In retrospect, we shouldn’t be surprised that two teams fielding three defensive midfielders each would get a bore draw on a cold night in West London. Both teams battled in a rather fruitless affair and Fulham could have snatched all three points, conjuring up the best chances in the second half.
Fulham lined up in a hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1/4-2-3-1 with a defensive bent to counteract a potent Chelsea team, who up until recently, had been scoring with ease in the league. A midfield trio of Diarra, Sidwell and Karagounis did the water carrying, but a lack of creative midfield spark left Berbatov stranded up top for most of the first half, as Chelsea controlled possession but could not find a way past the resolute Fulham defence.
In the second half, the game opened up slightly. A fantastic ball over the top of the Chelsea defence by the hard working Karagounis found an onrushing Riise who managed to fluff a relatively simple chance and weakly push the ball into Petr Cech’s arms. Changes were made to both sides which saw the game open up further, but unfortunately the quality of the game did not follow the games upward trajectory.
Kerim Frei did add some pace, ingenuity and danger to the left flank that Fulham had been missing, and he made several good runs, but a lack of match sharpness was clear. His passing was poor when he got himself into good positions. Despite this, he did lay off a good pass on the edge of the area to Riise, who hit a rasping shot which tested Cech and brought a corner.
As the game came to a close, there were a few late penalty area scrambles but nothing came of them and the game finished goalless.
All in all, a good away point at a top 4 side. Fulham could have grabbed all three and despite the dullness of the match, it felt like a reassuring hug from a Fulham team reminding us that they still can defend when needed. The defensive performance was superlative and Hughes and Senderos put in a performance which will hopefully wake Brede from the slumber he has been in all season. With a resurgent Spurs side up next (damn you Moussa!) it was important for Fulham to get more points on the board and prevent a potential run of four straight defeats.
This season has seen some significant changes in personnel and style of football signalling that we really are starting to see Martin Jol’s team. One of the most interesting changes has been that this current Fulham side has become a lot more balanced when it comes to attacking. Last season attacks were split like so:
Left – 27%
Middle – 38%
Right – 35%
This shows the influence of Dempsey’s consistent cutting in and the impact of Dembele, Ruiz, Diarra, Murphy and Duff who attacked through the middle or on the right. This spread of attacks was not a huge problem, although there were times when Fulham cried out for a bit of width to change games. An example that springs to mind is the Blackburn game away when Fulham were playing against 10 men. Rich has outlined this last season and against Blackburn’s 10 men we struggled to spread the play in what was one of the worst performances of the season.
This season there has been significant change:
Left – 35%
Middle – 33%
Right – 32%
Not only is the distribution of attacks much more balance across the pitch, for the first time in what must be a while (pre Hodgson I would imagine) the left hand side has seen the most Fulham attacks. This can be directly traced to the loss of Dempsey and the introduction of Kaca and Richardson on the left, both players with pace who like to stick to the left of the pitch. This is not to say that they do not cut in, both do, but they are happy to attack from this area into the box; providing both crosses and shots.
So the question is – is a more balanced Fulham a better Fulham? I would imagine that it makes us far less predictable going forward, which is a positive thing. The stats would indicate that we are also much better at not only shooting but getting shots on target so this more balanced attack seems to be paying dividends. Often in seasons gone past we could get funnelled down the centre too often, but now Fulham have real width and pace to balance out the lashings of creativity emanating from the middle in the forms of Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov.
Just a quick post.
Doyle not only gives a very insightful review of Hodgson’s past but also makes bold claims that Hodgson will be an excellent choice for Fulham at a time when most did not give us a hope of staying up and the majority of mainstream journalists were asking questions such as ‘Hodgson who?’.
Although Doyles positivity was nearly ruined by Fulham’s terrible form to the last 4 games, it is interesting that he could see something that few others did – Hodgson could save us and beyond that, build a competitive and interesting team.
Note: For those older readers, the use of ‘old’ in this article is purely in a footballing context
With club football finally about to get back underway after yet another asinine international break, I thought I would investigate one of the less heralded issues that Fulham currently have at the moment – the age of the squad.
To put it simply, Fulham have an old squad. Although over the last season Fulham have gotten younger, the average age remains over 30 years old. In fact you could put together a pretty good team by selecting over 30 players only:
This team would be the oldest ever fielded in the premier league with an average age of 32.4yrs old. Jol has consistently said that he wants to reduce the age of the squad and has so far been unable to achieve this. I have a fair amount of sympathy for him here – there was a definite move to replace key players with younger players until late this summer when Dempsey and Dembele decided to jump ship and Fulham were forced into panic signing the likes of Karagounis and Tavares. Despite letting go a fair few youngsters (Gecov, Sa, Dembele) the age of players brought in (28.7yrs) was almost exactly the same as those let go ( 28.6yrs).
So, is the old age of the squad a big deal? I’m not so sure. Firstly, football has changed so much over the last 10 years that being in your thirties no longer represents the terminal decline of your career. A good premier league professional should be able to perform to a very high standard up to the age of 33, and players being influential up to 35-36yrs old is no longer that odd, particularly defenders.
Secondly, Fulham may have an old squad, but look at the age of the Fulham bench in each game this season:
V Norwich – 26.8
V Man Utd – 26.8
V Sheffield Wed – 24.7
V West Ham – 25.5
V West Brom – 24.5
V Wigan – 27.1
V Man City – 24.7
V Southampton - 26.5
Overall AVG – 25.8
Encouragingly, much like with the over 30s, you can put together a good under 30s team with an average age of 25.5yrs old (although, unsurprisingly, defence is a bit of an issue):
Thirdly, and this is an important point, all of the players who are over 30 years old (except Berbatov) have only one year remaining on their contract. This is an important factor to take into consideration because it gives a high level of flexibility when it comes to lowering the age of the squad. The players over 30 who left (Johnson, Murphy) or were sold (Zamora, Etuhu) all wanted expensive multi-year contracts or already had them.
So is there an age problem at Fulham? I would argue that it is a concern, but Fulham are in a good position to continue with the squad overhaul and the introduction of younger players because of the flexible contract situations and young age of the reserve players.