Need to know: Fulham
LONDON (AP) - Five things to know about Fulham going into the 2013-14 English Premier League season:
Manager Martin Jol has been busy during the offseason, signing five players to strengthen his first-team squad. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg arrived from Roma, replacing Mark Schwarzer, who signed for London rival Chelsea. Sascha Reither's season-long loan from Wolfsburg became a permanent transfer and defender Fernando Amorebieta signed from Athletic Bilbao. Ghana midfielder Derek Boateng joined on a free transfer from Ukrainian club Dnipro, and Adel Taarabt made the switch to Fulham from second-tier Queens Park Rangers on a one-season loan. Reports in the English media also suggest Fulham could sign striker Darren Bent from Aston Villa before its first game of the season away to Sunderland.
Aside from goalkeeper Schwarzer's exit after five years, Jol also decided not renew the contract of four other players who featured for the first team. Chris Baird, Simon Davies, Mahamadou Diarra and Mladen Petric all left as Jol made space for the players he had targeted to bring into the team.
NEW OWNERS, NEW ERA
Mohamed Al Fayed's 16-year ownership of Fulham ended in July when he sold the club to Shad Kahn, owner of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars in the United States. Khan has taken 100 percent ownership of the club, which is debt-free. Al Fayed's tenure as owner saw Fulham establish itself comfortably in the Premier League. It also reached the final of the Europa League under current England manager Roy Hodgson in 2010, losing to Atletico Madrid in extra time.
KEY PLAYER: DIMITAR BERBATOV
Berbatov scored 15 goals for Fulham last season and was voted its player of the season by the club's supporters. He was the focal point for Fulham's attack and scored one of the goals of the season in its 1-0 win against Stoke against Craven Cottage. A partnership with new arrival Adel Taarabt, an attacking midfielder, has potential to excite the Fulham fans. Taarabt's performances for Queens Park Rangers were inconsistent last season but at times he reached a very high level. If he and Berbatov can combine on a regular basis they could pose problems for any defense in the league.
Fulham could surprise a few people with a fast start to its 2013-14 season. In its opening nine games, it only plays Arsenal and Chelsea out of the teams expected to compete for European places in the league. If Jol can create a winning mentality in the early stages of the season and his best players stay free from injury, Fulham might fancy its chances of competing for a top-seven finish and earning a spot in the Europa League.
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