Martin Jol admits that even though we are only a few games into the Barclays Premier League season, Saturday’s visit of West Bromwich Albion already takes on a considerable degree of importance.
Each side has already lost two matches of the new campaign and will be looking to take maximum points from the Craven Cottage encounter to kickstart their respective seasons.
“I think it’s a very important game for us,” Jol admitted. “Of course, you want more points, but we had a very good start [at Sunderland]. After that we had to play Arsenal and Newcastle United and we would liked to have at least one point from these games, but we didn’t so we have to try to get back to our old habit of winning home matches.
“I see it almost as a must-win game but if you look at the other team, West Brom has got one point so it’s a must-win game for them. There are a lot of key fixtures every week in the league. It’s a key fixture but there are 20 or 25 key fixtures in a Premier League season.”
The match against the Baggies is the first since the transfer window slammed shut last week, and our Manager is now keen for his new signings to form a quick understanding within the squad.
“I think if you’ve got all the players on the board then it’s only a matter of gelling together and finding the right balance – that is important,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of quality players now, so that’s good. I need to leave four players in the stand on Saturday, and that is probably the first time, so we’ve got good players but we need the right team now.
“We had a good [training] session on Friday and hopefully it’s enough. All the players came back fit from international duty; Bryan Ruiz, of course, played against America, qualified for the World Cup, so that is fantastic. And he looks fit, so that is the main thing, that they can play.”
Fulham will be without several key men for the game, though, with three of the players who featured in the defeat at Newcastle missing out.
“There are a few players coming back who were injured and there are a few players who are still out,” Jol said. “Aaron Hughes will be out – he will be back next week, but he’s got an injury to his thigh.
“Darren Bent is injured – he will be back next week – with a tight hamstring. That is not what we wanted as Darren Bent is here because we needed some pace up front and he gave us that. He scored that goal against Arsenal, he plays off the shoulder which is an advantage for other players, but he’s not here now. I can’t change that so I will play with Berbatov up front.
“Matthew Briggs will be out, he’s got a problem with his hip. And Maarten Stekelenburg is still out with his right shoulder – it could take another couple of weeks.
“[But] Kieran Richardson is back in training and he looks good, so he’s included in the squad. I’m happy that he’s back.”
One player set to take his place in the Fulham squad for the first time is new signing Elsad Zverotić following his arrival from Young Boys.
“He’s included in the squad,” Jol confirmed. “You know him because he played against England [in March] and he was Man of the Match. We were quite happy to get him on very good terms. We’re quite happy to have a utility player; he can play right-back, in midfield, he can play left-back.
“We’ve followed him over the last two years and I think he can fill in for Sascha Riether, or even play, because you are no mug if you play in the Montenegro national team. He’s similar to Chrissy Baird and I needed a player who can fill in in several positions.”
The Fulham Manager was also quizzed on the fitness of Mahamadou Diarra, who has been training with the Whites since the expiry of his contract in the summer.
“We are a very good club, we look after our people so we gave him the chance to stay here and use our medical staff and try to get a new contract,” Jol explained. “He’s now at 70/75 per cent [fitness], he’s training fully, so he needs games now and he will play, for example, with our Under-21s on Monday. Then we will see from there.”