Harley Johnson is wondering how Fulham recover from losing key players at the end of the transfer window.
Life after Dembele may be tough
Martin Jol's transfer activity heading into the 12/13 season gave fans reason to be hopeful. After allowing the exits of Danny Murphy, Andrew Johnson, Dickson Etuhu, Bjorn Helge Risse, Orlando Sa and Marcel Gecov, whilst bringing in Hugo Rodallega, Mladaen Petric, Sascha Riether and George Williams, it appeared the club was shipping out the dead wood to make room for the new.
Jol's focus on building a more structured, youthful and stylish outfit on a shoe-string budget appears to have the full support of those above him and the clubs wage bill will surely have been lowered after the exits of the summer, especially if Dempsey completes his expected move away from the club, after going on 'strike' for the open season.
The Cottagers first game of the season came at home to Premier League new boys Norwich and from the start the Whites slick passing and movement appeared to work the Canaries off the pitch, much down to the work of both Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembele.
After a shaky clearance from Norwich keeper John Ruddy in the 18th minute the young England international recovered well offering almost the only resistance to the inevitable Fulham breakthrough, pulling off a fine series of saves denying first Riise, on to Ruiz and then Petric.
The first goal finally came in the 26th minute after a glorious 60 yard pass across the pitch fell to Damien Duff whose shot span into the goal after Ruddy got a foot to it. The lead was doubled in the 41st minute by Petric whose headed goal from Damien Duff's corner gave the Croatian a home debut goal, correctly ruled across the line by the assistant referee.
Norwich manager Chris Hughton looked to make changes for the second half but Fulham's domination in midfield continued and in the 54th minute, after some stylish passing between Petric and Ruiz, Petric doubled his tally for Fulham after his shot deflected off Norwich defender Turner and into the net, making it 3-0.
The Whites did not stop there however, as a wonderful move which saw Dembele play a ball through to Petric who in turn flicked the ball onto the run of Kacaniklic who tidily finished past Ruddy made it 4-0.
With three points all but secured, Jol opted to sub off Petric (68'), Duff (74') and Ruiz (81') giving run outs to Rodallega, Kasami and Sidwell. Despite the score line, Fulham kept pushing and in the 87th minute Hugo Rodallega was brought down in the box by Turner and the penalty was converted to make the final score line 5-0.
Coming off the back of such an impressive performance, Fulham travelled to Old Trafford, having not scored there in their last 5 visits, winning just once in 11 attempts. In a game which ended 3-2 to United much hope was offered to the Cottagers for the season ahead. It was a dream start for Fulham as in the 3rd minute Carrick conceded a foul, and a well worked set piece saw Duff give the Whites the lead.
Throughout the first half Dembele impressed, pressing United well in the middle of the park, but goals from Van Persie, (10') Kagawa (35') and Rafael (41') gave the home side the half time lead. Fulham seemed to be less confident in the first 45 minutes when compared to the side which won 5-0 previously, opting to take long range pot shots too often over the controlled build-up which served them so well in the Norwich game, enjoying just 31% of the possession, but this is something Jol must have addressed at half time as in the second half the visitors upped their game.
Fulham began by looking much more comfortable in possession, playing less long balls and instead implementing the short, more concise style of play Jol seems to prefer. The away sides efforts resulted in an own goal at the hands of Nemanja Vidic in the 64th minute after David De Gea failed to catch Matthew Briggs' floating cross.
Spurred on by the goal, Fulham launched a late assault which was unable to breach United's patchwork defence, and the match ended 3-2. It was a fine performance from Fulham who despite the loss looked a much stronger unit in the second half than the first.
Both fullbacks Riether and Briggs performed very well throughout, especially the young Matthew Briggs who has begun to show signs of serious attacking talent down the left wing, although his defensive game could still be improved. Diarra played an intelligent, simple yet solid game which allowed for Dembele to quite simply, run the show. His passing, running, tackling, strength and style set him apart as the best player on the pitch and surely only increased interest around him.
After the first two games, things were looking up for Fulham, but not soon after things looked to come straight back down. With seven goals in their first two league games, the Cottagers had made an impressive start to the season.
Jol's side took on Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup Second Round at Hillsborough.
Throughout, Fulham lacked the creative spark enjoyed in the first two league games, managing to launch just one shot on target in the entire 90 minutes. Wednesday went ahead in the 50th minute thanks to a Gary Medine penalty after Stephen Kelly brought down Chris Maguire, and although Brede Hangeland believed he had equalised in the 63rd minute after another impressive cross from Briggs, the effort was soon ruled offside.
The defeat means that Fulham will be able to focus themselves on Premier League and FA Cup progress which, for such a small squad, may still be a blessing in disguise. Nevertheless, such an early exit is little more than a disappointment.
News of the defeat was soon followed by perhaps worse news; Fulham had accepted a 15 million pound offer from Tottenham for Moussa Dembele, apparently matching his buyout clause. The shining star in the opening games of the season, it appears Fulham look set to lose both him and Dempsey before the transfer window slams closed at the end of the week.
Such a loss will surely weaken Fulham, as arguably both their best players, Dembele and Dempsey, look set to leave. Most fans had resigned themselves to the loss of the latter, who has refused to play since requesting a transfer, however the loss of Dembele will come as a much worse blow.
The player himself released a statement in recent months announcing his loyalty to Jol however his head may clearly be turned. Despite his goals last year, fans rated Dembele above Dempsey and the start of this season shows exactly why. Be it Tottenham, or whoever else, a bright young talent will be captured along with his signature, if the player does decide to move on.
It can only be hoped that any money which is received is available to Jol to reinvest within the squad. In what appears to be a rather underwhelming bounce-back signing, Fulham have had a bid accepted for Kieron Richardson of Sunderland, albeit a talented player who's versatility would be well suited in a squad the size of the Whites, yet makes no move towards replacing Dembele should he leave.
Other rumours suggest Liverpool outcast Charlie Adam may be brought in in order to replace the Belgian, although his high wages may prove a stumbling block and many fans feel a player not seen good enough for Liverpool, who finished last season on the same points as Fulham, is not a suitable replacement.
AVB's desire to reshape Tottenham's squad has also lead to both Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker being made available, and may be realistic targets for the Cottagers. However, any deal for Huddlestone is expected to be loan-based only while Parker does not fit into Jol's recent focus on youth, especially for a player so similar to Diarra, already under contract with Fulham - meaning both are little more than short term solutions.
Alternatively, young players arriving from Europe better fit Fulham's recent ambitions and the club has been linked to 22 year old PSV midfielder Kevin Strootman, formerly linked with Manchester United.
Whoever is brought in to replace Dembele will have to enjoy an immediate impact as his loss will be heavily felt within the team. However, no one player is bigger than the team and with the next three games coming up against West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion and Wigan, the Cottagers have at least some time to settle into life without Moussa, looking to build upon the oh-so impressive start made to their league campaign; nevertheless the loss of star players hurts - is this what it feels like to be an Arsenal fan?