It seems a bit strange to be doing a season preview when Fulham have already played two competitive matches, but It's not as if I can do it any earlier now. Last year I wrote this spot after the opening day defeat to Hull, so it could be even later.
An extremely odd close season (for everyone not just Fulham) has made my thoughts on the upcoming season mixed at best. I do think that there will be an awful lot of transfer activity for teams who aren't Manchesters City & United, Liverpool and Tottenham before the end of August and that could turn all expectations on their heads.
Still I have a strange feeling in my waters that Fulham may actually win something this year. My first season at Craven Cottage had them avoiding relegation by a single goal, my second had them finishing higher than they have ever done before. Surely a cup beckons in my third?
I stand by my prediction that the easier cup to win will be the newly entitled Europa League. It is the only competition that England's big four (five now) are not also in. Of course cup runs depend on who you draw and Fulham may still trip up on the plastic pitch in Perm (say that while drunken), but it seems the bookies agree as you can generally find longer odds on them winning the Carling Cup (50/1 with Totesport) or FA Cup (50/1 with Totesport/Paddy Power) than Europa League (40/1 available generally).
In the league Fulham are generally 12/1 to be relegated, which puts them mid-table. This seems about right, as long as the team aren't horribly fatigued from the cup. Last year's home defeats against Blackburn and especially Hull were badged as symptoms of tiredness, although they were followed up by the first away win of the season and then the 2-0 dismantling of Man United. Unfortunately the 750/1-1,000/1 available on them being champions also seems quite accurate.
The general apprehension of the transfer market appears to have spread into the wider area of the sport. Whether it is down to the economic climate or not, I don't know, but I'm very surprised to see tickets for what is now Craven Cottage's first league match of the season available on general sale. Especially as it is an SW6 derby. If Fulham aren't going to sell out for a game against Chelsea, will they manage it for any other game?
The categories used in the past few seasons have never seen so anachronistic, but I will use them anyway.
Most Anticipated Player: I guess I'm most looking forward to see Clint Dempsey play this season, after his heroics in the Confederation Cup. I'm also interested to see if Johnsons Eddie and Andy can combine as well in competitive matches as they do in friendlies.
Least Favourite Player: This should be a shoo-in for Bobby Zamora. But it's not. He's shown he wants to stay at Fulham and I believe that desire will propel him into double figures this year, especially with European games. He needs to sort out his relationship with the fans though.
Season Prediction: I want to say 15th, which is lower than most people have them. I'm really concerned about the strain of Europe. But a few more signings will temper that conservatism. The league again appears to have an awful lot of poor sides in it though, so it would be disappointing to finish below the likes of Hull, Bolton, Birmingham and Blackburn. Normally I would have lumped Wigan in there too, but Roberto Martinez's Swansea side were very attractive and almost dumped Fulham out of the FA Cup last year. As for the cups... I anticipate a cup final. Hamburg would be the best chance of actually winning one, but a trip to Wembley wouldn't go astray.