Football's fine line between love, hate and sarcasm

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After a thirteen-year stay in England's top flight, Fulham will be spending this season in the Championship – and without sounding too biased, the team seems to be in good health. Despite players' criticism of the Felix Magath regime, he appears to be on a mission to get all of the old guard out (be it right or wrong) and mould the team in his own image. But how will this team line up come the opening day against Ipswich Town? What positions are still in desperate need of some new blood? Much like my previous article in which I built a squad from Blackpool's bare bones using free transfers, I will endeavour to try and put my managerial coat on once again, and give you my starting XI for The Cottagers.

FULHAM PLAYERS OUT/RUMOURED TO BE OUT
First off, Darren Bent's gone. That deserves a part all to itself.

The majority of Fulham's old guard, such as Brede Hangeland, John Arne Riise, Damien Duff, Steve Sidwell and Giorgos Karagounis have all been released on free transfers, and the sad (but unsurprising) departure of the player behind last season's best goal, and one of my favourite players, Pajtim Kasami to Olympiakos. David Stockdale has been sold to Brighton for reasons unbeknown to myself, and Magath seems to be going towards young 'keeper Jesse Joronen as this season's first choice, with everyone expecting Maarten Steklenburg to leave too. Kieran Richardson and Philippe Senderos have both gone to Aston Villa, Ashkan Dejagah has left for a rumoured £100k-a-week in the Middle East, Hugo Rodallega could be off to River Plate and all Fulham fans are expecting the eventual departures of record signing Konstantinos Mitroglou and Bryan Ruiz, even though he travelled with the squad for a pre-season trip of Austria.

FULHAM PLAYERS IN
The stand-out transfer of the summer is the £9.5m signing of Ross McCormack from Leeds, a man expected to fire us back into the top flight. Our latest signing is Arsenal youngster Thomas Eisfeld, who will learn a lot working alongside Scott Parker in the middle of the park. We have signed a haul of players on free transfers and loans from Germany and Switzerland, such as Tim Hoogland, Kay Voser and Kostas Stafylidis to fill up our rather leaky back four. Our big defensive prospect is Scottish youngster Shaun Hutchinson from Motherwell, who will surely play alongside another young talent, Dan Burn. Finally, we brought in Adam Taggart from the A-League to make up a rather exciting young forward group. Also, Fulham's youth movement will come into play this season as they make the jump from the all-conquering youth structure to the first team.

WHAT DO WE STILL NEED?
The team actually has a lot of good strength in depth, a young team with a lot to prove. Considering the Dad's Army we had at the start of the season, the fact that there will potentially be just wo players over 30 in the squad by the first game is remarkable. There are two places that need one more player to truly get the squad balance right. They will need to strengthen us in the middle of the park. We have Parker and Eisfeld, but Parker can't be expected to play every game this season.

Let's go over to a rather fruitful ground for players for us, America, via another good place for purchasing talent, Norway, and look at Mikkel 'Mix' Diskerud, a Norwegian-American central midfielder playing for Rosenborg. Good when he has time and space on the ball, creative and technically efficient and with a good range of passing; a solid £2.5m bid should pry him away, and he could work well with either Parker or Eisfeld in tow.
We also need a senior centre back to mould the younger defensive pairing and provide experienced back-up for the long slog that is the Championship season. For this, I would suggest Sean St. Ledger on a free transfer. 29 years old, with heaps of Championship experience, he would be a cheap, quality addition to the squad. Would he start many games? Probably not, but can he help when the chips are down? Absolutely.
THE SQUAD
So, here is how I would line-up Fulham on the opening day against Ipswich on August 9th.

We would have Joronen (rated by @fulham_youth to fit the number 1 jersey this season) in goal and a very capable back four of Hoogland, the experienced head alongside a youthful central defensive partnership of Burn and Hutchinson, and young Greek left back Kostas Stafylidis, who impressed so much on his debut against Crawley Town. Both wing-backs can defend and bomb forward.
The midfield sees young Ryan Williams in the right-midfield position having impressed for Oxford United last season, and he brings pace and skill down the right, perfectly complimenting a stalwart on his opposite side in Alex Kacaniklic. The middle of the park sees Parker play alongside our young midfield talent, Eisfeld. Parker brings experience and defensive solidarity, where Eisfeld can link up with the front two, and pop up with a goal too.
Up front pretty much picks itself. Big-money signing Ross McCormack will be looking to link up with Kacaniklic, Williams and Eisfield, but his strike partner is no stranger to the back of the net himself. It's time for Moussa Dembele (no, not that one) to shine in the Fulham first team. Since signing from Paris Saint-Germain, he has banged in goals for fun across the youth ranks. He finished his season with 23 goals in 17 league and cup appearances for Fulham's Under-18s. He also scored a hat-trick against DC United in Jacksonville only days ago.
The substitutes were harder to pick than the team due to the strength in depth. Marcus Bettinelli will be Joronen's understudy, with my defensive back-up pick St. Ledger on the bench. Ryan Tunnicliffe and my other transfer in, Diskerud, can easily fill in for Williams or Parker respectively and Taggart can chip in with a few goals from the bench as well as third-choice striker.
But this leaves Voser, Adil Chihi, "Mesca", Larnell Cole, Patrick Roberts, Cauley Woodrow, Chris David, Marcello Trotta and a whole host of great youth players fighting for those positions. It seems Magath is spoilt for choice when it comes to youthful wingers and strikers.

The pieces are finally falling into place for Fulham after having everything they worked hard for smashed by managerial and boardroom upheaval last season. Shahid Khan has come out swinging following his first season knockdown, and it appears he has the squad to make this stay in the Championship a relatively short one.

 

       

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