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EPL Season Preview: Fulham

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 02: YOU LOOK DEAD AND IT FREAKS ME OUT (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 02: YOU LOOK DEAD AND IT FREAKS ME OUT (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
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Team Name: Fulham Football Club

Nicknames: The Cottagers, the Whites (For the Twitterers among us, #COYW=Come On You Whites.)

Location: Hammersmith and Fulham, London

Ground: Craven Cottage (Capacity: 25,700. Adorability: ∞)

Manager: Roy Hodgson Martin Jol Uh...

Last Year's Record:

Premier League: 12th Position

League Cup: Third Round Proper, lost to Manchester City

F.A. Cup: Sixth Round, last replay to Spurs

Europa League: Finals, lost to Atletico Madrid 2-1

Brief History: The oldest professional club in London, Fulham formed in 1879 and were accepted to the Football League in 1907. Fulham have spent the majority of their history in the lower divisions; in 103 years of league play, the Cottagers have spent only 24 in the top flight. Fulham's first spell in the first division came in 1949, but the club found themselves relegated back to the second division by 1952. The club again earned promotion in 1958 (after a season which saw them advance to the F.A. Cup semi-finals) and made their first appearance in the top half of the table in 1959/60 finishing 10th.

By the late 1960s however, Fulham found themselves in the third division. Fulham's fortunes were mixed in the years following their relegation from the first division; an historic run to the F.A. Cup final in 1975, which required a record eleven matches for Fulham to clench qualification, was followed by a slide back into the third division by 1980. The Cottagers bounced between the second and third divisions for the rest of the 1980s.Their lowest point came in 1994, when they came within three places of possible relegation to Conference.

The Cottagers current run towards European success began in 1997, when the club was purchased by Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed, father of the late Dodi Fayed. Under Al-Fayed's leadership, Fulham charged from the lowest division in English football all the way back to the top flight in seven years time. The club has been in the Premiership ever since, with their greatest run of success coming in the past two seasons. Fulham finished a best-ever 7th in the 2008/09 season, qualifying the Europa League and their first taste of European football. Despite finishing 12th in the Premier League, Fulham had what is arguably their most successful season in 2009/10, advancing to the Europa League finals before falling to Atletico Madrid 2-1.Manager Roy Hodgson, who many credited with a great deal of Fulham's success in advancing to a higher level, departed Craven Cottage for Anfield in June of 2010, leaving the future of the club somewhat in doubt.

Players to Watch:

Clint Dempsey: One of the United States' biggest football stars, Dempsey's 2009/10 campaign was interrupted by a knee injury in January. Dempsey returned to action on March 11th, one week before scoring one of the iconic goals of the season, a stunning chip that propelled Fulham to victory over Juventus and sent the club to the Europa League final. With all due respect to Landon Donovan, Dempsey is most likely the best American player in the world at the moment and has been linked to numerous prestigious clubs since the World Cup. Fulham seem unlikely to allow him to depart, however, and if Dempsey can retain the form he showed before his injury and during the end of Fulham's Europa League run his international profile could continue to grow. Dempsey is a prototypical American attacking player, making up for what he lacks in finesse and playmaking with explosiveness and physical ability. Dempsey separates himself through an ability to create space and exploit openings, as evidenced by his goal against Juventus. The key will be conserving his aggression, as the physical play that Dempsey sometimes encourages has lead to numerous injuries throughout the course of his professional career. Dempsey is not an elite player in the Premier League by any stretch, but his performance will be key to ensuring that Fulham negotiate the transition away from Roy Hodgson and any hope that the club have of reaching higher levels in English football.

Bobby Zamora: At 29, Zamora is  in  the prime of his career, a dangerous offensive threat as evidenced by his 19 goals in all competitions in 2009/10. Zamora is a uniquely well-rounded striker; equally capable of splitting defenses, holding up play, linking to trailing midfielders and using his size to create chances, Zamora is not an elite talent in any one area but the combination of skills that he possesses makes him quite a valuable player. Not especially flashy, Zamora is instead the kind of player whose contributions are often unnoticed but whose worth is generally well understood.   

Rivalries: Because Fulham's time in the top flight has been so scarce, the majority of their rivals play in lower divisions. Contests against the other London clubs are of greater importance, and Fulham supporters would most certainly take a great deal of joy in defeating Chelsea. In terms of actual derbys, however, Fulham are without a true foil.

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