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.)

 

The Bumper Book of Fulham Strikers

cover

 

IT MAY NOT be sunshine on the pitch right now, but Ashwater always provides something to lift the Fulham spirits.

This year it’s…FULHAM STRIKERS.

We have decided to produce a LIMITED EDITION on a first come, first served basis. It is possible that this will be the FINAL Ashwater publication, so if you want another great piece of written Fulham history – then please don’t leave it too late! We think it’s the best book we’ve done, and it will sell out  It’s an ideal Christmas present for three generations of Fulham fans, young & old.

Here’s just a teaser ………………..

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 The book is a quality hardback publication

A4 size (8.5” x 12”)

In an eight-decade sequence

With 272 pages and in full colour

It contains well over 250 pictures

A number of which have never been previously seen.

The book will detail one hundred ‘number 9s’, centre forwards and principal goalscorers from the Second World War until the end of last season – ‘From Beddy to Berbatov’. For all of the principal seventy-five players, it will detail their youth career, careers at previous clubs, concentrating obviously on their time at Craven Cottage. Also included will be their playing careers after leaving Fulham including non-league and, if known, what they did after leaving the game. Their history will include clubs abroad and their international careers.

Their Fulham period will detail highlights, hat-tricks and special matches and anecdotal material, and will also analyse what kind of player he was, his attributes and style. Each player will have playing statistics and will be illustrated with Ken Coton/Ashwater pictures augmented by some newspaper and private images.

Our list of principal strikers includes all those you’d expect to find, such as Maurice Cook, Vic Halom, Gordon Davies, Leroy Rosenior, Mike Conroy, Geoff Horsfield, Barry Hayles and Brian McBride, and some names that may be less familiar, such as Allan Jones, Dave Metchick, George Johnston, Dale Tempest and Tony Thorpe. In between is a whole host of players from Bedford Jezzard to Bobby Zamora, from Jackie Henderson to Steve Marlet.

For a complete list of all seventy-five principal strikers in the book - please see the ‘here’ link on the Ashwater website

The book will also give cameo details of twenty-five less prolific forwards who have worn the number 9 shirt for the Whites, such as Alf Stokes, Steve Milton, George Georgiou, Kevin Betsy and Karl Heinz Riedle.

The book is completed by a number of intriguing statistical tables, facts and figures.

FULHAM STRIKERS is at the printers now and should be ready for delivery around the end of November.

It’s ready to pre-order now via

www.ashwaterpress.co.uk

Using PayPal, credit or debit card

or you can contact the Ashwater order line on 01344 – 624231.

If you require any further information, reply to this e-mail, or e-mail

ashwaterpress@btinternet.com

We would truly appreciate it if you would forward this e-mail onto all the other Fulham supporters you know and you think might be interested, and tell others by any media or communication you have.

THANK YOU for your loyal and continued support

Villa reaction

The new era continues to make us happy.

What I quite like with Meulensteen is that he appears to be in the business of fixing issues, rather than hoping they might go away.

A good example here is his midfield setup yesterday. Midfield has been our unspoken horror this year: everyone’s been piling on the defence and the attack but neither of these units can make a fist of things without some support from midfield. It’s why midfield is a very hard place to play; failure here can be unforgiving.

We’ve all been calling for Derek Boateng to come in and help out but Meulensteen’s opted for Giorgios Karagounis instead, which is fine. Having three men there means that if Sidwell goes wandering it’s not Scott Parker against the world; if Parker decides he can only really give 150% by attacking as well, there’s more chance of someone being able to defend if there are three men in midfield than two.

It’s also quite fashionable these days to talk about ‘winning’ an area by having more men there. By deploying three central midfielders we don’t cede control of the pitch like we have been all year.

It plays to Sidwell’s strengths as well. We have been quite negative about our curious looking ballwinner but he has one big strength that the team needs: he can score goals. His strike, or shovel, on Sunday, was a fabulous example of pure Sidwellian drive: a) he got beyond the last defender, b) he got to the ball first when doing so looked pretty tricky and c) he managed to slide and divert the ball into the far corner of the net in one delicious manouever. It won’t win goal of the month but in its own way it was dead impressive.

Now, would Sidwell have made that run as part of a midfield two?

We also have a balanced attack. I have been a bit critical of Dejagah and Riether in the past but there’s no doubting that they work well together. Yesterday the top passing combination in the game was Riether to Dejagah, 30 in all, double the next highest combo. On the other side Kacaniklic and Riise don’t really work together directly, but both offer a bit of directness and vim. Between the two flanks we’re now giving teams a bit to think about, and of course, and this is the huge thing, this’ll open up more space in the middle of the pitch. (a feature of Jol’s teams was their ability to create congestion in exactly the areas where you want a bit of space). The diagram below also shows how Karagounis was playing quite an aggressive interpretation of his role: if Parker was patrolling the halfway line, and Sidwell was box-to-box, then Karagounis was a sort of battering ram playmaker, charging forward like a mad thing, looking either to make the defence nervous or draw a foul.

mf

Without even mentioning Berbatov we can see several Fulham players making constructive, QUICK attacking contributions. Again: Meulensteen isn’t waiting for some good players to gel into a team; he’s making a team and letting good players show themselves within this framework. It didn’t take long, did it?

Which is not to say we’re out of the woods. You can’t ignore a year of failure and assume that a magic wand can be waved and suddenly everything’s fine. Good though Meulensteen may be, football tends not to work that way. And Villa were in many ways a perfect opponent. It was noted before kick off that they are happy to cede possession and hit teams on the counter, which Sky Sports’ wise men thought might be a problem for Fulham’s slow defence. Well maybe but this year’s Fulham have struggled in the main with teams… well, with teams who attack with the ball (everyone). By taking such a reactive approach Villa neatly skirted our glaring weakness.

We also got a bit of luck. This season has been dire and direness brings a lot of gut punches: late winners, long range screamers, etc. Against Villa the right things happened at the right times. Benteke headed wide when well placed, Kacaniklic got a penalty when a lot of refs would have waved play on; Villa’s own shouts for a penalty were ignored. We earned luck in many ways but the referee had a big impact on the game as well.

There are lots of encouraging signs though. When things are going badly there’s an exponential ripple throughout the team: we were bad in almost all ways. Now there’s a structure and, oh look, the defence looks good again. In football context is everything and Senderos and Hughes will be sleeping easier knowing that they’re getting some help back there.  John Arne Riise has a career again.  You can imagine Motspur Park is a different place already.

Retrofitting Monte Carlo to the Hodgson Great Escape

MCHS

Okay, just for the sake of it, here’s the Hodgson Great Escape Monte Carlo’d up.  In short if I’d created the model at the time Hodgson took over I would have predicted between 32-34 points.

We ended up with 36, and then only with that silly late run.   So you can say that Hodgson gained the team one win over what the model expected.  This isn’t trying to do Hodgson a disservice: we all know that we’d have gone down without him.  But this is exactly the point. The model says that Hodgson basically got the team back to a reasonable level and then some, which took an awful look of hard work.  That’s the challenge: not making us good, but getting us back to where we should be.  The current model says that doing this, which is what Meulensteen can achieve, will still perhaps not be enough.

What I think this shows is that even with a new coach who knows what he’s up to, it’s very hard to change a team’s trajectory that much.  This is why I think the earlier model for the current team is important.  It takes in the team’s established level and says what it’s likely to do.  The argument that we don’t know the team’s level because of the new coach is valid but over-estimate’s a coaches ability to change a team. That would take a great deal of money in addition to basic team organising.

It’s also worth noting that Meulensteen has effectively the same task ahead of him as Hodgson did.  The model for now sees greater possibilities ahead than it did for Roy’s escape but it amounts to the same thing: the model things we’re destined for a points total in the lowish 30s. Hodgson beat it by the narrowest of margins.  Can Meulensteen?

Cold shower. Fulham’s chances of reaching 40 points

Right. As you know, sometimes we here like to run Monte Carlo simulators to estimate likelihoods of things happening.

What?

So. I simulate 50,000 seasons game by game. The idea is that if, in any given game, Fulham have a 27% chance of winning, a 21% chance of drawing and a 52% chance of losing (as has been our form in the last 52 games), and if you then run 38 games like this, and repeat the episode over and over and over you can see how likely things are to happen, because in ‘only’ 38 games a wide range of things can happen.

The result?

Montecarlo

 

In those simulations where the team had 10 points in 14 games, the most likely end of season outcome was…. 33 points.  A likely range is maybe 31-37.

Oh.

40 points or more? That happens 23% of the time.

This assumes that the team is going to be at its level of the past year or so.  That means a bit better than this season’s efforts but not as good as we might like.  Now, Rene may very well improve the team but how much room for growth is there?  We can want all we want but it seems optimistic to expect a performance level established over 52 games to suddenly be far too low, new coach or otherwise.

So we are in trouble. We knew that, but here it is statistically.

Spurs reaction

It was encouraging to see the team play with a bit of zip. One touch passing was occasionally in evidence, there was a general sense of tempo. More than that there was a coherence to the play: Fulham’s players weren’t just 10 boats being blown around on a lake, they moved in concert, sometimes fast, sometimes more measured. That side of things was encouraging.

A couple of clever selections, too. Karagounis is just the kind of player to inject some spirit into a shoegazing football team. He plays every game as if it’s his last (if he didn’t it might very well be). Kieron Richardson and Darren Bent were apparently injured but their removal resulted in good things, too: John Arne Riise, whose hair suggested that he wasn’t expecting a recall, or even to be seen in public at all, had as good a game as I can remember from him. No, he wasn’t perfect, but he showed a willingness to overlap and brought presence to a defence that too often has (rightly) had the look of frightened rabbits in the headlights.

Up front Berbatov was stationed as an out and out forward and moved with more vigour than has been the case for some time. He might have scored and made Dejagah’s goal with the sort of pass that looks obvious once it’s been made, but which would have been beyond the majority of players. This is why those who have been baying for his removal had it the wrong way around: you get rid of your worst players, not your best ones.

We also had good performances from Kacaniklic, who will benefit from having time in the team and on the pitch, and from a deep-lying Parker. Dejagah took his goal fabulously well. Senderos was terrific at the back.

On the downside we allowed a couple of long-range goals, which is always disappointing. Stekelenberg had a good game and couldn’t have done much with those shots, but there is a nagging feeling that the shooter might have done less well had he been well closed down, which gets back to the team’s failing all year of being very easy to attack against. If that seems harsh then we have to realise that the margins between success and failure and currently we’re a long way on the wrong side of that ledger: the little things matter; the little things will save us.

In the cold light of day we did better but were still beaten. Spurs had 60% of the ball and managed 18 shots, which is more or less what we’ve allowed most games and remains a recipe for relegation. On the plus side Fulham managed 16 shots, a nice improvement on previous games.

 

Berba wants to leave, or Pretty in White

dbIt feels like the plot of an 80s teen movie. The star jock dates the slightly awkward but really beautiful underneath it all girl next door type but treats her badly for too long and in the end she has had enough. In front of all his friends, who are probably wearing those white sleeved jackets and maybe sitting in a convertible, she dumps him.

This he cannot believe. HE should be the one doing the dumping here. HE was lowering himself to go out with her! What the fuck? (they wouldn’t have said this in the 80s of course).

This is rarely the end of the story though. The jock, faced with this unwanted prick to his ego, reevaluates his life and, prompted by the power of good, pleads with the girl-next-door to take him back. He will stop hanging out with his hangers on and devote time to being a proper person, a good boyfriend.

mrThe girl-next-door is by now on the verge of starting something with her best friend, the geek who hadn’t dare tell her his true feelings until now, but such are the mechanics of these things that this relationship wasn’t really meant to be either, and the geek gallantly encourages the girl-next-door to follow her heart and go out with the jock after all.

At this point the geek ends up with his own surprisingly attractive date, but by now the metaphor is lost and we have literally no idea where Dimitar Berbatov fits into the story. Is he a good guy misled or a bad guy who briefly managed to act like a good guy?

If there is a moral here we must try to see the good in everyone. If the jock acted like an idiot, well maybe he’s been top dog all his life and has never had to learn humility. If the Prom Queen is a conceited bitch (we haven’t mentioned her until now but she had designs on the jock at one point and so hated the girl-next-door, but this didn’t seem pertinent to our story) then perhaps that’s because for her whole life people have been blinded by her beauty and she has never had to be particularly nice.  Is that really her fault?  We are all the products of our environment, one way or another.

The girl-next-door and the geek have never experienced such levity, knowing instead unrequited love and inferred rejection. They are only too aware of how cruel life can be, which makes any entanglements in this story potentially thorny, but if things work out nicely everyone can learn from everyone else. If the jock and the girl-next-door are really from different worlds then, try as they might, perhaps it never will work after all, in which case it’s best for everyone to find a situation that works better for them, whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation.

Statsbomb bits

Always interesting. This basically sums us up:

Normally I am fairly conservative about suggesting managers should be sacked. After all, if you are going to bother firing one, they should probably be really bad andyou need to be able to replace them with someone better.

On the other hand, I have publicly battered The Guardian’s writers on Twitter for writing that Fulham were too good to go down.

Martin Jol should have been fired months ago.

As of October 1st, Fulham were giving up 20 shots per game while only taking 8 themselves. This is very, verybad. Through this weekend’s dire performance, where they lost to one of the worst offensive teams in the league by a 4-0 score line Fulham are…

Giving up 20 shots a game, while only taking 8.

Go figure.

Even Pescara, who most models considered to be the worst team in the big European leagues by far last season took 10 shots while giving up about 18 a game. Fulham were worse than that.

(Yes, I know our predictive model liked them more than I do, and I know why, and all I can say is that it was horribly wrong here. Welcome to modelling.)

The important question is: Can they be saved?

I honestly don’t know. I think Riether and Hangeland are pretty good in their back line, and I think Berbatov and Ruiz are very good up front. Everyone else on that team is either a question mark, actively bad, or truly horrific. The midfield simply doesn’t work with how Jol wanted to play, and the axis of Sidwell and Parker seems to do absolutely nothing to help either end of the pitch. Meulensteen has his work cut out for him, but the next few months should teach us a lot about whether a bad team with pockets of talent can be saved by a new manager.

Fulham need to be really careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Martin Jol sacked – reaction

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The board’s tentativeness has meant that most of us have already said much of what there is to say on the subject. We have searched for blame, answers, inspiration, but have found ourselves every bit as clueless as the players we have been watching. Oh, we all have ideas about what’s wrong, it’s just that most seem too simplistic or misjudged. The team has become a deep fog in which nobody, management, fans, or players, can see. Are all of our players good enough or none of our players good enough? A persuasive argument could be made either way. It’s that confusing.

The riddles are everywhere. Dimitar Berbatov was recently the league’s top goalscorer. Scott Parker was recently England’s player of the year. Those two facts alone ought to have given us some hope. But maybe Berbatov needs better teammates (does that mean you blame Berbatov or the teammates?) and maybe Parker is not really what we need either.

Certainly when you compare him to our previous midfield maestro there is no comparison. Danny Murphy was a great passer who was a lot better than people realised defensively. Parker is good at a lot of things but arguably not in Murphy’s league in any of them. And he’s 33.

Bryan Ruiz is Fulham’s Graeme Hick: is he our best player or our worst? Like Hick, it feels entirely likely that this gifted young man has simply walked into the wrong team at the wrong time; in parallel universes other versions of himself are starring in better circumstances; in this one he’s battling himself, football fans’ prejudices, a back injury and a group of teammates who are not capable of playing the sort of game he needs to play. (Go and watch Clint Dempsey’s 20 goal season and marvel at how much Ruiz was orchestrating.)

And this is as much the issue as anything: Dempsey had become a very fine footballer and we couldn’t replace him. We lost others, and were stuck with imposters who occasionally look alright but really aren’t.

It makes a mockery of fans’ annual “time to push on” moans. In this league you don’t push on, you survive. Previous incarnations of Fulham in the top flight had come and gone by now, and this version arguably ought to have dropped at least twice since the millenium. There have been a number of curious moans on social media: “We want our team back” said one. This is your team. It has always been your team. What on earth are you expecting? Every season every Fulham fan should know that there is a non-zero chance that things might not quite go right and relegation could happen. Like the financial crisis of 2008, the extended boom that preceded it shouldn’t necessarily mean that history can be ignored. Fulham have profited handsomely from the game’s Sky money but so have most teams, and if that money stops moving into new, better players’ pockets for any time the team, curiously, will start to slow down and to struggle.

In this way the Jol team compares interestingly not with the Sanchez team, but with latter day Coleman. Coleman, like Jol, once stalked across the Craven Cottage pitch with that alpha male swagger, then became belittled by his inability to patch together a working football team.

The more you think about it, the closer the parallels. Coleman in the end couldn’t find a coherent pair of centre-backs, was cursed with iffy full-backs, had to make do in the centre of midfield and was prone to putting players on the wing who might have been better used elsewhere. He even had two good but almost identical attackers (McBride and Helguson) that he never quite managed to harness into the partnership it might have been. He had a good eye for players (his Davies and Dempsey moves in his last January were fabulous for the club, if not for him) but couldn’t get them achieving anything worthwhile. In the end Coleman’s team was all about coincidence football, in which anything good that occurred would do so through chance, not through planning.

Jol’s lot are the same. We haven’t got many goals this year, but three have been absolute belters and perhaps none as the result of a coherent passing move. Jol dropped Ruiz for the West Ham game to improve the team’s tempo, but surely the way to get tempo would be to have them know where each other are, rather than always having to have a look (then always having to try something else, as nobody was anywhere helpful). Ruiz looked ponderous but part of this was probably because – unlike many in this team – he likes to pass forwards. And there were generally no options forwards in this side. We would have been better off with a McBride/Helguson combination. At least then we could have ‘hit them early’ and work from there.

This team has no ethos, no identity, or at least not in a good way. What is this Fulham team about? What do they do? There are elements of the playground here, of players receiving the ball and then weighing up options, rather than playing in a coherent setup in which everyone knows their options always. We saw elements of this early in Jol’s reign, when the team could be brilliant or awful depending on variables we couldn’t really know.

In the end it settled on awful. This season it has been far the easiest in the league to play against, allowing north of 20 shots per game while taking less than half of that number. You can’t win like that. Paraphrasing James Grayson on twitter, Fulham simply had no control over what happened on the pitch.

It’s true. At times we resembled a counter attacking team that didn’t counter attack. We loaded up on forward players but saw no attacking payoff whatsoever (but of course suffered – how we suffered – in defence). That fog we talked about at the start: it affected Jol, too. He didn’t know what he was doing. He tried everything, tried to find answers in new combinations and approaches every week. He genuinely thought he had brought in players who would be good enough to do a job for Fulham, but he was wrong.

It has been suggested that Jol himself was surprised how long it took Fulham to fire him and the team’s performances in the end reflected this. As Simon Peach noted on Twitter, of the squad, only Ruiz has commented on the dismissal, thanking Jol for sticking by him. It says much about Ruiz that he did this, but also about the rest of the squad’s state of mind. They needed to move on.

Now they, and we, finally can. This team is either too bad to recover or too bad to keep playing like this, I can’t decide which, but in either case, the season is not over yet and there are other bad teams in operation. We may or may not make a fist of staying up, but at least there is now some hope.

And even if there isn’t, there will be again. This morning I was reading the 1971-72 Rothman’s book in which Fulham are in Division Two (which really was the second division back then), having got there via two straight relegations and a couple of years in Division Three. The team is a mixture of players we still hear talked about and others we don’t, some on the downswing in relatively interesting careers, others still making their way. It looks like a time of transition, of bedding down, of taking stock. This Fulham team won its opening game of the season then went six matches without so much as scoring a goal. It went seven games without a win over winter, and ended the season with a six game winless run. Somehow it survived. There would be years and years in football’s wilderness after that but the club is well resourced now and it would take management of gross incompetence for another such barren run to happen now. Fulham timed its latest ascent well, and is rich beyond most global football clubs’ wildest imaginations. It has a thriving, genuinely thriving, youth setup. It has a fabulous stadium. It has money, lots of money. If there’s an upside to the club’s lack of investment in players recently it’s that the team isn’t saddled with any ridiculous contracts, doesn’t have a bloated squad of players that will weight it down should the worst happen in May.  Those fabulous youngsters, with decent coaching and astute purchases, could make the next good Fulham team.  It’s an exciting prospect. For whatever reason, football fans love young players, and particularly young players who have come up through the youth system. It’s a great opportunity for the club to build something, not to piece something together, but to grow a proper football team.

That fog we talked about has blinded us to all that is good with the club, but if the fog lifts now, next year, whenever – and it will – there’s plenty to be happy about.

So goodbye, Martin Jol. Thanks for the good times. So it goes.

West Ham debacle

Apocalypse2

This is getting to be a cruel joke.

Martin Jol has it in his power to end all this but for whatever reason is not doing so.  And his employers?  At this juncture it’s not entirely clear what they are waiting for.

Honestly, I can see an argument why a Jol/Meulensteen partnership would be a good idea.  But that’s ignoring the present predicament in which the team is absolutely destroyed.  We have nothing, nothing at all.  The players are probably not that bad as a group but are a collective shambles.  They know it, everyone knows it.  Presently there appears no way out.

Things, then:

Stekelenberg, like Stockdale before him, played well, but was given plenty to do.  Victor Valdes of Barcelona doesn’t get this many shots in a month.  Our man did what he had to but still let in three against a team struggling mightily.

Last week I saw encouraging signs brought about by a sensible team selection (read: Derek Boateng played) but today was appalling.  Sidwell was back in the side and again we reverted to tripe. Duff and Taraabt came in to see what difference they might make but of course they achieved nothing.  We can say that Taraabt looked bright and maybe he did, but the team didn’t get a shot on target all game so, you know.  Needless to say, Berbatov and Ruiz weren’t playing but their absence curiously failed to turn us into Brazil 1970.  Maybe they are important players….

In the same way, the back four was able to be terrible without Senderos, suggesting that he wasn’t actually to blame.

You can read the last two points and conclude that it really doesn’t matter who plays, the whole squad is so bummed out, nothing will happen.  We’re playing at about 60% capacity for some reason.  I always felt with Roy that his team had some kind of weird multiplier effect, they made each other better.  Now we have the reverse, like some grand mansion built with bricks but not mortar.

We can only conclude that nobody knows what they’re supposed to be doing.

This is unforgivable in this day and age.

I can’t even be bothered to talk about Darren Bent.  I think he and Stekelenberg are about the only ones free of blame but I know not everyone agrees.

Sigh.

True grit

NOTE: NOT A SERIOUS POST
True-Grit-5

Winning football is about making the best use of available resources. We actually have a fine squad. Here is how to use it successfully.

After much deep thinking it seems to me that grit, determination and a willingness to get muddy are what’s missing. There is no room in our team for people who don’t care, or who are pansies. We didn’t need a new Dutch coach: we need to get less Dutch, not more. In retrospect it is a shame Tony Pulis was so quick to sign for Palace. We could have used his knowledge of old wars and I’m sure the players would have found Napoleonic anecdotes just the trick in turning this ship around.  Never mind. We can still make this work.

What is our all gritty team?

Goal: Stekelenberg doesn’t really need to be gritty. BUT from a purist’s perspective he probably spent too long getting over what only appeared from the tv to be a mild knock to the shoulder. AND, being from up North, David Stockdale is arguably quite a lot grittier. It’s a tough call but Stockdale plays.

Right back: we lack real grit here but fans warm to Sascha Riether’s bombing up and down the line. He just looks really busy. That’s enough for our purposes: he’s in.

Centre-back: Amorebieta obviously, for that punch on Dejan Lovren’s arse. That’s the sort of grit we need. Partnering him… we have a problem. Aaron Hughes gets the nod because there might come a time when a cool head is needed out there, but he will be made aware of his responsibilities to the team and should at least try to be muddier.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Southampton v Fulham - St Mary's

Left back is also a problem area. If we had grittier centre-backs we could slide Amorebieta across. Matthew Briggs for a time put a few strange pictures up on Twitter where he was attempting to look hard but it was never an attitude that he wore well.

briggs

Kieran Richardson did Sir Alex Ferguson a painting, FFS! God it’s no wonder we can’t win.

I don’t know here, I really don’t. Riise? No, exactly. It’ll have to be Briggs won’t it? At least he’s home grown. There’s something to that.

Midfield: Scott Parker is the grittiest player there’s ever been so he’s in (it must be frustrating for Scott playing with such an ungritty squad).

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Grrr!

Sidwell charges around a hell of a lot. So does Karagounis. Derek Boateng gets stuck in. We’re spoilt for choices here, we really are. Perm three of the above four. I would say rotate them but gritty players don’t get tired.

Then Pajtim Kasami plays ahead of them. Nobody runs around more than Kasami. And he has that wonder goal in his locker now so is basically set.

Forward: Ach, what now? Geoff Horsfield is too old. Hugo Rodallega is injured and mainly anonymous but he gets bonus points for not having played much during this season’s debacle. Ashkan Dejagah doesn’t always do anything but his stock rose considerably during his injury spell and does tend to run fast, too. He’s a lot like Riether in this regard: there may not be much quality but he looks busy! He looks slightly frightening too, which is not nothing.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Reading v Fulham - Madejski Stadium

Maybe the answer is to have Dejagah wide and Kasami in the middle, eschewing traditional forward play like Barcelona do. Then in the window we can sign Kevin Davies.

Team:

Stockdale – Riether, Hughes, Amorebieta, Briggs – Parker, Boateng, Sidwell, Karagounis – Dejagah – Kasami.

How will we do?

Keeping the wolves from the door

6′ Attempt blocked. Jonathan De Guzmán (Swansea City) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
10′ Attempt blocked. Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Álex Pozuelo.
11′ Attempt blocked. Roland Lamah (Swansea City) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Ben Davies.
23′ Attempt blocked. Roland Lamah (Swansea City) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Jonathan De Guzmán.
25′ Attempt missed. Ashley Williams (Swansea City) header from the right side of the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Jonathan De Guzmán with a cross following a corner.
31′ Attempt missed. Nathan Dyer (Swansea City) header from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Roland Lamah with a cross.
35′ Attempt missed. Roland Lamah (Swansea City) left footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Nathan Dyer.
37′ Attempt blocked. Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jonathan De Guzmán with a cross.
40′ Attempt missed. Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Angel Rangel with a cross.
42′ Attempt saved. Nathan Dyer (Swansea City) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Álex Pozuelo.
46′ Attempt missed. Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) left footed shot from the left side of the six yard box misses to the right. Assisted by Jonathan De Guzmán with a cross.
47′ Attempt missed. Roland Lamah (Swansea City) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Ben Davies.
50′ Attempt saved. Jonathan De Guzmán (Swansea City) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Angel Rangel.
53′ Attempt blocked. Ben Davies (Swansea City) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Álex Pozuelo.
54′ Attempt blocked. Ben Davies (Swansea City) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Angel Rangel.
58′ Attempt blocked. Nathan Dyer (Swansea City) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Álex Pozuelo.
64′ Attempt saved. Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Roland Lamah.
69′ Attempt missed. Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) right footed shot from the right side of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Álex Pozuelo.
70′ Attempt blocked. Álex Pozuelo (Swansea City) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
72′ Attempt saved. Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top right corner.
79′ Goal! Fulham 1, Swansea City 2. Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City) right footed shot from outside the box to the top right corner. Assisted by Roland Lamah.

Swansea

This was a bit like all the other games in the end. But there was enough here that we might be confident of a better tomorrow.

1 Derek Boateng came in for Steve Sidwell. He had a fine game and did exactly what we needed him to do. All those interventions around the D – had he not been there we could have been in big trouble.

There was a moment i  the first half when Kasami lost the ball on a counter. Swansea’s transition was slick, but Boateng was waiting for them. Fabulous. His selection gave us some hint that the new coaching setup is more interested in a team rather than a group of players.

When Boateng went off the game changed even more in Swansea’s favour and the winner came from the area he would have been guarding. Hopefully match fitness is not far off as we need him for 90.

2 Captain Parker. A no-brainer and good to see.

3 Hughes in for Senderos is a move I like but honestly they are very even players. Hughes put Swansea ahead with an own goal, which was just one of those things, but does illustrate how different players are judged to different standards. Had Senderos put into his own net..

4 Speaking of which, here are Opta’s dispossession stats: Parker 3, Kasami 3, Ruiz 3. I pointed this out on the FFC facebook page to predictable derision but again it shows how people see what they want to see in games.

Ruiz couldn’t get into the game in the second half and had a teicky spell in the first but fans have an incredible habit of focusing on the negative where he is concerned. Look, he had a bad day but not that bad.  And as we know, he is having treatment for a bad back. Cut him some slack? Nah.

5 Bent did well I thought. Yes he missed a couple of chances but he got in good areas and over a season he’ll put some of those away. There’s a 20 goal a season striker there, which is a goal every other game. If he gets chances like this every game he will deliver. I take his performance as a big plus.

Bryan Ruiz is being fixed

From his own website

Solano/INTENSA The break that the Premier League is in to give way to the date of matches among national squads by FIFA has allowed Bryan Ruiz undergo an important treatment in his back to diminish the discomfort that he has endured since long ago.

Bryan, who was not called for his national team next friendly match in order to get such therapy, commented that this week he was in Germany for one day receiving such treatment from a medical specialist who months before treated some muscular problems that affected him.

“It’s been a  positive week. I had been playing for some time with back problems, and so it was necessary to be treated the right way. I have gone to Germany to get some treatment that has been helping me and I’ve felt better. I hope to finish such treatment within a week”, he explained in his webpage.

Bryan stated that the medical specialist found as a possible reason for his back pain the poor posture he keeps during the extensive trips he has made for a long time between Europe and Costa Rica.

“It is a problem derived from so many trips from Costa Rica to Europe. In the past years it has affected my back, and I have also had certain problems in my back because of my height, so I need to follow some specific work”, he said.

Bryan also had an opinion over the arrival of the Dutch coach Rene Meulenstee to his team’s bench, who worked between 2007 and 2013 with Alex Ferguson in Manchester United, and who now will support Martin Jol in Fulham.

“His arrival is to strenghten the team, to help. The beginning of the season has not been good, and he’s a person who has experience and knowledge in British football. It is important that he helps coach Martin Jol”, commented Ruiz.

Interesting as there was a long (by twitter standards) rant on this by international coach Raymond Verheijen, who tends to speak a lot of sense.

How will the managers of the European top clubs look back at this week’s international games. What an unbelievable injury tsunami!
The question is whether there is room for improvement at national teams to reduce injuries. For example, with respect to recovery & training
At club level, on the 1st day after game, players do a recovery session & on 2nd day after game there is no training to maximize recovery.
During an international week, after their club game on Sun, players have to report to national teams on Mon. They often do recovery on Mon.
However, on Tue (2nd day after game) national team coaches often plan a full session as they have little time to prepare for the Friday game
Consequently, players will not fully recover from the club game before playing with national team on Friday. So they will accumulate fatigue
After national team game on Friday, players have to recover again. Normally, this means recovery session on Saturday & no training on Sunday
However, national team managers often plan a full session again on Sun (2nd dag after game) as national teams have to play a 2nd game on Tue
As a result, again players do not fully recover after game. Due to this unfinished business, now they really do accumulate a lot of fatigue.
Accumulated fatigue has a negative effect on nervous system. So players’ motoric coordination goes down & injury risk increases dramatically
Obviously this is not only reason for this week’s injury tsunami. But there is clearly a lot of room for improvement at national team level.
Optimizing recovery & training is the least national teams could do to reduce injury risk of the players they borrow from European top clubs
With Gary Speed’s Wales national team we did not train on Tuesday & Sunday to optimize recovery & reduce injuries. Practise what you preach!
Why do Barca & Real accept all the friendlies of Spain in South America & Africa? What is consequence for Spanish players at end of season?
Luis Suarez is playing tonight with Uruguay in Montevideo. On Saturday he has to play with Liverpool against Everton. Irresponsible planning

If this is keeping him out it’d be a huge shame — Ruiz would really benefit from the new coaching schemes.  Not him personally, but by the fact that our attack might be a bit more coherent.

Utility outrage

image

Football fans generally get outraged far too much and I am not really outraged at this. BUT it was really disappointing to read the excellent WSC magazine this month doing a feature on utility men… there, at the top, was a picture of Chris Baird!

Hurray, I thought,  a bit of credit for the man who beat Juventus from the middle of the pitch, who held Spurs scoreless at WHL at centre back, and who was generally about as good a utility man as you might find.

But the article didn’t mention Baird. No, Blackpool’s Chris Basham was the man under discussion. That is him next to Bairdinho. FFS.

Goallllll!

image

Just browsing through some old Rothmans Football Yearbooks…. I found some goal of the season diagrams, which are ace.  I had a book by the man who did these pictures and must have drawn about a million of them myself growing up.

Rene Meulensteen

mmu

It’s funny how these things work.  Last night I was tucking into Declan Kiberd’s excellent “Ulysses and Us – the art of everyday living” which is about James Joyce’s Ulysses and how it’s now seen as this massive unreadable lump of a book but was meant to be for everyone. Anyway, there’s a nice extract right from the get go about Stephen Dedalus’ attitude to teaching:

Rather than make a fool of a boy who says ‘Pyrrhus… a pier” he turns the error into a portal of discovery, calling a pier “a disappointed bridge”.  Afterwards he tells the headmaster, Mr Deasy, that he prefers to see himself as a learner rather than a teacher….

Stephen’s educational theory is rather akin to Joyce’s: teachers should ask questions.

I thought of this after reading a comment from our new Head Coach, Rene Meulensteen, this morning:

I had always had a passion for football in general and I think one of my biggest advantages where I’ve obviously taken benefit from is that I started very early. When you start to teach young players things, you’re actually developing yourself.

Meulensteen is with James Joyce.  To teach is to learn. It sounds so obvious but is nothing of the sort.

That establishes his credentials as the right kind of person in my eyes, and the coaching CV, which Will covers very well at Viva El Fulham, looks impressive too.

Or is it?  Here’s something from Per NIelsen’s autobiography. Nielsen was a player under Meulensteen and – let’s face it – doesn’t have much good to say about Meulensteen.  (Quoting extensively because it seems important.)

Meulensteen immediately changed the daily routines around the squad. At first, a lot of small things like when the club had to train and when they had to leave for matches. Later he decided to change the colour of the hallway leading to the team’s locker room at the stadium from yellow (which is Brøndby’s shirt colour) to green. This was intended to give the player’s hope and calm them down when they went from the pitch to the locker room after the first half. He explained to the squad that since they were excited after the first half they needed to calm down a bit. Nielsen, and the rest of the squad, were wondering why this was important because they needed to be ready and excited for the second half a moment later anyway.
Nielsen also spoke about training sessions where the players were juggling with the ball and Meulensteen would suddenly would jump in front of them and yell “BOOOH” in their faces. This was meant to prepare them for the noise there would be at the stadium when they played in front of 10.000-15.000 people, he explained to them. This confused the players even more because average attendance during the 04/05 season was almost 16.000 and in both the 04/05 and 05/06 season they had played before 40.000 people against FC Copenhagen away and in front of 28.000 (the maximum capacity of Brøndby Stadion) at home. Therefore, the players knew what it was like to play in front of a big crowd and simply didn’t need these strange lessons.
Meulensteen was always running the same drills at the training and this annoyed the players. He had big ambitions, but Nielsen didn’t think he had the skills to turn the ambitions into reality. To this day, Nielsen still doesn’t know how Meulensteen wanted the players to act on the field and what exactly he wanted them to do. Meulensteen had a hard time explaining his ideas to the players. He talked a lot, but the things he said simply didn’t make sense.
The tactical changes Meulensteen made between the matches were always proposed by the players. Probably, because he never managed to tell them what he wanted them to do.
Because of the bad practices the players got very frustrated and suddenly it was normal for fights to occur during the training. It’s normal for squads to have some disagreements, but since Meulensteen couldn’t control the squad these arguments evolved into actual fistfights. Meulensteen didn’t manage to solve the different disagreements and since they remained unsolved it created a lot of tension between the players.

Brøndby was facing Frankfurt in the UEFA Cup. Before the match started, Meulensteen gathered the players in the locker room together in front of a white blackboard. He then started pointing at the players and made them tell what kind of animal they wanted to be on the field. The players found this very weird and no one answered. As the captain Nielsen felt like he had to step up, and says he wants to be a snake. Meulensteen then replies:

No no, Per, goddammit. That won’t work. Snakes are slow animals, we cannot have snakes in our defense, the Germans will outrun us then.”
Nielsen replies:
Then I’m a tiger. Is that okay?”
Meulensteen:
“That’s perfect! Tigers are brave, fast and strong. That is exactly what we need from a captain.”
After this, the other players responded and Meulensteen then drew the starting lineup containing a tiger, a fox, an elephant, a giraffe and a lot of other animals.
When Meulensteen was done drawing the starting lineup, he said:
“That’s great, boys. We are smart, fast and clever animals on the field today. We cannot lose today.”
While this was going on Nielsen was looking at the blackboard and thinking:
“We are sending an entire zoo on the field today.”
Then Meulensteen said a few words about the tactics, but no one was listening anymore because everyone was shocked about what they had just witnessed. They were all looking at the blackboard to keep track of the animals and simply thinking “What is going on?” Then Meulensteen left the locker room and all of the players started laughing, and asking each other “What the hell was he doing?”
Brøndby lost the match, 4-0, and got two red cards. One of Meulensteen’s Englishmen (Mark Howard) got one of them after headbutting a Frankfurt player. The leftback Thomas Rasmussen afterwards told the press that he thinks Howard is a clown for letting the team down with his red card. At the next practice, Meulensteen made Rasmussen sit in a chair in front of the entire squad and yelled at him
During Meulensteen’s stay at Brøndby, the winning attitude the club have always been known for started to disappear. Nielsen says it’s because he didn’t understand the mechanics in the squad of a big club like Brøndby. He also didn’t understand the traditions and expectations that follow a big club.

So there’s that, too.  I’m not trying to be negative but the reaction to the hiring has been overwhelmingly positive – as it should be when a lauded former Manchester United coach comes aboard! – but really, what do we know?  Not much.  And while Per Nielsen probably has an axe to grind against Meulensteen and may have simply been resistant to new ideas, there are some worrying comments in that text above.  So it’ll be a case of wait and see for me.

Part 3

illusion31

Yes, yes, I know there’s a new coach but anyway.  All in good time.

The third part of my threesome is how Bryan Ruiz looks statistically.  We gave a high level qualitative view, then we looked at how Spurs’ Christian Ericksen played what analysts thought was a blinder against Newcastle, a game in which Spurs fans were supposedly quite cross about his contribution.  So sometimes our eyes play tricks on us.  We make judgements to save time and make deductions but this does lead to errors all the time.  I could go on about this all day and have read around the subject extensively, but will leave that out for now (it’s quite well covered in Michael Calvin’s Nowhere Men and all kinds of books exist on the subject).

Ruiz was, according to Whoscored, our joint best player last year (with Berbatov, which seems entirely fair to me) and is doing okay this.  People don’t agree with this.  Whoscored give him a 6.9 average this time around (last year he was 7.2 or something) and acknowledge that he was pretty ordinary in our last two matches.

The thing with numbers is this: a player can get caught in possession three times a game (as Ruiz does) and that will hurt his rating, but it won’t hurt his rating as much as it hurts perceptions in the stands.  If Ruiz loses the ball three times a game the groans get progressively louder.  If a defender hoofs the ball to the opposition five times a game you get unrest but no great misery.  But they – generally – amount to the same thing (I know they’re not exactly the same and being caught out is a problem).

Put simply, Ruiz’s limitations and his style make him look bad.  They make him look worse than he is.  People have made up their minds about Ruiz and every time he does something that conforms  to stereotypes, as he will a few times a game, they groan again.

But the thing is, Ruiz is very useful to Fulham.  In six games (with two sub appearances) he has created two goals and scored another.  This in a struggling team.  That’s good.   He’s making 1.4 key passes a game, much lower than he was last year but still about 40th in the league, which is something considering how bad we are at creating chances.  The next highest in the team is 0.9, from Berbatov and Riether (a key pass is a pass that leads to a chance on goal).   Ruiz is the one who creates in a non-creative team.  We need him, as Martin Jol rightly pointed out.

Whoscored have the team’s strengths and weaknesses as:

ffc

This is something I brought up on TiFF when the “It’s all Berbatov’s fault” shouts were loudest.  I think the last couple of games have made some inroads into validating my perspective that our team defensive performance has been nothing short of scandalous, and while Ruiz doesn’t help this, he is well down the list in terms of who might have done more to help here.

What we are left with is a team that is dire defensively, and yet fans hold most negativity for two attacking players (true we aren’t good attacking at the moment, but it’s the other end where we’re historically bad).   We have seen how Ruiz contributes a lot attacking, relative to others, and how he contributed more last season when things were a little better overall.

Put it another way: in a dire team with no attacking movement and a serious inability to defend, just how good is a cultured left foot type who doesn’t defend very well going to look?  Is he in a position to thrive?  Or is he doing pretty well considering?

It seems to me that Ruiz is a good player in a bad situation.  He can frustrate but in terms of what he does to help a team win there aren’t many in our squad more useful.   I am almost convinced of this and welcome any challenges in the comments below.   The gap between his value and fans’ perceptions of his value is massive, but I think fans are very wrong.

And while I’m here

This is a fabulous look at the stats v eyes debate, from the perspective of a Spurs game. Really worth a read.

I think this gets to the heart of the Ruiz thing, too.  Ruiz isn’t the player that Eriksen is (or is he?  If Eriksen was playing for Fulham…) but he’s trying the same kinds of things.  The numbers say that Eriksen was amazing for Spurs against Newcastle. Fans say he was awful.  Ruiz was much the same last year for Fulham, with Whoscored.com having him as our joint best player with Berbatov, and fans… well you know what fans think.

 

Ruiz

ruiz

Just reading back over Bryan Ruiz’s career, there is a lot to puzzle over. (this is all straight from wikipedia by the way).

He started his career at Alajuelense, in the lowest Costa Rican division, and played as part of a front three.

Somehow or other this led to a move to Gent in Belgium. Here, he was captain and top scorer. He ended up with 26 goals in 78 games.

Read that again: imagine if he were made captain here… what Gent probably saw was their best player, a good, reliable teammate, and someone players respected. So why not make him captain?

Then he moved to Twente in the Dutch league. Now, we all know about the Dutch league and the goals people get there, but nevertheless, score he did, nabbing 35 in 65 games. At one point he scored in 10 straight matches. Against Sparta Rotterdam he scored a hat-trick in four minutes.

His team won the league for the first time ever. He scored 24 that season.

For Costa Rica (whose fans will need World Cup tickets by the way!) he has scored 12 in 61 games, which isn’t all that special given the circles they move in (he has scored against Panama, Haiti, Mexico, USA, Suriname, Grenada, Chile, New Zealand, Honduras) and perhaps this gives us more of a clue. (He has played five Champions League games without a goal and 12 Europa League games with similar blankness, and indeed, was substituted in six of the games).

So I don’t know. A respected scout on twitter said at the time Fulham signed him that he thought it was an odd move, and while Newcastle (and their much approved scouting network) were also in for him, perhaps in retrospect it wasn’t the greatest move for everyone. I say this as a huge fan of his, and I do believe that he has been one of our more useful players, but within the context of a relatively handy first team player, not the star people thought they were getting.

£11m or whatever he cost isn’t nothing but it is a sort of middle ground where you’re certainly not getting a star. Really it’s a going rate for a good player, which he pretty much is. The problem for Ruiz is that he’s joined a club where £11m isn’t spent on players very often and when it is, there are expectations.

There are huge positives: his goals have been things of beauty, and that is something. But it also tells its own story – where are the tap ins, the near post headers, the bundled messes that every team needs to sustain itself over a season? Has he been played in the wrong roles? Has he been playing within himself? We don’t know, can’t know, and that’s the frustration.

If he’s had barracking from Fulham fans you can bet he’d have had the same or worse from others. Like I say, I really, really like Ruiz, but if you’re trying to think about the next iteration of Fulham then you have some tough decisions to make. With Ruiz you almost need to build a system around him and run everything through him. Will we do that? Or do we forget about this season and start anew? His spectacular left foot means he can probably be sold on at a decent price, and there is a good argument that his skills would suit Spain better anyway.

Ultimately he’s just one of about 20 enigmas this season.

It’s a shame Brazil’s so far away. With Roy at the helm I’d be quite up for England tickets, and I’d definitely be cheering Bryan on, too.

What’s wrong?

I read an article about how American Football teams are using GPS systems to learn about their players. This technology gives them acceleration/deceleration numbers, everything a player does. Using it a team was able to learn that a star player was moving better to his right than his left. They noted that if this had got out around the league he’d have been toast. They found another player who was showing extraoardinary abilities to run fast then stop dead; they hadn’t seen this with their eyes but the numbers allowed them to build it into their approach.

I say this because I’m still struggling to pin down exactly what Fulham are doing that’s so awful. I mean it. I can tell in the abstract, and if you’ve been reading this for a while you know that we know about the shots thing. But with my eyes it’s just not that simple.

Here’s the thing though: the defence looks awful but isn’t getting any protection. So is the abject defending their fault?

The attack is almost non-existent. But the forwards are getting no service. Is the lack of penetration their fault?

The midfield will complain that they’re overrun. They will complain that the forwards aren’t moving. So are they blameless?

Here’s what we know:

Stekelenberg is probably as close to blameless as anyone here.

I have never been convinced by Sascha Riether’s defending but the width he gave us was meant to be a helpful counterpoint to that. He’s not playing at the moment.

Philippe Senderos is attracting flak, but he got that when he was playing well so in a downswing he’s like a magnet for the ire of our fans. We know that he has performed reasonably in Fulham defences in the past, so the fact that we’re being sliced apart every week can’t be down to him. Sure he’s struggling but as noted before, Jaap Stam and Franco Baresi couldn’t keep teams quiet in this Fulham XI.

Amorebieta impressed at left-back but I suspect his play in the middle has been a bit rusty. It’s a new partnership and perhaps hasn’t gelled as it might have. These things take time though, but time is short when you’re allowing a shot on goal every other minute the opposition have the ball.

Richardson I thought was doing okay for us but he had a stinker at the weekend. He’s Riether’s equal but that still only means a 6/10 player probably.

Parker is everyone’s idea of a good player to have around and it’s true that he was doing the bizzo for England not long ago.

Sidwell is a mystery. I always think he’s a good player but suspect he’s a bit frenetic to be relied upon in an engine room these days. I find it hard to conjure up an image of him in possession, which is weird. He has a nice nose for goal and tackles well but – I’m guessing – is fairly ordinary overall. Like I say, I can’t quite pin him down.

Kacaniklic and Dejagah are what they are. People got angry with Ruiz, these two played instead, and oh look, neither did anything. This was completely predictable.

Kasami continues to catch the eye as one player who can rise above all this stink. I don’t know what he is doing differently but it is refreshing, and I was quite wrong about him.

Berbatov has the track record but now people are naming their best XI without him in them.

Bent seems well suited to a late subs’ role. If you watch the Football League show it’s littered with players who got lots of goals but never managed to stick in the top division. Now the top division seems bereft of pure finishers, with the likes of Defoe and Bent both marginalised despite good goals records.

So what? How does the above lead to what is becoming an absolute disaster of a football team. We shouldn’t be THIS bad. Nobody is this bad.

First, we need to think of a football team as a chain. The Match of the Day people pointed this out in a way after the United defeat. If our forwards defend like they haven’t a care in a world then this puts pressure on everyone else. If the midfield is unreliable then so does this. We all have our limits: think of playing cricket. Facing a 40mph bowler your technique’s pretty good. Against 90mph the footwork’s not so clever. So it is for the likes of Senderos and co at the back. They can defend when given a chance, but breaking point comes when there’s no protection. The lack of protection can be traced from the lack of defence throughout the team, but ends up making the defence look like idiots.

I can’t really find an excuse for our lack of attacking menace. We are still picking attacking teams but not achieving anything. I suppose if we cast our minds back to early Jol when we were either awesome or awful there was at times too much fluidity. The 4-2-3-1 just seemed to result in a mess at the top and nobody quite knew what they should be doing. That’s probably what we have now. Kacaniklic and Dejagah can’t get into the game because they’re not good enough to take over (think about how Clint Dempsey would be playing at the moment for a good contrast). Berbatov is mentally gone and plotting his January move to Galatasaray. Ruiz is shell shocked. Sidwell and Parker are overloaded in their problems. The full-backs aren’t all that anyway.

To cap it all I think that mentally the squad must be in bits. When you’re playing this badly it’s hard to turn things around. There may even be a subconscious desire to get Jol removed. There may be something we don’t know about.

Or there may just be things beyond the naked eye. When I talked about the GPS at the start it was with Scott Parker in mind. What if, at 33, he’s a fraction of a second too slow to do his job? What if a couple of players are carrying injury that is causing them to be 15% off the pace? What if there’s other stuff happening that we can’t quite pick up on?

Because really, our absolute uselessness doesn’t make sense unless someone’s a lot worse than I think. People will say yes, Senderos and Berbatov and Ruiz, and maybe that’s right, but it feels like all three are good players. Is it some kind of ridiculous bad chemistry problem, the opposite of alchemy, where we have happened upon a group who simply cannot play together? Or what? Or what? The answers I read over and over again don’t explain this. The facts make it very clear that we’re very awful, but I can’t see why we’re this bad. This is a historically bad team at the moment and really it shouldn’t be. I don’t really understand it.

 

 

 

 

Moving on – what to look for this weekend

An interesting perspective on the Manchester United game from a commenter on the statsbomb.com website.

The ‘analytics community’, such that it is, have been looking at Fulham with mouths agape this year.

The reason is the shots disparity.

This is important because shots for and against are in many ways a better indicator of a team’s ability than are goals. No really. The problem with goals is that they are rare and relatively random, especially in the short term. Teams can and do play well without getting the goals their play deserves.

If you think about most goals you see this becomes reasonably clear: while football rewards good play and good teams usually beat bad teams, within 90 minutes all kinds of strange things can happen to make the use of actual goals a bit tricky. A goal will usually be the product of some effective play, a mistake (usually more than one) in the defence, and some luck, too. Throw all this into 90 minutes and this is why it’s hard to predict individual matches and almost impossible to predict correct scores.

Anyway, here is Fulham’s problem:

shots
We have been absolutely battered this season. Usually with statistical analysis you take your numbers then look for a qualitative explanation: are the numbers reasonable? If not, why not? You use these things as a basis for what we might optimistically call diagnosis; what on earth is going wrong?

The numbers for Fulham have been historically bad. We’ve been outshot to such a degree, against ordinary teams, that things genuinely do look very very bad. It suggests that the points we do have have been earned fortunately, for one thing, and I think that’s true: Sunderland dominated us but we scored from a corner to snatch the game. Against Crystal Palace, a terrible team, we were well and truly under it until that man Kasami scored that wonder strike. Then Steve Sidwell knocked one in, too. These goals weren’t random but they weren’t exactly a result of a coherent plan, a repeatable circumstance; they were out of this world. They count like any other goal but you can’t rely on screamers all season, can you?

Anyway, the point of all this: Manchester United. We conceded three early on and in some ways that led me to believe that everything we achieved afterwards could be discounted. I still think that might be true to a degree: United had the game wrapped up, had to make three substitutions; it’s no wonder we got back into it.

But the thing here is that we didn’t just get back into it, we actually gave a fair crack at retrieving the game. United weren’t just sitting back and limiting us to hopeless long-shots, we made real chances. And a few of them, too. It was, at long last, a real performance. It gives us some hope for the weeks ahead.

It would be daft to take a good 45 minutes as evidence that a corner is being turned, but it would be just as daft to write that 45 minutes off altogether. Liverpool’s exciting attacking play will tie our team in knots if we defend ‘like that’ again, but there’s some quality in our own team and while a heavy defeat must be the most likely result, it will be very interesting to see how things are shaping up.

Signs of progress, even in defeat, might be:

1. A sensible balance of shots. Looking at the chart above, we need to get to double figures here, and we need to keep their attempts sensible as well. You can’t go around with 19-3 differentials and expect to win anything; this desperately needs to improve. You can’t just go around saying “we need 10 shots” but to accomplish this would at least demonstrate that we’d been in the game.

This is in some ways the end product of the other things we need to do. We can’t stop them shooting if we have no defensive protection; we can’t create shots if we dilly dally all day and have no attacking movement. We need a target of keeping up with Liverpool in the shots stakes, and a plan to achieve this.

I won’t keep harping on but some of this is Derek Boateng, some of this is Scott Parker staying near his defence, and part of it is attacking patterns (e.g. have some, rather than trying to work out a big move on the fly).  If you insist on playing Ruiz and Berbatov tell both of them you expect them to make a shots from inside the area.

Part of it is passion. We English fans are terrible on this front, in that we tend to rate passion over quality, but there’s something to this as well. Look at Jose Mourinho’s reaction to Chelsea losing at Newcastle. What he’s been describing is Fulham all season. We don’t need Derek Boateng and Steve Sidwell sliding into Liverpool’s skill players all day, but we do need a sense of urgency, a tempo, a controlled aggression.

2. Rack up some fouls. We seem a bit too easy to play against. A number of sensible fouls would suggest that we at least got in Liverpool’s faces a bit, slowed down their breaks and allowed us to get men back in set positions when we’re stretched.

3. Perseverance in the face of being dominated. Liverpool are a really good team and match up well with us. They have skilful front players and players like Lucas who are very good at protecting the back four (or three, or whatever they do). It will be a really tricky match for us but we need to win battles, we need to dust ourselves off whenever Suarez and Sturridge turn us inside out for the fifth time. We need to accept this and we need to play with a purpose anyway. Try things; break quickly; make life uncomfortable to the extent we are able. Evidence of this would probably just be from keeping the game close. There is no shame in losing 2-1 or something but at this level we should have the capability to avoid a drubbing.

Drrrrty

discThis is quite interesting. Some of the worst teams in the league are the least undisciplined in Europe.

Possible rule: no possession + no fouls = lose lots of games?

 

Naive post about using the youngsters more

Everyone’s talking about our exciting youth players and there’s some interest in bringing a few of the better players into the first team squad.

In many cases it’s probably too early, but these things are notoriously hard to pin down. You can probably ‘get away’ with using young players much more than people like to think.

Part of this is the notion of experience. Until performance evaluation took over in baseball a few years ago it was common to find ‘veteran’ players being well rewarded for fairly ordinary performance. Meanwhile, good young players were kept in the minor leagues. Then the penny dropped, and teams became much less inclined to pay someone just because they had been in the league for a long time. This hasn’t lead to a younger player base, I don’t think, just a more efficient one. Young players are, it seems, more likely to get a chance, and old players on the downslope are not coveted as they once were.

The notion of experience has in some ways been concocted through self-interest on the part of sportsmen. It figures: you’ve played ten years, your athletic capabilities are not what they were, you can’t do what you used to, what have you got left? Experience! Intangibles that seperate you from those dangerous young players!

It’s easier for coaches, too. With an experienced pro they know where they are. If Mark Schwarzer made mistakes it was ‘one of those things’; if David Stockdale made the same errors it was proof that he was ‘not ready’.

Lots of coaches prefer experienced mediocrities to young mediocrities. There is a belief that if you ‘rush’ a player you will somehow destroy him. While that has some truth, a counter argument might be that it will accelerate a young player’s development.

How much harm can it do to the team? Honestly, the current season has been about as bad as it could be, and we’re among the oldest teams in the league. If we’d stuck someone from the U21s into the team every game this season how many fewer points would we have? I don’t think it would have made that much difference at all.

What, exactly, are the failings of young players supposed to be? Are they supposed to be reckless? Prone to bad decisions? Bad at taking instruction? Likely to do something daft when the pressure’s really on? I think those are human failings rather than young player failings. You can coach a young player in the same way you can coach an older player, and if a youngster is indeed slightly more risky on a game-to-game basis, maybe the trade-off is still worth it in injecting energy and interest into a dull, dull, team. It also lends the possibility of developing a team identity: you have an award winning U21 team and manage to keep them together in the senior team then there you have some intangibles! There you have something that might give Fulham fans something to cheer. It’s not easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight, but let’s not pretend it’s impossible, either.

It could even help. The home crowd won’t give a young player a hard time. Quite the opposite. And it’ll be seen as an encouraging concession to the future; a sign that we are trying to build a club rather than patch one together every season and hope it’s not going to fall apart.

Now is a time for being bold. No sense in doing anything daft but we won’t be able to attract the best youngsters if we get a reputation for never using them. We shouldn’t waste the current strength we have down the age groups, nor, for that matter, the weaknesses of the senior team. It’s an ideal opportunity to change the direction of the club.

Defending Philippe Senderos

I don’t know that there’s much more to be said about the current problems so let’s get specific here.

People are blaming our friend Philippe Senderos for a lot of things and while he sometimes looks shaky it’s my contention that Bobby Moore would’ve been exposed in our current defence.  Let’s look:

goal1

Right then. At the very top you see part of our big problem in that the ball’s gone straight to our last defender with no midfield shield.  As Alan Hansen might say, you could drive a bus through that midfield.  So straight off the centre-backs are completely exposed.

Amorebieta gets close and gets turned, after which you see that Senderos and Rooney are both running towards the penalty area and Robin van Persie has the ball. I ask you: is Senderos really supposed to be able to deal with this situation on his own?  Of course he isn’t.  He realises how desperate the situation is and makes a futile attempt to intercept the through ball, but that doesn’t come off and moments later Rooney’s setting up Valencia.

The last picture is there to show you why Derek Boateng would be helpful: imagine that Amorebieta was in between Richardson and Senderos.  Senderos probably doesn’t shade so far across (look at the hole Amorebieta leaves!!), Boateng probably doesn’t get turned so easily and there’s really no threat. Instead the ball gets straight to van Persie against a centre-back, the centre-back sells himself and from there we’re up against it.   And everyone blames this goal on Senderos?   Not me.

goal2

 

For the second goal Parker loses the ball and oh look, the defence is completely exposed again.  Remember under Roy Hodgson we played Portsmouth away one evening and conceded a goal like this?  Bullard got caught in possession, exposing everyone behind him.  Same here, and straight away it’s 3v3 with, yep, no midfield protection.  With nobody to challenge the runner Senderos finds himself with a man ahead and van Persie behind.  What’s he supposed to do here?  If he goes out too quick it’s too easy to go past him, so he tries to hold his shape and hopes that United misplay their advantage.  Emphatically they don’t, van Persie thumping home, but again, if you’re blaming Senderos here you’re being very harsh.  Sascha Riether might have been helpful here but look where he was!!  Just about in shot on the far right of the penultimate photo…. oh dear.

The third goal had Riether playing the man onside, too. Maybe Senderos was slow following Rooney then but again, the damage had been done.

So yeah, blame Senderos for his awkward looking attempts to fend off an almost impossible situation if you like but we must acknowledge that this is a team defensive disaster and Senderos is only highlighted at the end of it because he’s the only one left back there.  There are numerous issues before the centre-backs are brought into play, and again, they’re just so, so exposed.

At this point I can’t think of an argument for not including Derek Boateng.  We haven’t seen enough to know that he’s the answer but really something has to happen.  If I were Philippe Senderos I’d be furious about how bad my teammates were supporting me.

Direness

This will be nothing new to regular readers, but our woes are catching on in the neutral sector of football sites…

Statsbomb has something about our problems here.

Put another way, we are allowing 12 more shots a game than we are making!  Over a season we will allow 439 more shots than we take.

How…. how can we expect to do anything with numbers like that?

How?

 

 

Southampton thoughts

I’m not sure how much can be said that hasn’t been said already.

You had one team playing with great verve, organisation and purpose, and another trying to piece things together on the fly.

Allen Wade, Roy Hodgson’s mentor, said this about football many years ago:

A *functional* team plays to achieve the best possible match result in all forseeable circumstances. The more functional a team, the greater the reliance on the organisation of collective play. Functional teams are prepared to be predictable in order to improve team efficiency. An *expressionist* team allows the individual players to employ whatever skills they feel are appropriate in defeating opponents. The more expressionist a team, the greater the apparent lack of relationships between individual players. Expressionist teams rely on unpredictability to surprise and defeat opponents.

Fulham under Jol have clearly gone expressionist. Or if they haven’t, they’re doing a good impression of it.

Southampton were super-functional, drilled and working very very well as a collective.

It was embarrassing: watching a modern team taking apart a ghost of an XI, out of time, luck and ideas. One of those that could have been 5-0 on another day.

The clever thing for Saints is that they expend all this energy but probably end up running less than their opponents! Southampton kept the ball for long stretches, which is much easier on the fitness levels than chasing after it. Jose Mourinho instructs his teams to have a rest in possession, just moving the ball around for a bit and re-gathering themselves. Southampton did this, leaving Fulham players to pointlessly chase around as individuals (Saints hunted in packs, of course). So they basically schooled us, panicking us when we had the ball, tormenting us when we didn’t. Embarrassing.

If you’ve been reading this site for the last few weeks you’ll have seen that wherever Fulham are struggling at the moment, Southampton seem to be striving. Where we allow lots of shots, make few tackles or interceptions, and generally make life easier for our opponents than they could ever imagine, Southampton are the opposite, chasing like mad things and spreading panic wherever they go. So their approach would not have been a surprise to Fulham. Nevertheless, it looked that way: with such a gale of pressure Fulham needed to understand their out balls, their approach to being closed down quickly, but we didn’t seem to have an answer.

Notionally you beat a pressing team over the top. Pressing is accompanied by a high defensive line to condense the pitch and prevent teams passing around and through a press (think about it this way: if Scott Parker charges at an opponent but the back four stays deep there’s a big gap behind him isn’t there? But if the back four and the rest of the team are coordinated there isn’t this gap). The idea is that you press quickly enough that opponents don’t have the time to play a good through ball over the top. For a good example of this going wrong picture Newcastle against Fulham when we won 5-2 or whatever it was a couple of years ago. Newcastle had the high line but didn’t get the pressure on the man with the ball and Murphy, Dempsey and Zamora all played some terrific through balls that led to goals, if I remember rightly.

Fulham didn’t ever find that time and only played one through ball to Bent, who was wrongly given offside.

(speaking of Bent, he is living down to expectations: a terrific idea as a sub but a non-participant as a starter. Erik Nevland was similar, if less able. Bent does offer a threat over the top but needs to engage more with the rest of the team or we’re just playing a man short.)

Bright points? Only that it puts our failings very clearly in perspective. It goes beyond the failings of individials – I think all of our players are reasonable and could perfectly well be part of a top 10 team – there’s just a collective meltdown in our play. I made the point on Twitter, but if playing for Fulham were an office job you suspect a good number would be talking to recruiters by now. Nobody looks like they’re thriving, enjoying their role, or doing their role well (with the exception of Sidwell, whose qualities lend themselves to chaos! I mean that in a good way…). It was half-encouraging to see Jol move to a 3-5-2 in the second half, and I wouldn’t be that surprised to see him persevering with this in the future.

We have the personnel for it and it would be the sort of thing that a struggling manager might attempt just to give a different look, a different approach. Riether and Richardson are made to be wing-backs, and we have plenty of decent centre-backs. It might be an answer.

Good win over Palace

We wanted to see some evidence that the two week break had changed something and I don’t know that we got that, but a 4-1 away win with two fantastic goals is not something to sneeze at, is it?

Some thoughts, then:

Palace are pretty bad. As Jamie Carragher pointed out last night, they’re arguably weaker than they were last season. They’re going to be relegated and there’s not much they can do. Sensibly, I think, they are making improvements to the club while there’s money around but not doing anything rash. But games like tonight’s are matches where they might hope to win, and they emphatically didn’t.

They started well though. With the evening kickoff and the floodlights there was always going to be a decent atmosphere. Palace scored early and Fulham seemed a bit shellshocked: despite all the creative players in our team, the main approach seemed to be Senderos to Hangeland, Hangeland to Senderos….

We were rescued by as good a goal as we’ll ever see. Kasami did well to make the run he did, Riether did well to find him. Kasami did well to control the ball on the full like that. If the move had ended here it would’ve been quite impressive. But to hook the ball into the top corner from there… I always think that the mark of a great goal is whether a park player could conceivably have scored it. Many goals fail this test, as wellying a football is something most of us are half capable of (Sidwell’s own wonder strike, good though it was, will be replicated on parks around the country this weekend). Anyway, basically nobody on earth could have done what Kasami did last night, which raises its own questions, primarily around what on earth has happened to the young man in the last year. We’d seen glimpses but Kasami 2013 is something else. A nice surprise, and, dare we say it, credit Jol for letting him play.

And so on. It’s like one of those FA Cup 3rd round games when you win well but against limited opposition: great for morale but hard to understand in the context of the wider season. What it probably does confirm is that we’re all fighting to avoid a single relegation spot: Sunderland look shot, Palace will struggle, and that leaves only the one space for the remainder of us to avoid.

The second half was a good deal better and it was nice to see a couple of set piece goals. Other thoughts:

Scott Parker very clearly played a much more disciplined role. Previously he has used his experience and quality to adopt a bit of an “I’m running this team” approach, but that’s not the best use of him at this point, and it was nice to see him settle down into a more conservative but more useful role.

They needed help initially though: Palace had Parker and Sidwell outnumbered and this was causing all kinds of problems. With the ball they kept going back to the defenders; without it both were playing on the edge of reason, a predicament Sidwell seems to enjoy but which seems to get both the best and worst out of him. Luckily the goal took the sting out of Palace and this issue ceased to be.

Riether seemed a lot more conservative, too. Ruiz was helping him out and was closed down *very* quickly.

My arguments about Darren Bent as a sub still hold, I think. He touched the ball less than a dozen times in the time he was out there, so a good argument could have been made for using his place to stiffen that midfield and maybe let Ruiz play off Berbatov. That said, his pace offers intangible benefits: Palace couldn’t press too high up the pitch for fear of what we might do if they did, which probably helped us find our feet in the game a bit more.

It’s touch and go though. While I like Bent and agree that he just needs games, I wouldn’t be averse to him being used on the hour every week.

The “it’s all Berbatov’s fault” brigade should be quiet for a bit now. He has been out of form, of course, but quality like that should not be discarded quickly.

I’m worried about Hangeland and at this point wonder if he is worth his place in the team. Senderos, whatever people might like to think, is doing a good job, and Amorebieta looks impressive whenever we see him. Given that Richardson and Riether seem reasonable full-backs, perhaps the time has come to change the back four more dramatically.

The world is moving to a pressing game and it’s something Fulham haven’t really done. To press you need to move up as a team. If only some players press they leave gaps behind them, so it has to be a concerted effort to squeeze the game. This means a high back line, something you can’t do if your centre-backs are slow. You have to weigh up all the team’s strengths and weaknesses but an ongoing theme this year has been the number of shots we have allowed. This might be because the team isn’t compact defensively: the back four stay back, the midfield is fragmented. It feels as if a more compressed unit might be harder to get through. This is just conjecture though. It’ll be worth watching how Southampton play at the weekend though: they’re very good at this.

In any case, bananaskin dodged, nice win, please for the players. We live to fight another day.

Great stuff over at StatsBomb on defending.

They put defensive statistics into context, eventually looking at tackles and interceptions per game relative to opponents’ possession.

There appear to be two types of teams: teams that put pressure on the man, going for tackles; and teams that go for the ball, and intercepting passes.

Guess which we are?

Neither.

As I keep saying – this isn’t about Berbatov, it’s defending.

 

Using Darren Bent

This is really interesting.

Jol points out that while Bent’s a good player, the team seems to be doing better with him coming on as a sub:

bent

 

Isn’t that something?

Bent’s come on as a sub three times and scored all three times. When he’s started we’ve done less well.

This reminds me of one of the great unspoken findings in Colin Baker’s work.

sub

 

Given how many goals are scored late in games, given how most forwards are more prolific coming off the bench, Jol’s actually making a lot of sense here.  Just because the established approach is for the first XI to have the prestige, you probably are better off bringing Bent on after an hour.   It just makes so much sense.

Stand off

stm2_496x225

Here’s a nifty Opta graphic pinched from NBC Pro Soccer Talk.

Shows time a team has the ball and allows opponents to keep the ball, per ‘possession’.  So as you might expect, we’re quite good at keeping it a while (if not incisive, we are careful), but we’re among the very worst at getting the ball off opponents.  This is last year’s data but still.  Check out late-era Southampton!   Only Norwich and WBA allowed opponents more time to build attacks than Fulham.

PS

Add in this, from

@experimental361

defending2

Ideas for a better world

One thing we’ve talked a lot about recently is shots, how Fulham have allowed an awful lot of them and created very few. It’s a dangerous combination.

It isn’t however, the end of the world. Fulham seem stuck in a sort of tactical no-man’s land, neither playing a proper defensive game nor really attacking with much intent.

I strongly recommend reading both of these articles about how the team might change things around.

Step 1: the defensive shell. There are all sorts of stories about this but one that springs to mind is from the 90s Milan side, which would train attack v defence in one goal. The defence would expect to keep the attack out as long as it wanted to, the thinking being that as long as defensive players are where they are supposed to be, they’re not going to concede. The Shell is a real-life extension of this: football fans and pundits hate it when teams ‘sit too deep’ but analysis has shown that it’s actually a pretty good way to see out games, particularly if you bring on a defensive substitute as well. In the late stages of games you get in trouble being too open; if you take a ‘what we have, we hold’ approach you usually will indeed hold on. Jose Mourinho is big on this, taking the sting out of an advantageous position and effectively running out the game with no further alarms. His teams keep possession of the ball, keep a rigorous shape, and ensure that everything on the pitch is done on their terms, even when they don’t have the ball.

Step 2 is about counter-attacking, something that the article points out is one of the best way to create better chances in the modern game is to employ the counter-attack as deliberate strategy.

Anyway, have a read. Interesting stuff.

The competent man theory

I think the reason some of us have been reluctant to go around shouting “JOL OUT!” towards the birds in the sky has been a perhaps misguided notion that he is a good football manager.

And if he is a good football manager then what we’re seeing is an aberration.

Because really, the team’s last few seasons have established Fulham as a mid table club. The spending has been a bit thin on the ground but the players all look reasonable enough.

So we sit here stroking our chins with our eyes closed and our heads shaking gently, whispering ‘patience, fans, patience!’, because we know in our souls that any football team can have a bad run of form, and really it’s just part of football’s great randomness: the ship will be on course soon enough, as long as nobody panics*.

(*yes, I know that we’ve been bad since last year, about all kinds of other indicators, too).

And as long as a competent football manager is in charge then this is exactly what will happen. The team, whether it takes a week or a month, will soon find its mojo and start winning again. We’ve all seen it happen in football. Confidence is hard to find when you’re down, but all it takes is a bit of something and soon we’ll be flying.

Those of us sighing ‘calm down, angry men’ did so because we assumed Jol knew what he was doing, that we were seeing a downswing, an aberration. Personally, it hadn’t occurred to me that Jol could be in top flight football for so long, doing relatively well, if he were not a competent manager.

This is exactly what we’ve been asked to believe, that someone who could lead Spurs to relative success, who could hold down positions at Hamburg and Ajax, who could do all this and keep a decent reputation within the game… we’ve been asked to believe that this man is not a competent football manager? And we’ve been asked to believe this by people who, with all due respect, don’t always know what they’re talking about.

Absent better information, as we all are, it remains very tempting to ignore everything we see, all the numbers we read, and assume that Martin Jol is a good manager and Fulham will rise again.

But at some point you can’t ignore everything, can you?

 

Sharing the blame around

One question I imagine Martin Jol is asking himself a lot is “why have my players stopped defending?”

It’s all well and good everyone going “Jol out” all day every day but as per the post-sacking player interview cliche, there’s an element of the players having let him down, too.

One by one:

Stockdale is an inexperienced top flight goalkeeper, so no blame to him here.

Sascha Riether is, if you listen to the message boards, the second coming of Cafu, so he can’t be to blame.

Amorebietta (can a song to the tune of De La Soul’s “Eye Know” be worked in here at some point?) was an important player for the fabulous Athletic Bilbao.

Brede Hangeland was Sir Roy’s main man at the back.

John-Arne Riise has been an important player for Liverpool and Roma. Kieron Richardson played for United and Sunderland and was generally well thought of along the way.

Then before them you have players like Scott Parker, England’s player of the year quite recently and every club’s dream combination of effort and ability.

Steve Sidwell is not everyone’s cup of tea but he’s had a good track record and our dive only started when he got suspended last year. Georgios Karagounis is old but experienced.

You would think that whatever training or tactical brain farts the coaching team is wafting their way, these players with their collective know how would still have the experience and ability to defend. Bad coaching or man management can’t single handedly destroy the intellectual faculties of all these people.

So what’s happened to these people? Have they all got too old at the same time? Is the team structure really ruining their competence? I don’t buy it completely. Hangeland was in a back four under Roy Hodgson that would’ve seen how to shut down the best. He is a bright man; he would know the difference between now and then. He could use this knowledge to work with teammates to make things better. Parker’s seen it all and done it all. He can recognise a team struggling and a team doing well. Can’t he diagnose this team’s shortcomings and personally decide to help out at the back or something?

Or are they all just running around like headless chickens because they haven’t got a precise framework to work with?

Let it be

I hate football and football fans when it gets like this.   I don’t want to get all sensitive on you or anything, but in what other sphere of life do you find a large group of grown men shouting furiously at another man?  It’s basically football managers and murderers and rapists awaiting trial, which suggests that some people need to get some perspective.

That said, the team needs to get better.  Here is the latest whoscored.com summary of our game:

nos

 

We’ve been highlighting this problem for the last two weeks but yet again, Fulham have been completely undone by their absolute inability to stop another team from playing.  To be outshot at home by a margin of 22-9 against a newly promoted side is a) terrible but b) not a surprise.

It’s hideous and I don’t understand it.  If there is to be a new manager he has an open goal before him: start again, build from the back, win some games.  I am baffled why Jol didn’t tighten right up for today’s game, opposition be damned.  Just start trying to get things right, start playing a proper team game.  But no, we got another ridiculous performance and a well deserved defeat.

Jol and his team are paid a lot of money and need to fix this.  It’s not just amateur speculation as to what a problem might be, it’s a bloody obvious assessment based on facts.  It can’t continue like this.

Numbers

Shots on goal in four league games so far:

5
13
3
10

Shots on goal against Everton

23

Woot!

We always do well against Roberto Martinez though, don’t we?

 

 

Bleugh

The defeat at Chelsea was about as predictable as these things get.  Chelsea absolutely battered us for long periods and while we held out for a time, there was no sense of controlled resistance.  The final shots allowed tally was well into the 20s, which is a theme we’ve all identified and which can’t continue if the team is going to pull itself out of this hole.  True, Stockdale was at fault for their opener, but he’s made a lot of good saves since his return to the side and the defeat wasn’t remotely on his shoulders.

There was a telling moment on Match of the Day where Cardiff’s two banks of four were highlighted and praised.   I appreciate that we’re not that team anymore, but as Jose Mourinho is pointing out whenever asked about Juan Mata, no team is too good for hard work in defence.  Fulham certainly aren’t.

Did you know that Chelsea outshot us 24-4?  Maybe you did.  But I bet you didn’t notice that they out tackled us 27-16, too.  (I’m being slightly wrong-headed here, as we intercepted 20 passes to their 2, but still).   Look at the whoscored.com team summary for the season:

whoscoredffc

 

 

That’s diabolical.

As we’ve seen in recent days, the team has had ups and downs like this a few times in the recent past and on each occasion a downward swing has been followed by much better form.

We’re due that upswing now, and if it doesn’t happen we’re in new, bad, territory, and perhaps the angry men have been right all along (although we must remember that many were equally negative about Hodgson, Hughes, and Jol during better times – sometimes it seems as if being negative about a football manager is a minor hobby for many).

It’s easy to blather on about things not being well but here, again, is a proposed simple solution: remove one attacking player and introduce one defensive player.  Restore some balance to the team by installing Derek Boateng in front of the back four.  He might not be “the answer” but I was persuaded by Tony Gilroy’s interpretation of his performance at Sunderland. Sidwell and Parker are to be defensively minded, too.  These three will be the core of the team, it’s soul.  Get back to basics by becoming hard to play against.  Grind out some results.  Earn the right to play.  It’s a long season and we have the players to come good, but at the moment we’re playing terribly.  A minor tweak like this could make a big difference without sacrificing too much.   Dunno.  We’ll see.  Chances are we’ll improve without doing much in the next few games so all of this could be moot.  And certainly we don’t want to see Jol flailing around for ideas with a new 11 and a new system every week.  So we’ll see.  It’s not all doom and gloom, but we’re due an improvement.

Where next?

Just following up on below’s post: if there’s one thing that watching and studying Roy Hodgson’s teams taught us is that attacking and defending are not unconnected.

When Hodgson picks James Milner to man England’s left flank he’s accepting that he might not create as much as, say, Adam Johnson, but he will more or less ensure that opponents don’t get to create much on that flank either. It’s important to remember that a goal not conceded is just as valuable as a goal scored; it’s virtually impossible to actually measure this defensive contribution but it’s there and it’s valuable. Provided Hodgson feels he has enough ways to create through other channels, or that he’s not too fussed about creating in the first place, Milner remains a sound option.

We’ve long wondered about the balance of the current Fulham side, but what I think the numbers bear out is that we’re adopting an attacking philosophy, by and large, but that the gains going forward are simply not compensating for the holes being left at the back. That’s balance, and it’s not correct.

Part of this is because our best players are forwards. Berbatov, Ruiz and Bent must play. But all three are more or less one-way players. Jol’s default has been to add in at least one more forward player, and then we have Parker and Sidwell both going box-to-box, and Riether likes to overlap, and Riise at least attempted to.

But despite all this we’re not creating chances, we’re not scoring lots of goals.

So what needs to be fixed? There are perhaps a few options:

Change the balance and field more defensive players. We have Derek Boateng and he did well against Sunderland, and would give Parker and Sidwell justification to play as they do. To do this you would have to sacrifice an attacking player, but as noted, that extra attacking player isn’t paying off anyway.

Keep the existing lineup but make them play differently. Parker is a wonderful defensive shield player, and while you’d lose a lot of Riether’s value by making him stay back, there’s no reason why you can’t just get Parker to sit much deeper, tell whoever’s at left back not to overlap as much, and generally set a bit more discipline about just how many players are to get ahead of the ball.

The latter might see a trend towards a more counter-attacking philosophy. People say that Berbatov and Ruiz slow down our attacks but I think that’s only because the team as a whole is favouring a slow buildup and defences are behind the ball. Ruiz can counter, Berbatov’s vision would seem to lend itself to this approach, and Bent’s best facing the goal. Riether’s overrated by Fulham fans but is the best counter-attacking full-back I’ve seen at the club. Sidwell has the energy and nous to make late scoring runs into opposing areas. I think we have the talent to play this way.

I am always very nervous of “we should do this” type posts, me being a footballing outsider and all. But when data is on my side, and the data below suggests that the balance of the team is wrong, then there’s some justification here.

If we see more tight defending, fast attacks and perhaps even a bit more speculative shooting, we’ll know they’ve been reading!

We have all the time in the world

I think this is probably quite original analysis. Bear with me then while I explain myself.

In basketball they have a notion of ‘pace’. This is important in the way players are analysed: if a basketball player averages 20 points per game in a team that attacks 100 times a game, he’s not the same as a player who averages 20 points per game in a team that attacks 50 times a game. Different teams employ different approaches: you get fast break sides that go back and forth a lot, and other teams the slow the tempo down.

This applies to football as well to a degree. With the help of Opta stats I first took each game from last season and checked to see how long the ball was actually in play.

So let’s call this step 1, and let’s say that in match 1 the ball was in play for 60 minutes.

In step 2 we look to see what percentage of possession each team had. So if team A has 75% of the ball and team B 25% of the ball, that effectively means that team A had 45 minutes to do things and team B 15 minutes.

Do you see why this might be important? By doing this we get an idea of how teams are playing, how good they are at creating opportunities and at stopping opponents from creating same.

When Fulham fans moan that the team’s buildup is too slow, we can in part counter that actually, in home games at least, Fulham get a shot in every 2 1/2 minutes of actual possession, which is normal (away from home is another matter).

Let’s work this through then, using data from the 2012/13 season.

First, here are the numbers for overall shots in teams’ home games.  Again, what is shows is that in their home games, Spurs get a shot off every 2.1 minutes they actually have the ball.  They allow their opponents to get a shot off every 3.8 minutes of their possession.

There’s not much differentiation there, but it shows that some teams are quicker in making shots in their home games than are others.  Remember, all numbers are minutes.

HS1
Note how hard United and City make it for opponents to get off a shot. Fulham, by contrast, are not particularly good here: I suspect it’s one reason fortress Cottage is no longer really fortress Cottage.

Next, total shots in teams’ away games. Spurs are at it again, piling in the shots.

HS2

Note that FUlham are pretty much a disaster, needing the ball for almost four and a half minutes to get off a shot, and allowing a shot every two minutes. It’s probably the worst combination in the league. Spurs were very impressive in preventing shots away from home, too. They had a terrific away record last year and here we can see why. From the numbers, their away games were more like most teams’ home games.

Fine, that’s overall shots, but this isn’t the be all and end all. You need *good* shots, and that’s where a bit more differentiation becomes apparent.  Numbers now are for shots on target, which are A Big Deal.

HST1

The first thing that stands out is how hard Manchester City made it to get off good shots against them. It took 10-11 minutes of possession at the Etihad to create a single on target effort. Wow. Fulham are again middle of the road. It’s curious to see Chelsea landing where they do.

HST2

Away from home it’s again Spurs and City, with Fulham again right down there. In our away matches it’s taking us almost 10 minutes of possession to get off a shot on target. We effectively turn home teams into Man City! Swansea actually had a pretty good away record so what you’re seeing there, I suspect, is a team picking its moments quite carefully. Reading gave up a shot on target every 3 1/2 minutes, which is worse only than Fulham.

I can break all this down by outcomes as well. We need to be careful here as small sample sizes are all over the place, but nevertheless, some nuggets:

Villa won five away games in and in these games their opponents went a remarkable 13 minutes of possession between shots on target. In Villa’s away defeats it took five minutes to get through them. Actually they were really interesting in these away wins: despite being battered at Anfield, they held Norwich, Reading, Stoke and Sunderland to a combined 11 shots on target in almost two hours of defending.

Chelsea’s home numbers are weird. In wins and losses they got off a shot on target every three minutes. In draws it’s every nine minutes. Clearly they had five big stalemates where they were completely shut down.

They were probably quite unlucky away, too. In five defeats their opponents got off a shot every 12 minutes of possession and Chelsea every three. They must have been unlucky there (these were close defeats to Newcastle, Southampton, WBA and West Ham).

Fulham attacking didn’t vary much in home games regardless of outcome, but in the wins we stopped the opposition shooting (sot every seven minutes) and in defeats we didnt’ (every four).

For most teams there’s a fairly straightforward relationship between success and stopping shots on target.

What does it all mean? For one thing I think it really draws out teams’ strengths and weaknesses, also asking questions about their style, what works, what doesn’t. It shows that Fulham are no longer dominant at home and have a fairly disastrous combination away, whereby it takes us a long time to get off a good shot, but opponents find it easy to do same against us. This is pretty damning and perhaps suggests that what looked like an improved away performance last year may have merely been quite fortunate.

Thanks to Opta for providing me with the numbers I needed for this.

A graph showing important things

PPG

This shows points per game on a rolling 10 game average.  What this means is that at any point, what is the average points per game in the previous 10 matches.  It’s a way of looking at how something’s progressed without all the lurching around you’d get if you didn’t roll up the data.

PS divvied up by season:

ppg2

Fulham WBA reaction

Ruiz hits the bar, the underside of the bar.  If that’s a centimeter lower it’s a 2-0 win, a well deserved 2-0 win.

Or what about Berbatov’s second disallowed goal. Nothing in it.  That would’ve give us a 2-0 win too.

There’s nothing Martin Jol can do about these incidents.

Fulham did more than enough to win the game and generally, through bad luck, failed to do so.

It is a non-negotiable point that in football you don’t always get what you deserve in any single match.   Fulham deserved to win this.

Against Sunderland Fulham won undeservedly. Against Arsenal Fulham lost deservedly. Against Newcastle the defeat was fair.  So in four games, from which a return of three total points might reasonably have been expected, we have four.  We’ve not been playing well in these four games but today we did.  There is no real doubt in my mind about this.  We didn’t steamroller WBA but we played pretty well and ordinarily would have scored more than a single goal.  That we didn’t was not Jol’s fault and was mainly bad luck.

So by booing here, by getting angry here, what are you saying? That Fulham are not good enough under Jol?  Because the evidence suggests that this isn’t the case: Fulham are getting perfectly normal points returns under Jol.  Yes, it’s frustrating that the team seems to blow hot and cold, that sometimes there appears to be a lack of tactical tightness, but the crucial point is this: no Fulham team in recent years has looked good losing.  Fulham at the moment have a trickish start to the year and have looked like they’ve had a trickyish start to the year.  Today was an easier game but even then you don’t always win easier games.  We know this.  We’re grown ups, we’ve seen football: Fulham often don’t win games we think they should.  NOTHING NEW HERE.

Martin Jol’s a good manager.  Football managers tend to be very good, in which case they get their teams to overachieve, good, in which case their teams generally do what they should, or less good, in which case teams struggle.  The very good managers are exceedingly rare and we may currently have one.  If not, we’re still comfortably in the middle ground.   Get rid of Jol and almost any replacement would do about the same or worse than Jol.  That’s almost non-negotiable.  So what are we saying?  That we want to change anyway, that we want a new manager to come in and spend a fortune changing players because that’s what new managers do?  Or, here’s an idea, do we SHOW SOME ******* PATIENCE?