Category Archives: General

Fulham beat Norwich, stay alive

The difference between this Fulham and that Fulham is that this one won 1-0 and that one would have lost 3-0.

Norwich came at Fulham with some gusto and did more than enough to earn at least a point. That they didn’t was down to Fulham players doing the right thing at the right time: Stockdale’s save when a goal seemed certain; Rodallega’s terrific finish just when Fulham needed the reassurance that a goal can bring; Hangeland getting close enough to the ball on the edge of the six yard box that the resulting shot slipped wide rather than into the empty net.

About that goal: how many things have to go right for the ball to end up in the net? Holtby’s delivery needs to be perfect, Sidwell needs to apply just the right amount of hair to the cross, Rodallega needs to make the right run at the right time, then get his feet in the right place to divert the ball into the net, which was not as easy as it looked given the speed and trajectory of the cross. I thought it was a fabulous goal, and while Norwich might wonder why nobody in yellow was able to interrupt, Fulham’s work was good here.

Beyond that it’s more of the same, isn’t it? A team now blessed with some sort of togetherness and tactical nous, having the luck required to take three points, and yes, the determination needed to compete against dare we say better players.

The latter is always hard to talk about. English football fans see determination as the answer to everything, and while it’s easy to be cynical about this (determination won’t get you an organised defensive unit) it’s equally true that at the top level you do need to be mentally ‘on’. I’ve just been reading Andre Agassi’s “Open” and clearly his mind ran away with him in various tournaments to the point where this was clearly impacting results. A football team has eleven minds on the pitch at once and if all eleven are not in the metaphorical ‘right place’ then bad things can happen. Pep Guardiola obsessed about how to get his Barcelona team mentally sharp, knowing that this would turn a really good team into a great one.

It works at the other end, but when confidence is low and ability not all that either you get runs of form as witnessed in late 2013. The ability might not quite be there yet but there does appear to be some belief and mental sharpness about FUlham. Yes, we can let narratives get ahead of things when apportioning credit like this (win = determined and mentally strong; lose = feeble-minded lazy overpaid….) but there really is a sense of a *team* coming together now.

Added to which, I’m fairly sure it’s not a coincidence that Fulham are P2 W2 with Diarra in the side. His performance was again stupendous. I particularly liked a situation in the second half when he looked to have been harried out of possession, but instead niftily moved the ball away from both assailants and collapsed to win a free-kick. Later he left his feet to halt a counter-attack, a tackle that was all about timing and technique and which had a kind of ‘no you don’t’ air about it.

It’s two wins. Aston Villa, Norwich. Six points were needed, six achieved. This is just the start. Spurs are better than their current coverage would suggest, Hull are a decent team (albeit one with an FA Cup final to think about… hmmm… sounds familiar), we won’t get anything at Stoke, but Palace is winnable. We’ll just have to see won’t we? There is no form-book and there is no window, but if there were, one would go out of the other for the run-in. Norwich will not necessarily lose all four of their games, Sunderland might go medieval, Swansea and West Brom might sleepwalk into something they’d rather not be getting involved with. There’s still a long way to go.

Fulham beat Villa, in with half a chance of staying up

Fulham still have essentially no margin for error, but at least live to fight another week. It’s amazing how the season is almost perfectly poised to produce the most nerve-shredding finish possible.

If we do defeat Norwich next week – and really we must - then that leaves Spurs, Hull and Palace.

Spurs are a mess under Tim Sherwood and in that sense there will probably never be a better time to play them.

Hull are pretty much Fulham’s bogey team now. Our last few fixtures have gone:

2008/09 defeat in Hull by a score of 2-1, defeat at home 1-0 (awful game, cold evening)
2009/10 lost 2-0 there, won 2-0 here
2013/14 ahem

So we’ve lost 4 of the last 5 against a team that struggles. That counts as a minor hoodoo and they also have Tom Huddlestone, who loves playing against Fulham whatever team he’s personally involved with. That’ll be tricky.

Then Crystal Palace at home which, had it been the first game of the season, would have been the easiest game on the fixture list, but Tony Pulis has his team playing well and we’ll have to work for whatever we’re to achieve here.

Norwich themselves will be an awkward proposition: they have four games from hell after us so you can well believe that this is their cup final.

Realism, eh?

All we could do was beat Villa and we did that. Magath deserves much credit for building what looks like a coherent football team, and Saturday was a nice manifestation of this. We saw lots of open football, some horrible defending, but some attacking play that drew gasps. I’m thinking particularly of Holtby’s near miss that featured the most delicious feint by an onrushing Dejagah, some awesome nimbleness by Holtby, and…. another goal missed by a millimetre.

Saturday was about Diarra for me though. I have a theory that central midfield has multiplicative properties: get this right and the whole team gets better; get it wrong and the whole team gets worse. Diarra is basically two players and as such brings his team an immediate advantage. The defence benefits, the forwards benefit, and people like Steve Sidwell aren’t under such pressure.

Note for example the winning goal, in which a Villa player passed the ball to Diarra who passed to Holtby who set up Rodallega. It’s like I always used to say with Dempsey’s tap ins: yes, it looks easy, but that’s because he was there. Nobody else was. Ditto Diarra. He could have been anywhere on the pitch but he popped up exactly where he was needed and from that we scored.

Fulham have been basically awful in transition this year, rarely winning the ball except for around our our area, and unable to spring counter attacks. This wasn’t a counter attack but the act of winning possession deep in an opponent’s half cannot be underestimated. The opponent has to turn, is halfway ready to attack and not ready to defend, and that buys you those vital fractions of seconds that differentiate another near thing and something special. So yes, credit Holtby and credit Rodallega but Diarra did the thing that made it happen.

I also loved Kieron Richardson’s goal. I am likely in a minority of one here but I am starting to think of him as our player of the season. For reasons hinted at above, I don’t know that the otherwise admirable Sidwell quite deserves the accolade: he has been extremely busy but my feeling is that our struggles have in no small part been because our midfield hasn’t been able to help our defence *or* our attack. Our midfield has been about as generous to opponents as is possible at this level, so are we really saying with a straight face that the leader of this department is our best player? Maybe. I could be really wrong and I’m not for a minute understimating his goals, his commitment and his leadership, all of which have I’m sure helped. But in the cold light of day I don’t know how effective he’s been overall. (Note the phrasing there: “I don’t know”.)

In any case, I like Richardson’s efforts, he has struggled with fitness but seems to be able to make tangibly positive contributions to the team. I think he’s been effective in what he’s done and his pace and energy have been a nice surprise.

So yes, that was a really good win. Heaven knows we needed it, and it would be easy to get carried away now, but I think we all realise deep down that this is the benchmark now, this is where we need to be for the remainder of the season. Another couple of wins and it gets very interesting. Can we do it?

On Darren Bent

By Rich

Following a quick exchange on Twitter (“Bent should be starting”, “No he shouldn’t”) I thought I would check again for evidence.  Here is that evidence.

Darren Bent has been involved with 38 league games in the last two seasons, playing for both Fulham and Aston Villa.

He played all 90 minutes in 12 games

He started 6 games and was taken off in the second half (so in 1/3 of his starts).

He has appeared as a sub in 20 of those games.

In these 38 games he has scored 6 times.

Two of those goals came in the games when he started.

So in 1521 minutes as a starter he’s scored two goals. That’s one every 760 minutes, or every eight and a half games.

In 398 minutes as a sub he’s scored four times. That’s one every 100 minutes.

In conclusion, he’s not exactly pulling up trees but is more likely to pull up a tree as a substitute.  Using him as a starter is tantamount to playing with 10 men as he doesn’t add much to the team’s overall play.

This is why he’s not getting minutes.

There was a follow on Twitter discussion that Fulham are preparing for the Championship, hence the likes of Bent not playing.  I think this is nonsense, and that we’re actually fielding our strongest available team now.  This includes young players.  Far better to try a hungry and able 18 year old than someone who has proven in the last season that he’s no longer capable of contributing at this level.  I can’t think of a single player who’s missing out on first team minutes at the moment who deserves to be out there.  I really can’t.

Fulham 1-3 Everton

By Rich

Class told in the end.  Fulham couldn’t get the ball back from Everton and this meant Everton were able to keep us at arm’s length for long stretches.  This rather took away from the home team’s ability to build momentum, and this alone probably cost us the match.

The team were so keyed up that less skilled teams than Everton could have been blown away, but it simply wasn’t to be.  Fulham can be proud of their efforts, although the game did rather resemble a lower league v Premiership battle in which the former know it’s their biggest game yet and the latter have to be sharp accordingly.

This is what we’ve wanted for a while: the quality isn’t there (no, we made sure of that by shipping out the flair players) but the effort was.  Now, effort alone is no use to anyone but in the hands of good players it’s the stuff revivals are made of.  Witness Lewis Holtby’s performance for the ages, a terrific wholehearted scrap from a player I’d desperately love Fulham to sign.

Magath continued to push the right buttons by selecting 17 year old Moussa Dembele for his first ever start.  As with Cauley Woodrow, a teenager from the youth ranks has a lot more leeway from the crowd and can raise hopes through just being there.  Dembele did alright: he showed some good touches, missed perhaps the team’s best chance just on half-time (probably the game’s turning point), but can be pleased enough with his first efforts.  He might have been taken off a bit earlier but that’s not why we lost.

Ashkan Dejagah scored cutting in again (why did nobody think of this earlier in the season?) and this brought the team back to 1-1 (Everton went ahead from a Stockdale o.g. in which the ball ricocheted off the poor ‘keeper’s shins), and suddenly there was great hope that maybe Fulham had something after all.

Trouble was we got very open and Everton ultimately profited from this, but what can you do?  They’re a good team and we’re trying to become one.  Against weaker opponents that performance would probably, almost certainly, have produced a win.  It had a bit of everything and the team need to just go about replicating it in the next few matches.

Incidentally, it’s taken a while but Magath might be getting somewhere.  The below is a four game rolling average chart of Fulham’s shots and shots allowed this season.   The rolling average just means it takes the last four matches, which gives us smoother lines and guards against outliers (if we just took the actual shots and shots allowed it’d be up and down like a yo-yo).   So here’s Martin Jol’s famously futile run. Meulensteen steadied the ship pretty well.  Hull was just an outlier, otherwise we were very competitive in all games except Arsenal, Southampton, Liverpool and Manchester United, which is no crime considering how we started the season.  Magath has seen a slight upwards curve but hasn’t been in charge long enough.  I think I read at the time how Fulham were actually lucky under Jol to have as many points as we did (based on underlying indicators) but that Meulensteen was actually pretty unlucky.  I can see this, based on the shot numbers.

shots

 

Anyway, there we go.   Basically if you take away the Jol ridiculousness we’re a mid table team.  Let’s hope we can play better than that in the run-in.  We need to.

New shoes

Last Thursday JD Sports sent me some new Converse Star Player trainers.

2014-03-28 11.48.25

Mine are in Radio Blue.  I used to wear Converse a lot growing up so I knew I had some good trainers coming, but I was still pleasantly surprised.  These are fantastic.

20140328_114931

Apparently they’re based on an original 1957 design, so you still have the simple Converse style and the canvas upper.   But you’ve got modern cleverness at work, too.  These are super comfortable and the soles have a tremendous sponginess that has you wanting to keep them on all day.   They look great, they feel great: result.

Update: a few days on and they haven’t left my feet. todayshoes
Nicely worn in now and starting to feel like ‘my shoes’ if that makes sense.  Really pleased.

Highway to Fulham’s Danger Zone

By Tim

The fact that Fulham stink, that we’re terrible on both ends, that we can’t control the game anywhere, isn’t news.

But what’s worth exploring is just how bad we are.

Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) of Cartilage Free Captain has some great shot statistics that I highly recommend you check out. But what I want to focus on here is how he divvied up the one half of a football field into several Shot Matrix Zones. The word “matrix” makes even my head spin so bear with me.

Here’s the map:


(courtesy of Michael Caley)

And here’s why divvying the offensive zone is important: conceding shots closer to the net are easier for the offense to score. Shots further away are more difficult to score. This is a very simplistic maxim exists in most other ball/net games.

So, if a defense concedes a higher amount of shots closer to the net than they do the further away, it’s representative of bad defense.

Michael took Zones 1-3 and placed them into what he dubbed the Danger Zone (cue the Kenny Loggins!). Basically, if you’re conceding a high amount of shots from there your defense stin–

OH, OH MY, THAT’S FULHAM FC’S MUSIC!

Fulham are leading the league with 241 shots in the DZ. Next to them is Cardiff with 232, followed by West Ham at 184. If you take the total of all DZ shots (3040) and average it out per club we’re nearly 100 over the average.

Of that total, 92–NINETY FREAKING TWO– are what’s considered on DZSoT, or shots actually target (what Bent is incapable of doing; also somehow Cardiff are one worse than us). We all know how we are repeatedly getting outshot, but this takes that figure to a whole new level.

What about the Wide Shots? Fulham aren’t as bad in that category–17th!–but second worst when it comes to Wide Shots on Target.

What we can glean from this is our opponents don’t need to shoot from odd angles inside the 18-yard box. No, they just can pass or dribble to a better location! (Cue 2nd half highlights from that home Southampton game)

Next up is Shots from outside the 18 yards box, or Zones 6-8.

Fulham are 2nd worst behind West Ham, and just 3 above Cardiff and Sunderland with 242 shots conceded from outside the 18 yard box. 34 of those are on target.

So not only are teams literally dribbling down our throats, we’re affording them time and space from outside the box. Think Mucha at home in September. Or both times Shelvey scored for Swansea. Or or I’ll stop now.

What does this mean? It means we literally cannot defend in any facet of the game. The 5-0 loss on Saturday wasn’t an anomaly, down to some refereeing decision, or because we were playing a team who exponentially outspent us. There is empirical precedent for losses of that magnitude to happen; and will probably happen again this season.

In fact, it might even happen this Sunday!

Although not particularly notable in one specific facet, Everton are still in the Top 8 in Offensive DZS, WS, and SoB. Hopefully the spectre of catching Arsenal/4th place will be a bridge too far for them and they’ll bottle it. Otherwise it’s going to be a long, long day.

So what about our offense?

We’re currently 19th, tied with Crystal Palace on just 117 shots in the Danger Zone. Let me repeat: We are tied with Pulis-ball. Let me repeat again: we are tied with Pulis-ball. For DZ shots on target, we’re tied for 18th with CP, Cardiff, and Swansea at 45. Moving away from the net, we’re not as awful in the wide areas or outside the box, but still in the bottom half of the league.

But our offensive futility is a chicken/egg thing: is it bad because our defense is awful, or is it bad for other reasons? In January we shipped off our moody but still very talented forward, and only mercurial play-maker, and thus have been left with starting highschoolers and the-footballer-formerly-known-as-Darren-Bent. Hence since the start of 2014 we’ve scored 11 goals in 12 games.

What’s the point of all this?

I suppose if this was a business, lawyers would recommend we file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy (or whatever equivalent you guys in England have) and reorganize everything.

(Kenny Loggins cued!)

[Quick tangent: Kenny Loggins looks so 80s in this video but I'm fairly certain the barista that served me coffee this morning looked just like him. Everything old is new again..]

Esteemed Company

By Tim

DID YOU KNOW

Yaya Toure’s hat-trick on Saturday was the 3rd hat-trick conceded by Fulham this season. This stat now ties them with 1994/95 Ipswich, 1995/96 Coventry City, and 1997/98 Bolton Wanderers for conceding the most hat-tricks in one EPL season with 3. (This paragraph has a hat-trick of hat-trick mentions).

All three of said hat-tricks have come in past two months, since Adam Johnson netted his in mid-January. This is worse than Bolton and Coventry who each conceded their hat-tricks over a 3 month span, yet better than Ipswich who conceded their three hat-tricks in just a month. (Ouch. And another paragraph with three hat-trick mentions!)

Ultimately, Ipswich finished bottom (22nd at the time), Coventry 16th (survived on GD, somehow), and Bolton 18th (relegated on GD). We’re probably going to finish somewhere thereabouts.

We could nuance the point away and look at who scored each of the hat-tricks:

  • Yaya Toure (cost City £24m–double our transfer fee record–and arguably Ivory Coast’s best player)
  • André Schürrle (cost Chelsea £18m, wunderkind)
  • Adam Johnson (doesn’t live up to hype/ego, but still cost Sunderland £10m)

Or look at the following chart from Sporting Intelligence (based on 12/13 and even 11/12 accounts) and somehow be surprised this hasn’t happened more often against the bigger teams (blue is transfer fees/yellow is wages):

wages and fees

But if there’s one silver lining to this turd: we’re not as bad as 2007/08 Derby County. And here’s how:

  • Fewest points in a season (11, we’re at 24)
  • They only won once (we’re at 7)
  • Kept just 3 clean sheets all season (we have 4!)
  • Had the worst GD in EPL history (-69; we’re at -40)
  • Conceded the most in 38 game season (89; we’re at 70)

Yet Derby DOES have a better TSR than us, as they posted .377 in 2007-08 and as of last week we had .3747–which may go down considering Saturday’s result.

Losing 5-0 at Man City

Shrug.

On the one hand the obvious reaction is “City don’t need freebie penalties to beat Fulham”, on the other, there’s a good chance we’d have got to half-time at 0-0 without that ridiculous decision.

There’s been some criticism of the team for letting its head go down but I suspect this is mainly about City finding a groove and crushing us. They’re about as expensive and good a side as there is in the league, they’re untouchable at home, and as we know, Fulham have been awful all year. I can’t think of too many ways that the result could have been different.

For what its worth I thought Magath got things just right. Full-back has been an achilles heel for us all year so doubling up on both flanks meant City and their dangerous wide players ought to have been funneled infield, where we had more chance of containing them.

This more or less worked out, and in fact Fulham had a moment or two on the counter where perhaps a bit more confidence or bravery might have seen us take a shock lead. That would have been asking a lot but there were positive moments, and in games like this that’s what you’re looking for.

When they scored it was all over. The first penalty was very disappointing and the sort of thing that clearly wouldn’t have been given at the other end. The second was about City’s quality and our inability to keep up: Amorebieta’s lunge was pretty ordinary. You know someone’s made a bad mistake when they do something you don’t see very often, and you don’t see people make tackles that late in the penalty area at all these days.

Toure’s third was about as good as it gets. The fourth and fifth happened when the game was gone.

Positive notes were that Woodrow got another 90 minutes, Patrick Roberts showed some nice touches, and that Richardson again suggested that he’s pretty much ‘up there’ among our most useful players now (who could have seen that coming?). On the downside losing 5-0 is losing 5-0, but really we didn’t learn anything we didn’t know before hand, so it’s more a question of “okay, dust yourselves off and win the next points on offer”.

A few thoughts on the game

Well, a win at last.

One of those games that could have gone either way but which probably went the right way. Fulham scraped it 1-0 but had the ball in the net twice beforehand, both for quite tight offside decisions, so this felt like 3 points well earned.

1 – how amazing is it to have young players involved? It’s a great way for the manager to buy some goodwill. Cauley Woodrow gave everything and his ‘goal’ showed great awareness, balance and determination, slightly Linekeresque in type. He wanted to be involved, wasn’t intimidated by the reputations of those around him, and can be proud of what he did. Just having him there and playing like that seems to give everyone a lift.

2 – except the expensive strikers he was picked in place of. Presumably Magath wanted a skillset and decided Woodrow was his best option, but how should the likes of Darren Bent (yes I’m singling him out) feel watching a young kid playing so well? Ashamed.

3 – lost in all the excitement was another (I think) really promising performance from Kacaniklic. No, he’s not the finished article, but nor is he supposed to be. A lot of the tentativeness that has dogged his game seemed to have gone.

4 – Kvist was rightly criticised for a few bizarrely careless passes, but again we looked a better side *overall* with him in that role. People will latch onto the handful of obvious mistakes but I still like what he offers.

5 – Lewis Holtby is a star. Even when he’s not doing star things he’s just really good. I remember a tweet in January from someone saying “Holtby? Not good enough!” and wondering what planet this person was on, but Holtby has exceeded expectations. The fact that he’s come into a demoralised team that’s struggling and shone so brightly is hugely impressive. We will need a few more tangible results from him if we’re to stay up but Holtby’s pretty clearly the best player we’ve had since Dembele left.

6 – John Heitinga had another good game. I’ve been suspicious of Riether for ages and I thought that having a right back who can defend made a big difference. I expected Heitinga to bring a presence to the side but had no idea how good he was. The clue was in his selection for the last World Cup Final, but even so, there was a suspicion that he had somehow lost something. Not so, he looks a terrific player.

7 – A word for Stockdale at the back. Again, people will remember the odd bad moment but given all the needless setbacks in his Fulham career I think we can give him those. He’s been a good goalkeeper and always done pretty well. His save in the second half was one of those that looked good and actually was: he raced off his line and made it difficult for the forward, but I liked the save in the first better, as the ball had been deflected en route to person who ultimately took the shot so Stockdale would have had trouble setting himself early. It was a fine save.

8 – Amorebieta has pedigree, so it’s strange that he’s played so badly this year. But this was one of his best games for the club. We can’t know how much the poor management of the squad has affected different players, but I’ll say this: if you’re moving to a new league, and walk into Fulham 13/14 vintage, well, my goodness, that’s a shock to the system isn’t it? Let’s not write him off yet.

9 – Sidwell gave 150% again. I don’t know what to make of the bloke any more but at this point he’s doing the things presumably that need doing in there.

10 – I’m quite annoyed by the Heitinga/Woodrow goals. A) if the technology shows the ball a millimetre not over the line then honestly, is that legitimate? We watch the cricket and it’s acknowledge that there’s a margin of error at play. Here the ball’s just canoned off the bar, probably isn’t round at this point, and bounces over the line. Except it wasn’t over the line because the outer skin of the ball, had it been fully round, kissed the outer edge of the goalline. I don’t want to be deliberately obtuse because clearly “the whole of the ball” means “the whole of the ball” but deary me. It feels like you’re working to a false precision. I don’t necessarily know that the right answer was for a goal to be given but it’s pretty hard to stomach that it wasn’t. Dunno. Then Woodrow bundles it in. Are we saying he was offside when the ball was struck? Is that what happened? Was he? I’m not sure about that. Was he interfering? Maybe he was but, well, thank goodness Dejagah scored, eh? Would have been an absolutely killer way to lose.

 

Ruiz at PSV

bruiz

He’s going okay isn’t he?

It’s interesting. If you look at the numbers he’s doing the same kinds of things he was at Fulham. Still dispossessed 2.6 times a game (one more than an average player might lose the ball – KILL HIM!), but he’s taking part in fewer aerial duels and shooting twice as often.

He’s passing at the same accuracy (about 80%) too.  The above numbers suggest that it’s not necessarily the ‘pace’ of the Premiership that did him in, otherwise he’d be more accurate in his passing now and wouldn’t lose it as often, would he?

Philippe Senderos is doing okay for Valencia as well.

We’ve shipped out the “waste of space players” and are doing no better.

Ultimately you need players to root for, to get behind.  My favourite player for a long time was Clint Dempsey, who didn’t seem to have universal backing, but whom I loved to watch.  I liked how he developed over time.  After him I admired a number of players, but Ruiz really caught the imagination.  I wanted it to work for him, but to this day I honestly believe that he was one of our best players.  We know he played through a back injury this season, and struggled – like absolutely everyone else in the club’s squad – to perform well.  Last year Whoscored had he and Berbatov as our best players, which I agree with.

By removing him Fulham cut down on their attacking options.  Martin Jol said this, which made sense to me:

‘Maybe they don’t need me but they need Bryan Ruiz believe me. I can cope with it because I know football. I have 1,300 games, and I know if people in football are not happy they will give you stick but for a player like Bryan… sometimes he is my best player and sometimes he gets caught on the ball and there are a few other players in the past like that. One of my heroes is Glenn Hoddle and people never gave him credit because he was sometimes like Bryan. People have to get used to him and if they don’t get used to him then we have a problem because I need Bryan Ruiz. He can give us a few goals. He came on against Leicester and was the best player on the pitch and that was only a few days ago.

 

One of the more disappointing elements of a disappointing season has been the treatment of Ruiz.  It’s funny, since I started writing this site my default view has usually been that people who are certain of things shouldn’t be so certain, that there’s a need to question everything.  But on this I feel quite certain: Ruiz could have been a very good player, and was a good one.  It’s like political leanings: I know I’m right on this.  And the people who disagree, well they know that I’m wrong.  In any case, getting rid of Ruiz hasn’t done us any good, has it?

 

Analytics

Couple of good articles on how other sports are incorporating analytics.  These go way beyond stats now, instead offering tangible feedback on tangible things.

The baseball one is particularly interesting. Get a load of this!

Then this, on golf.

My sense is that this kind of thing will eventually be useful in tracking players’ positions on the pitch.  I know this happens now but you’ll be able to see who’s slow to react to danger/crosses/runs, etc.   You’ll be able to see which goalkeepers aren’t moving their feet quickly enough and therefore letting in goals that quicker goalkeepers make look routine.

Dunno.  Interesting stuff though.  And yes, I know football’s more complicated than these stop/start sports ;-)

Numbness

It’s that numbness again isn’t it?

Anger, no, because that fizzled out a long time ago.

Hope, no, because every time we think we’re turning a corner – not that we think that anymore – but every time it feels like okay, maybe, just maybe… we just see more of the same.

You keep trying to puzzle out what’s wrong and ultimately you come to the conclusion that if we’re having trouble keeping positive then the poor players must be finding it even harder.

We all know how confidence can affect us. I played sport for years and you really are a different player when you’re in a groove and when you’re not. There is no confidence in this team.

One reason this is a problem is the coaching experience of 2013/14. I’m still trying to write this Roy Hodgson book and spoke to Martin Dahlin a couple of weeks ago. Dahlin, who played for Sweden, mentioned that he had been schooled by Hodgson and Tord Grip from a young age and they really worked hard on his basics, his fundamentals. He said that throughout his career he knew that if form was deserting him he just had to keep doing the basics, keep with the fundamentals. He liked having that available to him; it gave him confidence.

This team has nothing to fall back on. There is no underlying ethos, no underlying plan. It’s XI representatives of Fulham FC trying desperately to do what XI representatives of Fulham FC have not managed to do for a very long time. They are probably at the point where they’re trying too hard, or probably reached that point a long time ago.

This is why they can be rolled over by a more than ordinary Cardiff team.

It’s a horrible situation: on the one hand, we all know we can’t judge Felix Magath on what he has inherited. On the other Rene Meulensteen was judged on what he inherited and Magath’s Fulham look no better than anyone else’s. But it’s too early for him. But there isn’t time for a bedding in period. Results had to come instantly.

You look through the team and see problems.

In goal David Stockdale watches from the bench as a goalkeeper who has performed no better than he allows one of the softest goals of the season. We paid £4m+ for this upgrade, the equivalent of 100,000 replica shirts sold in the club shop.

At right back we have the ever willing Sascha Riether. I remember the old Stoor v Paintsil debate and for all the world Stoor looked a better player to me, but Hodgson went with the player who could be counted on to defend.

At left back we are still fidgeting around with either Richardson, who looks a player sometimes and appeared to have found a niche on the left flank, but who is now back at the back while… John Arne Riise does the left midfield gig. Seriously, what?

Heitinga and Hangeland are probably our best centre-back pairing of the season.

Sidwell continues to draw the plaudits, but again, central midfield is the most important area of the pitch and given that we’ve ceded control of the game basically every match this season, failed to support our defence, failed to support our attack, I can’t help feeling that he must be culpable. I can very well believe that he’s played well and been let down by the rest of the team, but I think there’s more too it than that. Scott Parker seems to have physically broken down, which is a shame as we have awarded him a long and lucrative contract. Ashkan Dejagah is another fan favourite but I think he lacks quality.

Lewis Holtby doesn’t lack quality but if you’re picking him and Sidwell and Dejagah and two forwards you’re alread unbalanced.

Mitroglou is a debacle. He might turn into an outstanding signing for the club but it’s hard to see how.

Cauley Woodrow made sense: if you want a certain type of forward in the team you play the best of that type available. If that’s Woodrow then so be it. Better to have an approach that’s slightly compromised by the personnel available to it than to just throw 11 people onto the pitch and see what the gods of football allow us this time.

As Danny Murphy noted, we had a proven goalscorer in Darren Bent on the bench, but who knows what to do with Bent at the moment? He still has that knack of scoring goals, but… but… he sums it all up.

It’s frustrating. EVery season a club like Fulham is always theoretically at risk. It’s within the scope of any mid-table team to play badly for a series of games just by luck alone, then the ever decreasing circles of pessimism and lost confidence kick in and before you know it the mess is worse than anyone ever dreamed it would be. What now?

It’s the money

Fabulous new graphic on Sporting Intelligence.

CFC-v-THFC-2013-14

 

When you look at it this way we’re basically roundabout where we ought to be. There is a clump of teams that, if they have a bad season, are going to be in the brown stuff.  And when we say bad season we mean the kind of thing that can happen to any team.  Loss of form, bad luck, whatever.  This year it’s been our turn.   You can see that our transfer outgoings are as low as anyone’s and that the wage bill isn’t exactly massive either.

Martin Jol made a pig’s ear out of things but what I think this shows is that he had a lot less margin for error than we might have imagined.

It doesn’t get any easier, does it?

While it’s a home game, pretty much the last thing we need now is to be playing Chelsea.

Chelsea are, with Liverpool, joint top of the Premier League form guide, but in many ways are a tougher proposition because their strength is at the back.  They have the stingiest defensive record in the league and for a team like Fulham that’s bad news.

I have mentioned it a number of times but one of our biggest issues has been maintaining any control in the middle of the pitch.  Since Dembele and Diarra were playing together this has been sorely lacking, and we’re left with a sort of broken runaround approach that has been neither fish nor fowl.  Meulensteen broke up Parker and Sidwell but Magath restored them at WBA, but that felt like a backwards step, particularly as Kvist seeemed to have settled in quite well.

Chelsea on the other hand managed quite a coup with the signing of Nemaja Matic, a player who instantly gave them presence in the middle of the pitch and who, I think will probably clinch the league for them.  He’s a sort of arch-spoiler who can play, too.  Fabulous player to compliment the underrated Ramires.

Can we find a way through them?  Can we negate Oscar and Hazard?  Can we get near Oscar and Hazard?

In many ways you can see why Magath has been thinking “direct”. Try to play in a game like this and we’ll be slaughtered.  We’re going to have to reduce it to a rugby match, lower the overall standard, level the playing field.  It might not be pretty but it’ll be a good yardstick as to how much Magath can do and what lengths he might go to.   We match up awfully with Chelsea so anything other than a heavy defeat will be progress.   But of course we need more than that, don’t we?

Check out this weekend’s football odds to see what we might expect.  I’d be surprised if we caused a surprise.

Ryan Tunnicliffe will have his revenge on Seattle

“I’m told that Magath had Tunicliffle and Larnel Cole in to train in the morning, then play 90 minutes in the afternoon and then train again the next morning. Now, I dont expect to hear violins here but let me tell you that that is absolutely unheard of in football and has immediately set those two players against Magath.”

The secret footballer live Q&A

(The secret footballer is thought to be Dave Kitson, a former colleague of Steve Sidwell’s).

Ryan Tunnicliffe has been told he can leave Fulham – just 25 days after joining from Manchester United.

The 21-year-old was brought to Craven Cottage by sacked manager Rene Meulensteen on transfer deadline day.

But new boss Felix Magath has taken the decision to axe the youngster from his first-team plans and will allow him to leave on loan ahead of a permanent summer departure. And Sportsmail understands Larnell Cole, another deadline day signing by Meulensteen, is also leaving Fulham to join MK Dons on loan.

The German took the decision last week following the first few training sessions at his new club.

Tunnicliffe played for Fulham’s Under 21s last week and didn’t even feature in the senior side’s match-day squad for Saturday’s draw against West Bromwich, despite starting the final two games of Meulensteen’s reign.

Magath has been ruthless in his dismantling of Meulensteen’s regime having sacked members of the Dutchman’s backroom team last week including Alan Curbishley, Ray Wilkins, Jonathan Hill and Mick Priest — and Tunnicliffe has become the first squad casualty.

From the Mail yesterday

I thought he’d done quite well, and could be a key player in the next half-decent Fulham team.

Whoscored summary

This is quite revealing, isn’t it?  Whoscored.com takes the numbers from each game and makes a summary.

WHOSCORED

 

To be honest I’m fine with us being more direct but concerned that we lack the people to make this work.  Our defence aren’t all that in possession so it makes every sense to not have them on the ball that much, but this means you have to focus on Holtby and while he had the ball much more than anyone else against WBA this only amounted to 44 passes, of which only 2/3 or so found Fulham players.  I worry about players like this in more aggressive lineups.  We only had the ball for a third of the game, too, which is partly because we went ahead and partly because we didn’t really seem to be overly worried about keeping it. Again, fine, this is a legit approach, especially coupled with what seems to be a huge emphasis on fitness, but are we really equipped to degenerate every game into a scrap, a fight?   Just because the team has no points, it doesn’t mean you need to go all medieval.

Magath knows more about football than I do and will have had to make a lot of quick judgements.  I have these 25 players.  These ones might work in this system, these ones might be able to do this.   On balance I think I have most chance if we play like this, and while I’d prefer different personnel, this is the way I think it can work.   In truth there isn’t time for his methods to properly catch on so we’ll just have to see how astute he is at getting ideas embedded quickly.  From an early look I’m not that convinced, but then I wouldn’t expect to be by now, and really we can’t just Magath until… well, probably November.  By which time the game will be well and truly up.

I just don’t want to see us going down lobbing high balls at Hugo Rodallega.

Stats Create Winners

SONY DSC
Berba at the casino

When you look at how football managers and players are tracked by their stats, we can easily see how their progress with the club is coming along. Stats have always been a way to create winners and push managers to get the best out of their players. They play their part in every sport and every card game you come across where professional players are out there grinding away to improve their performances and increase their value.

Going back to the days when baseball started to use the individual stats of players, it actually changed the way players were traded in the sport. Even when you play cards or gamble, the stats truly make a difference.

Looking at the stats on recently sacked manager Rene Meulensteen, you can see just how seriously people take these statistics: http://cravencottagenewsround.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/a-statistical-look-at-renes-reign/. Here you will see a great report that explains the statistics of various important aspects in the teams overall performance in the league. You can deduce from each element which managers were worth their weight in gold for the club, and which managers were not performing.

The importance of statistics are also something that many poker players ignore in their own game. However, when you consider the money involved in football versus the money involved in your average online or live poker player’s bankroll, that is a low stakes player grinding the felts, then you can understand why there would be no pressure to record stats, but despite there being no pressure, it is pressure that helps you improve. Therefore, those who ignore the statistical elements of their game, business or team, are the ones that will rarely experience growth.

Premier League clubs did not get to where they are now without making sure their managers are being tracked not just by their results, but statistics that correlate to bring an overall break down of how the team performs offensively and defensively. Those stats are then put down to the manager who has been given the responsibility to improve the team. Sacking the manager then becomes no problem when you have that stats justifying the dismissal.

Poker is no different. Sacking a particular play because the stats show a particular weakness in that play is vitally important. This could be a starting hand, pre-flop raise from out of position or a value bet on the river that is commonly not working for a poker player. Cut out a statistically bad play in poker, and the chances of discovering a better play later down the line increases. This is the same in football because when the club cuts out the manager, it aims to hire a better manager.

Learning to play free poker is one of the best ways to begin to understand how stats can actually improve what you do. It takes a lot of extra effort, but as football clubs have proved: when the game is up and the stats show a down turn, it is time to move on and try something else rather than sticking with bad habits because it’s simply easier and less hassle.

balls

Well who knows then?

I don’t mind Meulensteen going. I never warmed to him and thought he was a bit slick from the outset. It sounds like the Chief Executive had the same opinion and decided that enough was enough.

The trick here is that a season is finite. You have 38 games, no more, no less, to determine your future. It took 13 games to remove Martin Jol despite the fact that the team was very clearly in awful shape long before this. This might be an area where statistical analysis could have been useful: as I was pointing out week after week, we were being outshot by about 25 to 8 most weeks which was so calamitously bad that it shouldn’t have been allowed to carry on.

So what, we wasted how many games there? 5? Part of the problem was that Jol got the odd half decent result when he needed it: in retrospect the spectacular away win at Palace did more harm than good, with a crackling atmosphere and two world class goals convincing many that this team had the scope to get better, never mind that Palace were even worse than us at the time and had dominated spells of the game before Kasami’s intervention.

Meulensteen got the chance to try to turn things around but did pretty much what Jol did. It was Jol’s squad in the most part but as has been widely observed, Tony Pulis and Gus Poyet have organised their squads in much less time than Meulensteen took. And really, if we’re going to take two games against the top half in which we rarely saw the ball and jammed a point in total, well maybe we’re all going mad. 12 weeks might not be a long time but in that time span Lord Sugar has selected his Apprentice. Think of it that way! In any case, the 6-0 defeat in Hull could have spelled the end, the 4-1 home defeat to Sunderland should have done, but wins against Norwich and West Ham (since when are we using these as benchmarks for progress?) got him a bit longer, too. That and the nuisance of the January transfer window, in which a manager must be ‘backed’ if he is to then thrive.

If both managers had 5 matches too long then that’s 10 games wasted and that’s probably the season gone.

Some of this must be at the feet of the board. Not sacking Jol was in retrospect a huge blunder, but the ‘wait and see’ non-decision over Meulensteen and the embarrassment that has been Curbishley and Wilkins has perhaps even trumped it. As recently as the end of December, Fulham must have been buttering up these experience football men, telling them how their experience and know how could make the difference. Now, in mid February, the opposite is true. The club just wants them to go away.

This is football so usual rules of common sense don’t always apply, but goodness me. Is succession planning part of the board’s remit? Not by the looks of things.

This season has been a shambles from top to bottom. The sterling work with the youth sides should be a highlight but is being overshadowed by the carnage at first team level. The club needs to take a step back, have a look at what it wants to achieve and act sensibly to a 5 year plan that might include relegation or might not. If we act rationally then a talented squad can rebound quickly; if we act randomly and changing direction every three months we have no hope.

One way of looking at all of this

A second take, further to a good chat on Twitter with various leading minds.

Fulham are basically relegated. People are predicting this, the Dechtech predictor, which is usually quite good, has Norwich, Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham as a fairly clear bottom four. Goal difference is more than a bit damning. William Hill has us 4/11 on (favourites) to go (http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb). We’re in all kinds of trouble.

In that sense, what do we have to lose? Plan F or whatever we decided we were up to in the earlier post really hasn’t shown the signs of progress that Crystal Palace’s rescue remedy, or Sunderland’s escape plan, had. If you are feeling generous, there is just about time for a new manager to come in and sort out this mess. Maybe in that sense Felix Magath is the right man at the right time. (If you want to go all gooey, in one sense we now have a former Bayern Munich manager and a former Manchester United first team coach).

The “why not?” is because it doesn’t feel right; the “why?” is because a manager of real pedigree was up for this challenge.

In that sense it’s a reasonable but bold move.

There’s much to be said for not rocking the boat, and there may be fallout and unintended consequences here, but controlled risks are what success is all about (so I hear).  Maybe Fulham just saved their season.

UPDATE (okay, Rene is off then):
“I am very, very surprised, very disappointed, very frustrated as well, because the job that I stepped into was one that took me by surprise from the start, because that was not anticipated with Martin Jol leaving and obviously you then have to step into situation which is not the best. You need to try and make things better as soon as you can, but you’re playing with a deck of cards that are not yours. I haven’t really been given any time to make that work. I thought the performance against Manchester United and Liverpool were very, very good and it was unfortunate that we did not pick up the points that we deserved.
“I’ve not been told anything. I knew the owners were freaking out and panicking about the fact that Fulham could get relegated, but they’ve had that sort of attitude already 10 games back.
“They’ve hit the panic button on emotions of fear, but hey-ho, that’s what happens in football. It’s not always fair.”

Fulham thrashing around, looking for an answer

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Too late to the first fire, too early to the second.  This is no way to run a… fire department.  (We’re mixing our metaphors before we’ve even begun. Hold on tight.  This could get iffy).

Alright. So Martin Jol does bad things.  The club is in disarray. Rene Meulensteen comes in with various new ideas that he tries out in turn, as is his right (Roy did the same, remember? Eddie Johnson started against Everton in the run-in.)  He gets some things right, draws a line in the sand where ‘flair’ players are concerned, and makes a conscious effort to make the team younger.

Then, when the team finally looks like it might be his, when he’s finally starting to win this observer over (honestly I didn’t like him at all until Manchester United), when the team looks like it might be worth something next season (even in the Championship), this.

Meulensteen has done a lot right. It took time, but he realised that the Sidwell/Parker ‘engine room’ was a busted flush.  He slaughtered the sacred cow and banished Parker to the bench (sorry, I’m not even trying to self-edit here).  He has whopped another sacred cow on the head and dropped Brede Hangeland, which might or might not be reasonable but at least shows some guts.  He has entrusted young Dan Burn with a typically “experienced” role and Burn has done very well, more or less.   He has shown us a side to Kieron Richardson that we didn’t know existed.  He has been very astute with his acquisitions: I love what I’m seeing in Ryan Tunnicliffe, who looks very mature for such a young player.  William Kvist is a dream for a fan like me. I love players like him.  EVEN DARREN BENT IS SHOWING SIGNS OF LIFE.

No, we are not on an upswing in the way you might normally describe an upswing but we appear to have left behind our “calamity Fulham” period and the future is something we are not afraid of.  That is Rene’s doing (or Ray’s and Alan’s – how could we ever know?).

Wolfgang Felix Magath (seen here in his Villa days*).

mcgrath

 

*I know!

He’s supposedly good at rescuing struggling teams.  He’s supposedly all about fitness, hard work and discipline (really). He’s supposedly extremely good.   Well, fabulous.  This is quite a coup.  A boon, even. But…

And, Meulensteen may apparently be staying as first team coach, which amounts to something of a dream team if it’s true.   But…

seth

 

It’s like we’re a moth, and OOOH, THE LIGHT IS ON, LET’S GO OVER THERE!!!!  OOOH ANOTHER LIGHT, OVER THERE!  And on and on and on.  We had a bad plan to start with (Jol), plan B was to help Jol with Meulensteen, then the Jol bit was dropped, then at some point the two horsemen of the Champsionship (tish-boom!) arrived (Wilkins and Curbishley), and that’s either plan C, D or E, and now we think that no, despite Wilkins’ fine record as a number 2, despite Curbishley’s vast knowledge of managing in English football, regardless of Rene’s previous work with Cristiano Ronaldo on the training ground, THAT’S NOT ENOUGH and now we have “F Plan”, which may be the best idea anyone’s ever had but there’s bugger all time to find out now.  The team might adapt to Magath exceedingly quickly and coast through the remainder of the season, in which case I take everything back, but…

No, maybe that’s right. Maybe desperate times do call for desperate measures.  They haven’t done something really ridiculous, Magath is a good manager and as long as he doesn’t break the youngsters this doesn’t have to derail anything.  It’s just so weird.  Fulham don’t tend to do things like this.   I think that’s it: this may very well be the right thing to do, but it’s happening in a way that makes it look like the very wrong thing to do.  I think there’s a story about a giant wildfire and the cleverest fireman’s response was not to run away, but to start his own fire in the probable path of the incoming one.   It looked like utter madness but of course the deliberate fire burned all the things that could be burned and in so doing prevented the big fire from spreading.  Something like that.

Fulham 2-3 Liverpool

1376780789_nba_a_lebron1_576

 

What did you think?  To me, the only way to look at it is that we had two games where we thought we’d get nothing and we nearly drew ‘em both.  That’s not bad.

+

We look like a team

The midfield looks fabulous, relatively speaking

There’s nobody in there under-performing now – not really

-

At some point we need to get results and every game that goes by is another step nearer the Championship

Bit of a bummer overall

Silly tackle at the end.  Looked like a tired tackle, which is probably excusable after 180+ very competitive minutes.  Oh well.

Manchester Utd 2-2 Fulham

My sense is that performances like that don’t just happen. Fulham, I think, realised that an intergalactic thrashing was on the cards unless they worked out some kind of plan, and in so doing reminded us (as if we needed reminding) what’s been missing all season.  It’s too simple to suggest that the players haven’t had instructions or plans all year but let’s be honest, they’ve certainly played with, er, freedom, so yesterday’s performance was encouraging not just on the basis of the result, but because the team played like a team with an idea of what it was trying to do.  It could have resulted in a 7-1 thrashing as well, but for once we got out with some dignity. That’s terrific.

The selection:

Stek-Riether-Heitinga-Burn-Riise-Tunnicliffe-Sidwell-Kvist-Richardson-Holtby-Tankovic

tactics

The clever bits, as best I saw it:

Riether stopped this ridiculous bombing on that has been causing us so much danger lately and stayed in a very disciplined tucked in right-back role. He did pretty well.

Ryan Tunnicliffe then basically doubled up. It was a selfless display on his debut – he didn’t do much flashy, but he did a fabulous job for the team and between them they shut down the left flank (obviously United poured in 300 crosses but more or less on our terms).

On the other flank Kieron Richarson has clearly had a good, encouraging pep talk. Words to the effect of “this one’s all about you, Kieron. You are our outlet, our drive, our counter-attack.” He was fabulous, making some runs that defied belief. He could have scored, maybe should have scored, but contributed so much besides that it almost seems churlish to bring this up. He was at it again in the last minute when we equalised. I thought he was man-of-the match.

The defensive pairing was freshened up with John Heitinga, but it was Brede Hangeland, not Dan Burn, who made way. Heitinga looked like someoen who had played in a world cup final and his incisiveness and snap showed us a bit of what we’ve been missing. Burn had the game of his life, and while United played into his hands, you were waiting for the barrage to cause a mistake but it never did.

Scott Parker made way for William Kvist. We criticise Steve Sidwell but to his eternal credit he does have this eye for goal. Sidwell is the better player but his immobility is starting to be an issue, and in a game like this it felt like Kvist was the better option. Kvist is basically Etuhu 2.0, doing lots of unheralded work that makes the team better. Sidwell was the chief recipient of this and was able to get up and down as he likes to. His run for the goal was splendid.

Holtby-Tankovic(Bent) was good, too. I imagine the half time switch could have been pre-ordained: Tankovic did very well in the first half, particularly when he set up Richardson’s chance and pulled the centre backs from the middle of the pitch for Sidwell to run into (good spot, Frankie Taylor). Bent’s menace was less tangible but the whole idea of him coming to the club was to gobble up chances when they arise, and let’s face it, he’s been very disappointing. But he worked very hard today, often dropping into midfield leaving Holtby further up (presumably as a fulcrum for counter-attacks, which makes a lot of sense) when we didn’t have the ball. I was convinced he was going to miss with the final header but despite the occasion and everyone flying around him, he held his nerve and scored. Holtby was terrific but I think we knew he would be. The pass for the goal was sublime and his all around play is that of someone who has “big things” ahead of him. I only hope we can stay up and perhaps have a chance of hanging onto him.

Overall it felt like Fulham were finally running out of patience with what has failed all along and looking to the new, fresh, future Fulham to sort out this ungodly mess. We need to remind ourselves that this was a freak of a result – we won’t be parking the bus like that again – but if much of our problem has been psychological lately then this kind of thing can’t help but make a big difference. Mitroglou up front and a bit of luck here and there could see us back in the escape mix. The nice thing is that we’ve never seemed to have it in us to counter attack or to break at pace but we did it yesterday, which in turn suggests possibilities we didn’t know existed for this team. Maybe there is hope after all.

Fulham 0-1 Sheffield UTD AET

It’s the hope…

In this dirty toilet bowl of a season Fulham at least had the FA Cup, a home tie against a struggling league 1 side, another nice looking fixture booked for the next round, but no, we blew it.

It shows how football clubs are organisms, not merely 11 names on paper. Meulensteen named a perfectly reasonable starting XI but nobody could impose themselves on Sheffield United, nobody could rise above it all, nobody deserved anything. Whatever it is that has got to the players has got to all of them.

It’s not the players who left, it’s not the players who are still here. It’s not a lack of fight, because you probably won’t get two more determined footballers than Dempsey and Parker, who both started last night. It’s a fundamentally rotten core that is impossible to pin down and which feels impossible to exorcise.

Not that the current coaching staff seem to have done their bit either. Meulensteen is a skills coach, an attacking coach, and it is tempting to imagine the players spending all their days at Motspur Park watching videos of “Matthew Le Tissier – Unbelievable!”. Certainly nobody is worrying too much about defensive shape or attacking tempo, or if they are, they’re either teaching it badly or the players are stupid. Lee Dixon in the ITV studio managed to sum Fulham up in about two minutes: bad defending, where opponents get space where they shouldn’t get space, and languid, aimless attacking, in which no player injects tempo and nobody seems to have thought about what they might do before they do it.

True, vision is not something that can be easily expressed against a packed defence on a horrible February night, but someone somewhere might have had the guile to achieve something. But no, no, horribly no.

We had 210 minutes to beat this team and all we managed was a goal from Hugo Rodallega.

The United winner was unpredictable only in its lateness – I’m sure we all knew that a deflection or an own goal or a concession from a corner was coming, and with it that gut punch emptiness that says “oh”. As it was, there was no time to recover, Clint “never go back” Dempsey standing aside and allowing his man the freedom of Craven Cottage to stoop and head home.

I remember another goal conceded late in extra time to end a cup run. How times have changed.

Examining our central midfielders

Apologies if you hated my past post but I want to revist the +/- stat with regards to our four main central midfielders. Again, this stat isn’t a great indicator of causation, but correlation. It also doesn’t occur in a vacuum, as the entire team and certain dynamics of the sport play a hand in the metric. But, along with other indicators, I found it to be quite instructive, as seen below. So consider it more an idea board then a didactic study.

I left out wingers as I wanted to keep the scope on what we’re all in agreement is our main problem area: the center of midfield; particularly the Parker/Sidwell axis. StatsBomb recently did an amazing (and horrifying) job at comparing those two and Kasami to Barca’s Xavi, Busquets, and Iniesta. This is very much like comparing a Hank Williams or George Jones song to a Blake Shelton tune, but what can you do. I also broke up the stats by each manager to see if there’s any differences.

Sidwell

GF GA +/- +/- pG Apps
Jol 10 22 -12 -0.92 13
Rene 10 29 -19 -1.73 11
Total 20 51 -31 -1.29 24

It may seem like Sidwell has regressed under Rene (if “Sidwell” and “regressing” is somehow possible), but 6 of the 29 GA came in that Hull City match. Nonetheless our opponents have scored >3 goals a whopping FIVE times since Rene has taken over and Sidwell is on the pitch.

Parker

GF GA +/- +/- pG Apps
Jol 8 22 -14 -1.27 11
Rene 12 21 -9 -0.90 10
Total 20 43 -23 -1.10 21

Very similar to Sidwell, with the only visible difference is he was fortunate enough to escape that 6-0 Hull City thrashing. Like with Sascha Reither, there certainly seems to be a visceral notion that Parker belongs in the side. But beyond high interception and tackling rates, which as StatsBomb said is most likely down to the oppositions always with the ball/running at him…what are the justifications exactly?

Kasami

GF GA +/- +/- pG Apps
Jol 12 22 -10 -0.83 12
Rene 5 18 -13 -1.30 10
Total 17 40 -23 -1.05 22

This is where it starts to get interesting. Rene’s been using Kasami as a sub for the majority of his league reign–only 3 starts in his 10 games under Rene compared to 11 starts under Jol. This explains why the GF is way down but the GA still quite high. But, considering Fulham scored three goals in the entire month of January, it’s perplexing why he only averaged 15 minutes last month.

Karagounis

GF GA +/- +/- pG Apps
Jol 3 4 -1 -0.17 6
Rene 6 10 -4 -0.80 5
Total 9 14 -5 -0.45 11

I didn’t include Boateng because he had such a small sample size, but thought it would be interesting to see what Karagounis has done with ever-so-slightly more play time. Each manager has treated Karagounis differently: Jol used him as a sub for 5 of his 6 appearances; Rene started him in all his 5 appearances (albeit none since Hull City in December). But if we were to take away that Hull City game, we’d see his +/- to be fairly respectable, despite the small sample size–unlike if we subtracted result from Sidwell’s stats, they’d still be terrible. I’m not sure why Kara hasn’t been playing (hooray opaqueness!), but like Kasami, it’s clear he’s a necessary dynamic that’s being under-utilized.

No one needs to opine how the Parker/Sidwell duo has proved to be detrimental. But the idea behind these stats further reinforce such a notion, and that stems from the fact the two are always playing. Whether it’s down to them or other factors, it certainly feels like we’re at the point where, when we see both in the starting XI, much like seeing a bad #5 pitcher start, we’re going to lose.

I’d argue it’s not one part of the combination that needs to be replaced, it’s the entire recipe. Curious to know your thoughts as well.

Unseemly begging

coversmalljpg2smallcover

smalcover.jpg

Sorry, this will come across all wrong, but with one income and two small children, and it being January, we’ve… well put it this way, the well is dry.

So if you enjoy the website then I know you’ll enjoy the Fulham Review books we made over the years, which have insightful match reports, and loads of essays by terrific writers, all about the club.  Ideal toilet reading!

I have copies of the 08/09 season book (when we qualified for Europe), the 10/11 book (Hughes’ season, which wasn’t great, but I think overall it was the best of the books) and 06/07, the Coleman season, which was the first one we did. I have a single spare copy of the Hamburg Europa League book which I guess I could sell if anyone wants it. Maybe £10 to reflect the fact that it’s the very last one.

If you always meant to have a look at the books, please consider doing so now. Just go to www.godsfoot.com and order a back issue, saying which you want on the paypal notes field.  (note that the one we have on display there is sold out).

Thank you so much!
Rich

Fulham downed by Saints

If we weren’t sure before we are now. Fulham are done.

The folly of appointing a skills coach in a team that can’t defend becomes more and more apparent. As Tony Pulis is showing at Palace, getting a team organised doesn’t take that long. But here Fulham were getting torn apart, again, and clearly it isn’t happening. Meulensteen may have improved things slightly but in many areas he appears to be just hoping for the best, and it isn’t working.

Sascha Riether’s area was the source of much of the damage, and if we forgive him for being an attacking fullback we can’t forgive a system that doesn’t fill in for him. Whatever happened to covering? Is this team above that kind of work? Or does it simply not have the legs?

The rot goes on. The online scapegoats have all gone (to Milan, Valencia, Monaco and PSV, from the bottom of the table premier league club – hmmmm!!! – maybe, just maybe, the wrong players have left) but stil we lose badly. It doesn’t really matter who plays, they all fall down in the usual fashion.

No centre-back pairing can survive not having full-backs or having an iffy midfield in front of it, so for Senderos and Amorebieta read Burn and Hangeland or Hughes and Senderos or whatever other combination you want (welcome, John Heitinga!). Doesn’t make any difference. The constants in this team are Riether, Parker and Sidwell, which either makes them the only three good players we have or the only constants in a historically awful Fulham team, and draw your own conclusions from that.

On the plus side, new man William Kvist (Zonal Marking tweeted after the game that he had expected Kvist to replace Sidwell or Parker, not to join them) played well and was demonstrably organising those around him, trying to cajole Parker and Sidwell into the right areas even if it took a number of arms-out shouts to get them to pay attention. Lewis Holtby took a while to get into the game but soon impressed with his energy, invention and ability. If the other new signings can add similar vim then who knows? But it’s unlikely, isn’t it?

Two young lads from United are valuable in giving the team half a shot at getting younger. A record signing from the Greek league sounds like another disaster waiting to happen, but we must reserve judgement and content ourselves that even if he is awful, he will be better than Darren Bent (who missed the game’s pivotal chances, and if Bent isn’t putting away chances – he clearly isn’t – he has no business being on the pitch).

Onwards and downwards.

Defeat at Swansea for useless Fulham

If you think about the game in a vacuum it’s just a fairly bog standard away defeat: compete for much of the game, eventually sink when the pressure gets too much.

Of course this game isn’t a one off, but represents one of a terrible series of results in which Fulham, despite being surrounded by legions of equally dire teams, are thoroughly unable to put anything together. It still feels like the end of the road.

We can say the defeat was slightly unlucky but I can’t have been the only person who expected Jonjo Shelvey to eventually find his range. As has been the case for much of the season, the edge of our area was very much a peaceful no-man’s land, and if Shelvey’s goal took a couple of pings off Fulham defenders on the way in, well maybe someone should have been closer to the player when he shot? Harsh? Maybe, but that’s the difference isn’t it? You can’t charge down all shots from 20 yards but against that, you can charge down some.

Meanwhile, we again offered little going the other way. The 4-3-3 that seemed to have gained some traction has been sacrificed to accommodate various “good ideas” and here we are again looking terrible.

If the Hangeland Burn centre-back pairing was worth going to for psychological relief as much as anything, the same might be said of our forward line. A confident Marcello Trotta, no hoper though wise heads say he is, might still offer more vim than a demoralised Berbatov. Meanwhile, Darren Bent is thoroughly reinventing the notion of what it is to be a false 9. There is no point playing these people anymore.

There’s nothing much to say is there? Fulham are like one of those “Go Compare!” adverts: you see them once a week, you don’t like what you see, then there it is again. They come up with a bright idea to fix it and make it less annoying but it is what it is: it’s still an advert for Go Compare.

Downwards we go.

Sympathy for the board

I have some sympathy for the powers that be at Fulham.  Here are a few reasons why:

 

1)     We need a lot of improvements.  Like five good players.  You’re not going to find those players now at a price we can afford.  Good players cost at least 10m and if we spend that we expect them to play like Ronaldo. And we need a few of them.

2)     Finding the right player a bit down the scale isn’t easy.  I mean, everyone knows who the superstars are.  Everyone knows who the next big things are.  When you’re shopping at our level nobody’s perfect and while of course good players are bought at <10m, I think it’s probably a bit harder to find consensus internally, find money, get a bid accepted, then get the deal done.

3)     Because why’s this player going to come to Fulham?  We’re threatened by relegation.  The thing is money, of course, and I suspect that’s why we nearly landed Defour from Porto, who may have got a nice payrise despite leaving a Champions League club.

4)     But there aren’t that many players who are young, better than what we have, clearly good players (e.g. not risks), and who are available.  There just aren’t.

5)     This probably goes a long way to explaining why we always do what we do.  Low risk known quantities are available and cheaper so it’s what we end up with.

6)     I doubt very much that these are Plan A, ever.  But if we want a CM and have a list of 5, I bet often the option 5 is the safe, last resort player, and I bet we frequently get that player (over the years I mean).

7)     I suspect they’re trying to be more careful than ever now, given how previous recruitment has gone.

8)     This will probably be complicated by what appears to be a ‘several – not necessarily too many – cooks’ scenario.

9)     Wilkins, Curbs and Rene all probably have different ideas.  When you have committees it’s harder to please everyone.

10)  It might very well lead to inertia.

11)  Added to which, football is football.  In the real world we all think “if I have to get something done in January I start in December so that there’s no silly rush at the deadline” but the way agents, players and clubs are all tied to this silly window means you can’t very well just say “we want Steve Striker, pay them 5m in December and sign him January 1st” because if it was that simple teams would do it.  Contrary to the received wisdom our leadership team isn’t stupid – there’s a reason they spend hours on end working around the clock in January.  As Morrissey said: these things take time.

12)  Added to which, you’re not just trying to buy, you need to sell to clear wage money/squad places.

13)  I bet lots of teams are desperate for Fulham players at the moment, eh?

14)  So it’s tricky isn’t it?

15)  Our best resource is still probably the youth team.  Not just in terms of players but in terms of getting things done.  If we want a Tom Cleverly (to name a stupid made up rumour) we have more chance of getting this done if we send Manchester United a coveted young player.  We do have coveted young players at the moment and it’s arguable that they might be most useful to us in swap deals.  This is very American in outlook – it doesn’t really happen here, does it? – but might be the key to getting the kind of talent we’re so desperate for.  There is no tomorrow for a lot of Fulham’s staff: get 2014 wrong and they’re looking for a new job.

Joy for Hugo Rodallega

hr

 

I was in and out yesterday but heard the game on the radio.

 

I thought the team selection was spot on: a good blend of abilities, personalities and seniority.

 

In some ways the red card probably went against us.  I know people will say “we couldn’t beat 10 men from down the leagues” but these days red cards can focus the minds and it probably made United feel happy with their “what we have we hold” approach, making it even harder for us to find a way through.

 

It’s something we’ve talked about a bit in the past but if a team is well organised and can’t be drawn out then it can be mighty hard to get through them.  Then we’ll see stats like we saw yesterday: ¾ of possession, not much penetration.  Yeah, you’d hope that class would tell in the end and if United had had 11 I suspect we’d have found a way through, but there we are.

 

We were away from home in bad weather with a team of kids and reserves, against a team who would have seen this as a great chance to kick start their season.  I think a draw is nothing to moan about and seems entirely reasonable.  Yes, a certain disappointing forward might have won it at the end but I think we’re learning that the certain disappointing forward isn’t quite as advertised (we once bought something off ebay for Stanley: it was described “as new” but certainly wasn’t, being broken in some places and covered in food.  We complained, heard nothing, then sent it back and ebay gave us a refund. Would that such things were possible with broken centre-forwards).

 

We’ll win the replay and then have a nice home draw against a team from a lower division.  This season has been many things but the cup is opening up for us.

Fulham in for Danny Rose

Fulham in for Spurs’ Danny Rose

In the 2012 Olympics GB manager Stuart Pearce – a former left-back – came to the conclusion that Ryan Bertrand, Neil Taylor and Danny Rose were all too good to leave out of his team. That they are all left-backs didn’t trouble Stuart: he would fit them in regardless. So Taylor played right back, Rose played in midfield, and Bertrand got to be the round peg. (Had one-time left-back Gareth Bale not taken himself out of the squad Stuart could have really gone nuts with this concept).

Anyway, it didn’t work that well.

Hmmm. Have you noticed what I’ve noticed?

Fulham started the window after Ryan Bertrand.

We’re now in for Neil Taylor.

You can bet your life that Danny Rose is next on the list.

No?  Well let’s see, shall we?

In depth scouting: Neil Taylor

Here is another player Fulham have been linked with.

nt2 nt4

The key question: does Neil Taylor have the stomach for a relegation battle?

Mixed thoughts:

On the one hand, he was sent off after 53 seconds in a Championship semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

This kind of recklessness under pressure is the last thing Fulham need.

However, Neil may have learned from this. In which case it counts as valuable experience.

On the other, Neil has taken on Mount Olympus and triumphed, having featured in Team GB’s famous 2012 Men’s XI which got by Senegal, UAE and Uruguay before falling to South Korea on penalties. Neil was one of the three left backs Stuart Pearce selected in the first game against Senegal.

teamgb

Does Neil Taylor have the stomach for a relegation battle. YES, YES HE DOES.

Steven Defour, master of disguise

Fulham linked with Belgian midfielder who has the ability to look different under different circumstances.

My initial intention had been to see if I could understand whether he had the stomach for a relegation battle, but I think these pictures answer that question: he has the stomach for a relegation battle.

APPROVED

sd2 sd3 sd4 sd5

A relegation dog fight

I wonder how many teams have cemented their own relegation by deciding that “now is the time for fighters”.

We see this everywhere now. Alan Shearer will talk about Fulham and declare that “now is the time for fighters”, noting in due course that he’s not sure that the likes of Dimitar Berbatov “have the stomach” for a relegation battle.

There’s something to this: the best football teams combine great skill with absolute commitment and this gives them an edge over other teams who might lack either.

But at the bottom it’s not enough to just decide that sleeves need rolling up. You actually need to get better at football.

We have already jettisoned the sleeves down Bryan Ruiz and are likely to see the laid back Dimitar Berbatov on his way, too.

In their stead the fans want people who know they are in a “dog fight” who will scrap for every last point.

In all these situations it’s useful to think: “what would Roy do?”

He would tell Dimitar Berbatov what is expected of him, Berbatov would do it, and eventually this would prove fruitful.

It’s easy to forget that before Hodgson arrived, Danny Murphy was a fairly marginal figure. Hodgson realised that if he was to pull of the survival trick he needed quality above all else, and that meant making sure that the team ran through Murphy. Hodgson got the defence organised as priority #1, brought in some players he knew, and set about turning things around.

Fulham need to get better. It’s about effort but more than that it’s about coaching and structure.

There is some evidence that we’re on the right track. By all accounts the defence looked halfway organised against Arsenal, and we’d seen some suggestion of same in the preceding games. Hodgson did a lot of work with our attack during the great escape, too, particularly emphasising crossing (and a number of goals came from crosses). So it’s about attitude, of course it is, but that’s secondary to having a coherent approach to playing football. The players need to be capable of buying into this and executing instructions, and we don’t know how this applies or doesn’t apply to the squad we have now, but please, let’s not get bogged down in all this scrapping for points rubbish. There’s so much more to it than that.

2-0 defeat at Arsenal

Another day another defeat.  I didn’t see it again, this time being at a showing of Walt Disney’s Frozen in Swindon’s Empire cinema (you didn’t know Swindon had an empire did you?), in which two young princesses are separated by a freak incident in which one freezes everything she touches and therefore harms the other, almost fatally.  To stop it happening again they are kept apart. When they come of age and are thrust into positions of responsibility they have very different world views: the one who freezes people is full of guilt and worried about being seen by people. She wants to hide away. The other, who doesn’t know any of this background, has felt very lonely and wants to see the world.  There’s a lot of singing and all of this is quite well done and some of the visuals are spectacular, particularly with ice palaces and whatnot, and in the end you feel that you’ve seen something that’s not entirely perfect but which will probably be enduring. The power of love, etc. Stanley enjoyed it a lot, which was the main thing, but so did I and so did my dad. 

 

Back in London Fulham lost 2-0, which is probably a good result all things considered.  It’s interesting that a young player can slot in and not only survive but actually do well.  It is possible.  I know that the test of footballers is over 38 games, and that playing well for even four games in five is probably insufficient, so we won’t know what Dan Burn is made of for some time yet, but AT LEAST HE GOT THE CHANCE.

 

In other news, have you seen that we only have one single draw this season?

 

I wonder about this.  A draw is in many ways a sign that you have some sort of something about you.  They can be frustrating but there’s definitely something to be said for being able to get something out of games.  We are in a curious sort of all or nothing season, where the team has been unable to salvage points from close matches. Another handful of points would make the world of difference to our season but we just haven’t grasped them.  It’s another damning indictment on how bad we’ve been. 

 

If the BBC predictor tells us anything it’s that fans generally over-estimate their own team.  Various models (including my own) pitched Fulham’s likely end point at around 35-36 which will mean we’re still right in “it”.  Of course losing at Arsenal isn’t a terrible thing but it’s another game gone by.  

Running out of steam

Much of this season has been about pointing fingers. Indeed, one of the reasons I started writing again was that an awful lot of the online discussion revolved around how bad our attackers were and how the likes of Dimitar Berbatov were leading us to relegation.   I argued at the time that a bigger problem was in our defence and devoted a fair bit of energy here to pointing that out. (I concede of course that our attack isn’t very good either but the defence felt like it ought to have been easier to fix).

Anyway, some more interesting things have been written on the internet this week.

 In one, Michael Cox notes that defending is very much a team discipline.  We knew this of course, but his points are as ever, persuasively put.  It’s one reason why I very much doubt that Brede Hangeland’s return is much more than a psychological boost: he was looking pretty iffy before he got injured, too (although maybe that’s because he was already injured. That could be it).

That’s not to say that defending isn’t important or shouldn’t be celebrated, however, though defending is fundamentally more of a collective task. Superb defending isn’t about outstanding individual contributions; it’s about teamwork, organisation and positional discipline.

You cannot solve the Premier League’s worst defence by introducing the world’s best defender — there would still be positional problems and disorganisation elsewhere in the back four. However, transplant Cristiano Ronaldo into the league’s worst attack and things would transform overnight. Ronaldo has the individual capacity to dominate games, create and score goals and to occupy multiple defenders thus creating space for others. His performance against Sweden, for example, was just remarkable — he completely dominated the game.

 The other is by the Guardian’s Sean Ingle and concerns the full-back position.  I’ve said it before but we used to sit in the Riverside by the Hammersmith End penalty box and would frequently look up to see a John Arne Riise run not being made.  The space was there, the opportunity was there, but John wasn’t.

The additional physical demands are clear from Prozone’s data. In 2003-04 Premier League full-backs made an average of 29.5 sprints – any movement greater than seven metres a second – over a game. This season that figure is exactly 50. A decade ago the average recovery time for a full-back between high-intensity activities – any movement greater than 5.5m/s, or a three-quarters speed run – was 56.4sec. Now it is 40.4sec.

As Prozone’s Omar Chaudhuri points out, no other position in the last 10 years can match full-backs’ percentage increase in high-intensity activities or sprints. “The increase in their physical demands has been above and beyond the increased demands of the Premier League as a whole,” he adds. “And full‑backs continue to cover more ground than any other position except wide midfielders.”

Anyway, given the points made in Sean’s article, you do wonder about the wisdom of fielding two 30+ full-backs.  True, Riether’s a good athlete, but even so.

Killing of a flash boy: Ruiz leaves to PSV

Ruiz to PSV.  I’m sure that video’s right out of context but seems to resonate to a degree, beyond just being part of Suede’s Great Run of Amazing B Sides.  If you missed it, my emotional send off to Bryan was (and still is) here.

Anyway, I didn’t see the game last night. As you know, my season ticket was not renewed when we left London so I’m on streams like the rest of you. Last night our internet wasn’t working so that was that.

It’s funny how withdrawal makes things less real. I have never seen the team play under this manager. I haven’t seen any of the youngsters we’re all so excited about.  But it’s nice they’re worming their way into the picture.  3-0 Cup wins don’t come along every day, do they?

Time to start over

This team’s done. It’s like a diseased tree or something. It just needs cutting down.

You can blame Stockdale or the defence or whatever but ultimately the attack’s rubbish and the defence is rubbish and even if sometimes they’re not the results keep on going horribly against us. It’s not just like the odd unlucky defeat either: we lost 4-1 at home to Sunderland. 6-0 at Hull.

Serious investment in January? I wouldn’t bother.  If you can find someone who’s young, talented, and might be part of the next good Fulham team, by all means snap them up. Ryan Bertrand, for example.  But otherwise just leave it.  Sell what you can while you’re at it.

Honestly, start again. Sell everyone. Recall Dan burn again. Call up Kerim Frei and ask him to come back.  Field 17 XIs where the oldest player is 24.  See who might have a future.  Give us a glimpse of what this club might be.  Stop papering over the cracks; it isn’t working.

There’s just no point to anyone out there at the moment.

Stockdale has been hard done by in his time at Fulham but as many of us have decided, he’s not really a Plan A.  Stekelenberg doesn’t look that way either but either will probably suffice for now. The problems aren’t here, really.

I still don’t think Riether’s any good.  It’s one of those things: everyone rates him but my sense is that Fulham have not looked much of a team since he became our right back. Sacrilege maybe, but there we are.

I don’t know about our centre-back options, except that they’re all presumably so traumatised by what they’ve been through this season that whatever quality they may have is now well and truly buried.   Let’s start again.  Let’s try Dan Burn and Brede Hangeland and work with that.

Left back…  look, I was impressed with Riise’s return but like many of his colleagues he’s old and not elite.  I think Danny Murphy kept going a while because he was very very good and got to play a role that worked for him.  Riise’s not at Murphy’s level and it just feels like his famous days are well behind him, that we’re getting a recognisable version, which we feel we ought to be happy with, but which is dangerous for exactly this reason: you think you have John Arne Riise because it looks a lot like the bloke who won all that, but he’s 20% worse than he was here, 20% worse there, and in the end is that a workable full-back?

Scott Parker can stay. He’ll lead the youth revolution.  The Riise comment probably applies to him as well but he gets a pass for being so convincing an imitation of his former self.

Sidwell’s making himself undroppable with all these goals but ultimately this is another thing that the management might ultimately have to swat aside in their analysis.  I am chuffed for Steve but he’s not going to be a part of the next good Fulham team and might be useful to another team.

What did Clint Dempsey do?  Have I talked about pale imitations of former selves?  If Bryan Ruiz is a luxury we can’t afford then so is a rehab trip down memory lane for a player who is A) my favourite Fulham player and B) someone who didn’t stand out in MLS this year.

Taraabt is probably another who can stay.  If Rene can harness these talents then maybe he’s a keeper. He’s young.

Damien Duff.  Is he interested in coaching?  IF so let him work with the younguns.  I love Duff, I really do. But.  Well I’ve said it a few times haven’t I?

Sell Berbatov somewhere.  None of this mess is his fault, of course, but we’re starting again aren’t we?  He might make money for the club.

Get back to 4-3-3.  We hashed this out on Twitter earlier, and while I think Dejagah’s as overrated as anyone, I understand that if we’re to put out an XI of dynamic players he probably has to be in there.   Try that thing that worked: Dejagah, Taraabt, Kacaniklic (who I think starts all games now to see what he can do. Pointless to keep selecting him, dropping him, selecting him, dropping him… ) Use three midfielders, Parker, Chris David, and Sidwell until we indentify someone who can do a job in his stead.  

Someone will point out that we’re not in the relegation zone.  Whatever.  We’re dead one way or another.  It’s time to start again.

Goodbye, Bryan

A few books have actually made a tangible contribution to my life. John Updike’s Rabbit series made me appreciate that I wasn’t the only idiot in the world and set in motion some quite important events for me.

But well before that it was “The Silence of the Lambs” that really shaped my life.

I once went on a school trip to Scotland and took the book with me. On this trip a number of curious things happened to me and I won’t go into them here, but the takeout is that I read Silence of the Lambs and decided I liked the idea of becoming a serial killer hunter like Jack Graham and his FBI people.

This lead to the discovery of psychology as a thing. I went to the University of Surrey where I learned all about psychology. I didn’t become an offender profiler at all in the end but I did meet the girl who would go on to be the mother of my children so that was good. All because of the Silence of the Lambs.

So? Well at the end of the book Hannibal Lecter calls Clarice Starling:

Dr. Lecter: [on telephone] Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?
Clarice: Dr. Lecter?
Dr. Lecter: Don’t bother with a trace, I won’t be on long enough.
Clarice: Where are you?
Dr. Lecter: I have no plans to call on you, Clarice. The world’s more interesting with you in it. So you take care now to extend me the same courtesy.
Clarice: You know I can’t make that promise.
Dr. Lecter: I do wish we could chat longer, but … [eyeing Dr. Chilton] I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.
Clarice: Dr. Lecter? … Dr. Lecter? … Dr. Lecter? … Dr. Lecter? …

That’s what I felt about Bryan Ruiz. The world’s more interesting with him in it. Ruiz was a lot better than given credit for but let’s face it, the vulnerability was part of the appeal. You don’t worry about John Arne Riise; you don’t empathise with Giorgios Karagounis; you don’t worry whether Scott Parker’s feeling okay today. But when Bryan Ruiz plays for Fulham I’m desperate for him to do well. You see that face, a mixture of shock and innocence, and you worry that he’s not quite cut out for the hurly burly neanderthalism of English football.

br1

The game wore him down. In the end he worked hard – people said he didn’t but he did – just not efficiently. Ruiz’s answer to not being in the game was to run around in big loping circles, which just served to keep him on the periphery. He didn’t have the confidence to stand there, to let the game come to him.

His legacy at Fulham will be those goals. He scored but a handful, and all but one I think were beauties. That chip against Everton when he looked up and perceived a gap over a goalkeeper who was more or less on his line. That scoop against Bolton when the obvious thing to do was certainly not to scoop the ball 20 feet in the air when clean through. The smash against Reading when the ball went from under his feet outside the box to the top corner before anyone knew what was going on, and that bounteous curler against Cardiff when he saw the top corner and potted the ball into it from distance.

Otherwise there were lots of nifty throughballs to Clint Dempsey and lots of unfortunate incidents when he didn’t quite work out what he was going to do with the ball next (he really had no business in his own half).

So yes, bummer that he’s been jettisoned. In his place may come John Heitinga of Holland and Everton, which would be a bit like replacing Miles Davis on the record player with the Sex Pistols, but whatever.

 

A few thoughts on the Hull and Norwich games

Last night I found myself awake at 1am watching the Ashes. England were scoring pretty fluently. Alastair Cook had 41 and Carberry had…. 5.

I decided to go to bed. I put the radio on quietly and continued to listen. Michael Vaughan, former England captain of some repute, was talking about how Carberry had got himself into a negative state.

Vaughan listed the reasons: Carberry is 33 and new to the international scene. If he doesn’t deliver now he is not going to keep his place as one for the future. His future is now. He needs runs. But he hasn’t been scoring runs, despite being in quite good form. He has scratched around for 30s and 40s but 30s and 40s aren’t much use in Test Cricket: you need 100s. England haven’t scored any 100s. They’ve lost badly. Carberry’s been in better nick than most and hasn’t cashed in.

Vaughan thought this was weighing on him and resulting in him playing sub-optimally. At one point he noted that Carberry was defending balls that, were he playing for Hampshire, he would have smashed to the boundary.

Alastair Cook is averaging 27 in this Ashes series. In 2010-11 he average 127. Cook has captaincy weighing on his mind and also Australia’s bowlers have plans for him.

Both England openers are not performing to their potential. Would we, I wonder, contest that they don’t care? Are they performing badly because they are useless? Or are they good players who are, for a variety of reasons, not performing as well as they once did?

Carberry’s desire to do well is inhibiting his ability to perform. He is, depending on how you look at it, either trying too hard or playing a safety first game that inhibits his ability to do the job he was picked to do. Cook has a lot on his mind and is probably somewhat burned out. He is not delivering in any aspects of his job. Do we think he doesn’t care? No, of course not. He cares, he cares a good deal. He is really good at what he does, too. It’s just that circumstances aren’t going his way at the moment.

My point is that you can’t just say that Bryan Ruiz doesn’t care. Confidence and psychology are important parts of sports and if you’re out of form, particularly when you’re out of form after being injured in an awful team, then this can manifest itself in a number of ways. Doesn’t care? Alright, maybe he doesn’t care. But I’d be inclined to suggest that the opposite is the case, that his confidence is shattered, that when the ball comes to him he has lost that swagger or that certainty that you need out there, he is playing safe, he is playing scared. His runs are tentative and irrelevant. His touch has gone. He doesn’t really want the ball because he knows that when it comes to him he is likely to do something sub-optimal with it.

He’s a fine player and we’ve already seen that. He’s lost at the moment, more damaged than most by Jol’s debacle. Given the chance he could be a fine player. After today it might be that he doesn’t get the chance, but I felt compelled to defend him again as once more he drew much of the vitriol online and once more the whole team had a shocker. Ruiz went off at 2-0, and we shipped another four without him.

Which brings us back to a point I’ve long argued on the message boards. There was a time when this team’s problems were all at the feet of Dimitar Berbatov, but the forward players are hardly likely to make something happen in a team that plays like this one. We are abject defensively, and yes, part of this is due to the play of Ruiz and Berbatov and others like them. But put Roy Keane or Patrick Viera in this team and all of a sudden the luxury flair players are skill players who the team needs to make things happen. (Indeed, Viera talked about how Arsenal’s Robert Pires was nothing when the team didn’t have the ball but important with it). We are blaming the wrong players, mainly.

This is a team whose appetite for defence is either damaged, missing, or compromised by an outright misunderstanding about how to keep goals out. It’s a squad that has been fatally compromised, where money has been misallocated and where outstanding young players are overlooked in favour of bits and pieces nobodies who aren’t going to contribute now or in the future. We complain about the £10m spent on Ruiz without realising that £10m isn’t much these days. £10m is a good first teamer, which Ruiz undoubtably has been. It is a measure of Fulham’s fall that £10m is considered a big money signing. Our cast-offs policy worked well but it’s not a way to sustain a team in the long run. We have tried to supplement a core of players with youngsters but only Kacaniklic has stuck, and he’s been in and out of the team every other performance, as if to say to him “we like the idea of you but not what you do on the pitch”, which in its own way is probably leading to Carberry issues for him, too.

You could go on and on. I thought the corner might have been turned but you don’t lose 6-0 at Hull unless something is horribly wrong. What is the diagnosis, then?

a) Scott Parker is now a vital player for us and without him you’re asking Sidwell to run the team
b) We’ve talked about Ruiz. He’s out of form and lost and clearly hasn’t rediscovered his mojo.
c) Dejagah looks like a good player when used on the right and in concert with Riether, but on the left without Riether he might as well not have been there.
d) Amorebieta might need a bit longer to get used to the English game but he has been conspicuously present in many of our worst defensive performances.
e) Aaron Hughes is struggling in the current setup.
f) I was slow on this but Kieron Richardson is another whose presence in defence seems to lead to bad things happening.
g) Adel Taraabt got a lot right at Norwich. Hugo Rodallega sometimes looks handy as a late sub on the counter but his Fulham career has been one of continued non-happeningness. There’s no point in playing Darren Bent in this team either, but given Taraabt’s success it might have been worth going like-for-like here: the nearest would be Kasami I suspect.

But I don’t know. Somewhere in there you’ve got a shift from a good away win to a bad away defeat. We could create nothing and in the end could stop nothing, which is the Jol failing and which is of course a dire combination.

 

 

Everton thoughts

The ledger now reads P17 W4 D1 L12, with a goal difference that tells us that this represents our futility so far.

The signs of improvement are everywhere and while other teams seem well able to beat big teams once in a while, the cut-throat Manchester City squad was never going to be one that this Fulham team could see off.

Or maybe they could. For long periods in the game Fulham more than held their own. Everyone was on their game and Dejagah and Riether in particular were dominating their side of the pitch. The real revelation, however, was Adel Taraabt, employed as a lone striker and given instructions to try to make something happen if he could. He’s well suited to this, those basketball one-on-one skills are almost unmatched in the top division and with precious little support his decision making wasn’t really an issue. He simply got it and had a go. Occasionally he might have taken a different approach or executed the one he did take differently, but it seems churlish to complain when 90% of what he did do was first rate. It’s another example of a player being given a role and a situation that works for him. Well done him, well done the coaching staff. Whether it’s the way to go against other teams remains to be seen but he’s earned more opportunities for sure.

Otherwise it was what it was. City brought on Jesus Navas, who’s like lightning, and that felt critical. Our team is now hard working but there’s no-one there who can run and the back four, Riise’s department in particular, seemed likely to be troubled sooner rather than later. So it proved: Amorebieta let a ball bounce, then one thing led to another and Navas went from being half-troublesome to clean through, and he scored.

Lots of positives though. One thing we’ve often asked for from this team is a bit of tempo and they showed a lot of that in attack yesterday. A similar performance against lesser teams ought to be good enough for a decentish haul of points, although such is the hole that’s been dug that even this may not be sufficient. Time will tell.

Everton thoughts

Aside from not having had much of a moment the Everton game has left me a bit confused. I think I’m guilty of forgetting how bad we were quite recently, but I’ve been a bit surprised at how positive people have been about the Everton performance.

But I didn’t really see a team that looked completely at the races. The defence is shaping up fairly well and Aaron Hughes seems to have found some important form. The midfield looked pretty good at times and when Parker and Karagounis switched at the start of the second half Fulham certainly enjoyed a good spell. Sidwell had another “good Sidwell” game.

Ahead of them it was harder. Dejagah and Kacaniklic weren’t the factors you might have hoped and Berbatov flickered rather than shone. True, we were away somewhere we always struggle, and I love how we’re building a coherent approach (4-3-3 with a bit more directness) but it feels to me as if saying Everton were flattered flatters us. No, of course it wasn’t a 4-1 defeat in the truest sense but equally there felt like quite a big gap in class to me.

What I’m reaching for, I think, is one of those cup ties when a lower league team briefly frightens a big club before falling away inevitably at the end. Harsh perhaps but that’s how it feels.

What did we learn?

The back four’s alright. I guess you wouldn’t say no to reinforcements but I quite like the general flavour of the current setup.

Every time Meulensteen picks Karagounis I’m happy because the latter always plays quite well, but disappointed that he feels this is the only option. It also seems to mean that he’ll need a late sub and if we don’t have a like-for-like (which we don’t really) then it means changing something quite a lot after 65 minutes, which is probably not a big deal but feels like it could be.

Kasami’s still young and a bit of a break isn’t the end of the world. He has a lot of positive attributes and has surprised me this season but is probably deserving of a break.

Nice to see Kacaniklic get a run in the team. As we’ve said so often, young wingers are almost bound to be inconsistent and it felt weak to drag him off or drop him every time he had a quiet match. You either decide that he’s going to develop into a major player and give him the time to become that or you do something else. I don’t think Kaca was well served by the neither/nor approach of Jol. He had a quietish game but earned the penalty so his work was far from wasted.

Ruiz must be off in January. No reason to not bring him on on Saturday. I like Duff as was but at this point I’m not sure he was going to make something from nothing, which Ruiz might have done. (Bent felt like the right substitute for the time but nothing came his way.)