Monthly Archives: August 2009

Last year v this year

When supporting the impending apocalypse theory of our 2009/10 start, people are saying that it’s not the result, but the performances that worry them.

To this I have countered that we rarely look good losing (think about it; we’re ugly losers).   But they do have a point.  We haven’t seemed to play particularly well.

One way to guage performance is to look at shots/shots on target stats.    This is something the mathematical modellers at the Fink Tank do, as it gives a good overview of how teams are playing.     Here’s this year v last year for us then:

Last year:

Portsmouth away:  12 shots, 6 on target.  Allowed 24 shots, 7 on target
Villa away: 6 shots, 2 on target.  Allowed 16 shots, 2 on target
Chelsea home:  5 shots, 2 on target.  Allowed 24 shots, 8 on target
Total:  23 shots, 10 on target.  Allowed 64 shots, 17 on target

This year:

Portsmouth away:  13 shots, 2 on target.  Allowed 17 shots, 2 on target
Villa away:  8 shots, 0 on target.  Allowed 10 shots, 2 on target
Chelsea home:  6 shots, 1 on target.  Allowed 16 shots, 4 on target
Total:  27 shots, 3 on target.  Allowed 43 shots, 8 on target.

So we’ve shot about as much but not hit the target.  We’ve conceded far fewer shots, and have allowed fewer of those to hit the target.  I don’t know that this tells us too much, but I don’t think there’s enough of a difference to suggest ‘crisis’ by any stretch of the imagination.    We’ve had some tough games (latterly without our best players) and struggled.   I really think that’s all there is to it.

Do our eyes deceive us?

Everyone thinks Jonathan Greening had a tough debut.  But both the Guardian and the Telegraph show him as having seen more of the ball than any Fulham player in recent memory.    He didn’t do much with it, but was he as bad as people are making out?

greening

By the Telegraph’s numbers (it looks like the Guardian were asleep on the job again, given the picture on the right) he gave the ball away 13 times, which seems like a hell of a lot in the modern game, but given the amount of the ball he did see, this is probably quite reasonable.   In all the time we’ve been seeing these things I can’t remember a Fulham player passing the ball 91 times.    His ‘success’ rate is right in line with what Murphy does.

Villa 2-0 Fulham

While waiting for the game to start I was having a nose around the Observer’s Review section, and more specifically around an interview with art collector Charles Saatchi.  He was asked about (artist) Mark Rothko and the nature of infinity, and replied as follows:

“My understanding of infinity goes something like this: every 100 years a sparrow flies to the top of a large mountain, and cleans its beak by scraping it on the highest rock. By the time the mountain has been scraped away to a small pile of dust, that would be the equivalent of the first second of infinity.”

Of course this is pretentious drivel, but I kept thinking about this sparrow on a mountain-top throughout the game.  We really didn’t look like we would score, ever.

The first thing you need to know about today is that we were missing Danny Murphy.  “As Murphy goes, so go Fulham” and all that, and today Murphy wasn’t there and Fulham were dreadful.

The second thing is that Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson were also missing, and without them we might as well have been playing with an ice cream and a custard cream up front.  This is slightly unfair to Diomansy Kamara, who at least had a go at being useful, but it was so easy to imagine Zamora in there making things hard; it was so easy to imagine Johnson running the channels, pulling defenders around, winning free-kicks.   We’re a different team with these two aboard.

Villa scored early.  Fulham’s defenders played the ball around carelessly on the edge of the area, conceded a thoroughly avoidable corner, and Ashley Young’s fizzing cross was nicked over Dickson Etuhu and onto John Paintsil head, from where it flew into the net.  Paintsil was thoroughly blameless here – he had no time to react – but it was a ridiculously soft goal.

This drew Fulham out somewhat, but Villa pressed extremely well, not just the player in possession but seemingly all available passing options too.  Our players always seemed hurried, always put under pressure, and rarely made anything happen.  We had isolated spells of pressure, but couldn’t make Villa’s makeshift defence give way, couldn’t create any chances worthy of the name.  Dempsey and Duff swapped flanks time and again, but ended up trying too hard to make something happen, and both had 5/10 games.  Jonathan Greening, on his Fulham debut, was probably a touch below that.

While it was 1-0 Fulham always had a theoretical chance of making something happen – a free-kick perhaps, or a random bounce going our way – but Gabby Agbonlahor made it 2-0 with a ripper of a drive from 25 yards, and that was that.   He had space and time, but his shot came from nowhere, blasted a foot off the ground and through Schwarzer all too easily, beaten by the extraordinary power of the shot.   Modern balls…

So there we are.  We’re about where we should be given the fixture list, so no need to panic yet.  Fulham don’t look good when they lose away from home – it’s just the way things are – so the idea of today’s performance being some kind of indicator of the season ahead strikes me as being somewhat off.  We must wait for the easier games to come around and, assuming we can field our better players, should expect them to be more enjoyable than today’s non-event.

Fulham in for goal machine Marc Janko: all that glistens?

In other more detached news, the Daily Mail say that we have beaten Celtic, Blackburn and and Man City to sign Marc Janko.  Note the word “beaten”.  Not “beating”, “beaten”.   If so, this is quite exciting.   Janko, you see, scored 39 goals in 34 games for Salzburg last season, and while Austria is Austria, not many people score goals like that.

Still, you know me:  let’s try and get some context.

First hypothesis:  he’s not the second coming of (Brazil’s) Ronaldo or he wouldn’t be at Salzburg at 26.    So, we may assume that a) lots of goals are scored in Austria, and b) Salzburg attack a lot.    These two pretty much have to be true, or there’s no way he’s getting 39 goals.   And:

table1

Sure enough, nobody in the entire league seems too concerned about defence.   Salzburg conceded 50 in 36, while scoring 86.   That’s not even the best in the league:   RapidVienna scored 89 and conceded 43.    So hypotheses a and b confirmed.   He’s in a very favourable situation to score goals.

You can see his game-by-game here.    To his credit, he did score against other big teams, but on the negative side, he appears to have ‘only’ scored 3 goals in 12 European games.    That’s not bad, but it’s not superhuman either.

So we’re still working with the ‘good but not great’ theory.     What else?   His deputy appears to be one Robin Nelisse, who scored 12 in 34 appearances (many as sub).   Nelisse was second top scorer, and at least he wasn’t banging them in every week (that would’ve been a warning sign that Janko really isn’t all that).

Back to football lineups:

janko3

Aha!

So, we have:

  • A (relatively) very good team
  • Playing very attacking football
  • In a very attacking league (where defences are either poor or undermanned)
  • Using one man up front (so he gets to profit from the above alone rather than ‘sharing’ with a strike partner – I may have made this phenomenon up)
  • Who is good enough (in the Austian league) to make hay under these very favourable conditions
  • But who, so far, has not dominated in European competition.

What we have here is a fairly talented player who might be worth a punt.   And we’ve (apparently) got him on loan, so can take that punt.

(Possibly) Wilkommen, MarcJanko!

mj

Loads of happenings today

First and foremost, Kagisho Dikgacoi has been granted a work permit and is now a Fulham player.  I can’t wait to see him in action.    As you’ll recall, he had a trial with us earlier in the year but wasn’t match fit.  Roy saw something in him and invited him back, and the rest we know.   Frankly he could be anything, but as a regular player in a much improved South Africa side he’s earned his work permit.   Let’s see what happens now.

“I am so happy that my transfer to Fulham has been finalised. I have spent most of the summer training with the players and getting to know them and all of the coaching staff. I have been given a wonderful chance to be part of a fantastic team playing in one of the best leagues in the world, this is something very special to me and an opportunity that I am going to grab with both hands.”

Tremendous.

Eddie Johnson is profiled on the official site.

Talking of which, you seem to be enjoying yourself on the training pitch. We watched you celebrate a goal like you had just single-handedly won the World Cup…
[Laughs] Whether it’s in a stadium or on the training pitch I just love scoring goals. I love getting up and coming to training, it’s a good environment to be in. I’m a goalscorer, and if I’m honest, the last 18 months haven’t been great in that sense – I’ve missed that feeling of sticking the ball in the back of the net. In the past I’ve possibly lacked a bit of confidence, but I have that again now and I have a feeling that it’s going to be a good year for me.

I’ve been treating every training session as if it’s a proper game, and I’m more focused than ever because I know it’s on the training ground where I’m going to make the Manager take notice. Dave Jones at Cardiff said to me, “if you can’t score in training, how do you expect to score on a Saturday?” And he’s right… It was a good goal though!

I’d like to see Roy find spots to use the likes of Eddie.   Of course the same must be said for Nevland and Kamara, both (rightly) afore him in the pecking order, but still.   There must be occasions when burning pace is needed.   He seems like a likeable fella and I hope we see him in a few more games this season.

As you’ll know, we’ve beaten Amkar Perm 3-2 on aggregate, losing 1-0 today in Russia.   I was watching the BBC text updates and it seemed to be a steady procession of [Perm player] shoots… blocked by [Fulham player] but hey, it’s an away European game, played without some key players and on a strange pitch.   No sense complaining about anything.  WE’RE THROUGH TO THE GROUP STAGE!

Roy is gracious in victory.

“I have great sympathy for my colleague [Amkar Manager Dimitar Dimitrov] and for all of the Amkar team because in the last part of the match at Craven Cottage and in the 90 minutes today, they’ve shown that they are a good quality team and they have stretched us to the limit in order to get our qualification.”

In other news, I have a new piece up at The Times.   It’s not about anything in particular but a couple of people say they liked it, so that’s kind of them.

Diamonds

Jonathan Wilson’s latest on Chelsea’s diamond formation. (thanks to bq)

So, how can the diamond be countered? The lack of width remains the flaw, and the key is to try to shift the battle from the centre to the flanks. Hull rode their luck to an extent on the opening day, but it is no coincidence that it was their 4-5-1 rather than the 4-4-2 of Sunderland and Fulham that came closest to stopping Chelsea.

Midfielders played wide and high stop the advances of the full-backs, while a hard-tackling trio in the centre will at least make Chelsea fight for possession, while shielding the back four when Chelsea have possession. In addition, a team’s wide midfielders block Chelsea’s full-backs, their own full-backs should be free to either become an extra man in midfield or provide additional defensive cover.

I think this is a more important reason for our display than “not wanting it” or any of the other attitudinal complaints we’ve seen.  Wilson, in his “inverting the pyramid” book, notes that in England people tend to regard formations as (largely irrelevant and) simply where the players stand, but as he discusses here, these configurations can have a very real impact on how games progress.  In short, we never did work out where the Chelsea players were, and so couldn’t stop them passing to one another in spaces where our players weren’t.

Notts County doing a Fulham

Sol Campbell ready to sign for Sven’s boys

In the same piece, Fulham are going to sign Kalu Uche after all:

Fulham expect to complete the signing of Kalu Uche, the Nigeria forward, for about £2.5 million from Almería subject to a wrok permit, international clearance and other paperwork.

I wonder what the ‘other paperwork’ is.   Also, here is The Times saying “wrok permit”.    Tsk.

Le Mans have offered us centre-back Gregory Cerdan.

Murphy signs again, Greening in, Zoltan had a bad’un after all

The long and dangerous saga of Jonathan Greening has ended, and now he is a Fulham player.  (“Greening signs!” says an excited email from the club.)  Annoyingly, he wasn’t registered for Saturday’s game because his agent refused to sign off on the deal until 90 minutes beyond the deadline, following six hours of haggling over his cut in the deal.   Triffic.    Greening would have made no difference to the game, but it would’ve been useful for him to get some pitch time ahead of Thursday.

Thursday….  we’re without Johnson and I expect Danny Murphy to stay behind as well.  Murphy, who has signed another new contract with the club (till 2011 now), hobbled off against Chelsea after having his calf trodden on by Ricardo Carvalho.   I won’t bother with the chalkboard this time, but the old “as Murphy goes, so go Fulham” maxim was in evidence again:  he didn’t get much of the ball at all.   If we think teams are wising up to us this year it’ll be interesting to see if they make an effort to shut him out of matches.   We’ll need other players to step up, either way.

It’s going to be a tricky time for Fulham, what with all these double game weeks and tricky opponents, but we’ll get a good run together before long.   Europe needs to be celebrated while we’re still in it.   We’ve already been spoiled with what was, in retrospect, a really good game against Perm (weirdly it didn’t seem like it at the time), and I’m hopeful of plenty more of these as the season wears on.

Right, some more bits and bobs, this time from The Telegraph’s fine football page.

This morning I rather daftly proclaimed to the world that Zoltan Gera only gave the ball away three times on Sunday.   That’s what the Guardian chalkboards said, and those numbers come from Press Association specialised counter people.   So why would they be wrong.   People noted that this was not correct, and yes, it did seem low given the torrid time our Hungarian hero was having.   Well the Telegraph have information on all this too, and now Zoltan’s passing was 15 of 25 to teammates, which would go with what people saw.  Here’s a picture:

geraduff

So there we are.  Duff did better and was much more adventurous when he did have the ball.  I don’t know how they work these things out because Gera did cross the ball to Dempsey, which surely counts as an ‘attack’ pass, but there we are.    Mumbo jumbo, as people are never slow to tell me.   Still, if we learn something once in a while it’s all worth it.

As an interesting aside, this:

attacking

We had a lot more of the ball on the right.  Which, all considered, wasn’t playing to our strengths.

Fulham 0-2 Chelsea

A frustrating afternoon spent chasing shadows.   Chelsea controlled the game from start to finish, and Fulham really didn’t threaten Petr Cech’s goal.

Part of this was because of the injury to Andy Johnson on Thursday.  His absence was felt all over the pitch:  we missed his sharp running, constant harrying and intelligent runs.  Clint Dempsey filled in up front, but looked lost and isolated, and to make matters worse, we missed his presence in the midfield.  Damien Duff, in his first Fulham start, was unable to repeat Thursday’s pyrotechnics, and had a disappointing afternoon on the left wing.  Over on the other side it may be fair to say that Zoltan Gera needs a break.  He’s a determined and decent footballer, but all players lose form at some point and Gera’s been down so long he looks like up. Next week – assuming Roy doesn’t decide to punt the UEFA cup in anger – we should see a different midfield configuration.

The middle of the pitch is another concern.  Greening and Dikgacoi are expected soon, and frankly we need them.  Today’s injury to Danny Murphy reminded us that we are thin in that area. Trying to battle back from 2-0 down to one of the league’s best sides is hard enough at the best of times:  with Dickson Etuhu and Chris Baird pulling the strings it really is a big ask.  (I’m a fan of both, but they’re not an ideal engine room are they?)

And so it goes.  The game was painful to see, with Chelsea passing, passing, passing, Fulham failing to keep the ball at all, and so on and so forth, interrupted twice by Chelsea breakthroughs.  First Didier Drogba slipped through an offside trap (John Paintsil may have been late out) and made it 1-0, then in the second half Nicolas Anelka’s turbo boost took him well clear of anyone in white, past Mark Schwarzer and from there a goal was easy.

After that it was a question of watching the clock tick by and checking the cricket score.