If you look at the league table how many teams would actually say they’ve had a good season?
Then ask the same question for “not big” teams.
There are two: West Bromwich Albion, who had a good year but also a big striker on loan from Chelsea; Swansea, who have made some very clever moves in the transfer market and are generally admired throughout the land.
That’s it. Everyone else is more or less in the relegation mix, or would be were it not for three measly points.
Is this what happens when the rich get too rich?
Are Fulham just one of many clubs finding this out the hard way?
Are we – gasp! – really not that bad?
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.
What an exciting week for managers in West London. Roberto di Matteo, who has fully exposed the role of randomness in football, lost his job soon after guiding a rudderless team to the biggest prize in club football. Mull over that for a while. He’s been dismissed because he isn’t the person who can take the team to the next level, where they might…. But probably won’t…. win the very prize di Matteo has already secured for them.
As I say though, randomness. Or not. Di Matteo is an ordinary manager who was just what Chelsea needed at the time, and he got lucky enough to win big. That doesn’t mean he’s the right man to repeat the trick, but the logic is a bit weird. No wonder, as Howard Wilkinson recently said, football managers are a very stressed group.
And so to Mark Hughes. The thing here is that Hughes is a decent manager. He has proved that. We don’t like him for obvious reasons but it’s not like he did a terrible job for Fulham. We struggled at Christmas but got better afterwards. There are no rules about having to get good results in any particular order and while there were rumours that player power had instigated a shift in philosophy we can’t really know, and in any case, Hughes was savvy enough to not get in the way of whatever did change. In retrospect it’s a big relief that we didn’t get to feel the full force of his nous in the transfer market, but he did okay for Fulham, just as he had for Blackburn and to an extent Manchester City.
Lawrie Sanchez’s time in charge of Fulham showed us just how negative a home crowd can get when things aren’t going well. By the time the winter months came around the early season bad luck hadn’t reversed itself and results were bad. Sanchez was – rather like Hughes – making bullish statements to the media, but at the ground it took very little time for the crowd to get twitchy. Every misplaced pass would lead to a gradual building of nerves, and the players must have felt this. Leaving the Newcastle home game was pretty horrible, all the negativity and anger. I understand how football fans are but a lot of it got a bit personal and that didn’t feel right.
I’m sure QPR are in a similar position, vibe-wise. If the owner were to say that Hughes has three more years, come what may, I’m sure he’d be rewarded with the progress he expected in the first place. QPR are a half-decent side, apparently lacking in defenders who can defend, and probably won’t finish bottom. Hughes could have seen to that.
Harry Redknapp seems to specialise in these kinds of rolls. When he took over Spurs they were in a manifestly false position and would have risen in due course had almost anyone taken over. Sure enough, they rebounded back to where they’d been under Martin Jol, and Redknapp got the plaudits.
The same thing will almost certainly happen here if he gets the job. QPR will finish lower mid-table, we might assume – would have done so under Hughes – but Redknapp will get the credit for the transformation.
What he will also do is weed out half of the squad, which probably does need doing. I’ve been kind to Hughes above, but no high turnover business has any reason to be paying someone like AJ a Premier League wage. Johnson hasn’t played much for an eternity and hasn’t been prolific for even longer. I think QPR are Kieron Dyer’s latest benefactors, too. Who’s making these decisions?
I don’t know that either decision is really the right one. In football you win some and you lose some. Chelsea are a good team by Champions League standards, and last year reached the upper limits of what their talent could achieve. This year they’ve merely got the other side of the same coin. It happens. We don’t quite know how good QPR really are – they’ve turned over their players so often in recent times there’s nothing really to go on – but on paper their squad looks decent enough. A team good enough to finish 12th will sometimes look like a 20th placed team (or it could be a 20th placed team). Sometimes you have to be patient. It’ll be very expensive to remake the squad in the new manager’s chosen style, after all (as it would be expensive to be relegated, too). Newcastle weren’t daft in giving Alan Pardew that long deal. In a flash they’re saying that they are in this for the long run, that while they acknowledge there will be ups and downs, this is more or less normal and not something to panic about.