-2008 season is successful, look for more spending next summer and a continuing rise up the Premiership table into the top ten. While a top ten finish is NOT on the cards for this season, the changes made will greatly improve the team and the club on the pitch.

Don't look for Fulham to be world beaters this season, but do look for them to be a big improvement over last season and you can be sure they will surprise some teams along the way.

Predicted Premiership Finish: 12th

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