Innocence and Experience

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There was a fascinating piece in the Independent today about English attitudes to young players. Most clubs of Fulham’s size will lose their best youngsters, and a good recent example for us might be Patrick Roberts who swapped potential stardom for a chance to play in Manchester City’s reserves before going out on loan to Celtic and beyond. Now that might be unkind in that Roberts has actually had game time, but who’s to say that Ryan Sessegnon won’t face a similar situation in the next few months?

It speaks to a general lack of trust in young players in the English game. This quote from the article is I believe attributed to a Dortmund scout:

The scout, from one of the clubs most globally respected for bringing through talent, couldn’t quite believe the situation – let alone what he was seeing. It was a run-of-the-mill under-23 game, but Fulham’s Matt O’Riley was putting in anything but a run-of-the-mill performance. The teenage midfielder was brilliant.

“It’s amazing,” the scout said. “Fulham spent how many millions in the summer for two midfielders, and we wouldn’t pay for either of them. But O’Riley can’t get in the team and we’d pay for him.”

That’s hard to hear. I know the club would disagree with this statement – they bought the players they bought because they believed in them – but to have a proven club say something like that is quite damning.  It’s a blow to those of us who still believe that Seri at least is a quality player looking to find his feet, and who think that Anguissa just needs a few games in a less chaotic team to show us the form that made him an ever present in Marseilles Europa League run last season.   But apparently perhaps not.  Anyway.

There’s more:

Many who work on the continent simply can’t believe how wedded English clubs are to a hierarchical system regarding age. It is like they get hung up on it, and won’t trust an 18-year-old if they can bring in a 21-year-old. The director of football at a Ligue 1 club confided that, “we can’t believe some of the quality English clubs have and don’t use. Age doesn’t come into it with us, it’s just about level of quality.

“English clubs seem to give the least amount of respect to the same players they’ve spent years developing.”

I’ve long believed this to the the case. If we look at the NBA or the NFL, talented young players get regular game time and are able to play at a very high level in their early 20s. And while their skills might change and improve as they age, they are trusted to perform.

In England this is simply not the case, and over the years dozens of talented young players have seen their careers sputter out because there’s no room at the top, which results in international squads leaning heavily on players not getting first team matches. And people will say “the cream rises to the top”, to which we might suggest that the cream won’t rise if it never leaves the cow (or a better metaphor if you can think of one). If you don’t let young players play, they don’t become as good as they otherwise would have become.

Fulham fans talk a lot about experience at the moment, but what does that really mean?  I would assume that personality is personality.  Does an experienced player stay calm towards the end of a stressful match more than a young player would?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps a calm player stays calm and an excitable player doesn’t.   Does an experienced player know how to deal with different kinds of opposing tactics?  Probably, but a manager ought to be preparing all of his squad for this kind of thing anyway, old or young.

So what exactly is it that experience brings?   More consistent form?  Again, perhaps.  But perhaps again that’s just a function of personality.  I would guess that it is.   No, I’d be surprised if there’s anything that experience brings to a team that isn’t directly a function of talent and personality, and those traits will be there however old a player is.

To make this real again, everyone was interested in Gary Cahill because of his experience.  But I’d be interested to know in tangible terms how that helps us.  Is it about leadership, about setting high standards?   That’d be good.  Probably that’s needed.   But I don’t know that this is a function of experience.  Perhaps we’re on semantics here.

It’s one of those things that we all take for granted because all the pros talk about it, all the football men go on about its importance, and let’s face it, our best manager went a bundle on getting in older players who’d been around the block a bit.  Even so, I’m not convinced, but then who am I?

Interesting times anyway.

Ryan Babel signs for Fulham

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As noted in our last post, it’s a troubling time for Fulham.  The league table is bad and makes attracting new players difficult.  Furthermore, even really good players only add a handful of points over the course of a season, so given that there’s only half a season left, and we don’t really have access to really good players, how much difference can be made?

It’s a tough one.  The pool of available difference makers is probably tiny, and in some ways limited to cast offs and unproven talent of the kind that Fulham fans are so nervous about (although of course Brede Hangeland had no Premiership experience when he signed for us last time this situation was faced).     I mentioned this on twitter after the Burnley defeat, but really the answer is high risk short-term deals.   There’s actually a list of free-agent players on Transfermarkt where we learn that Yohan Cabaye is currently without a club, as is Mikel John Obi, but otherwise it’s not long before you bump into Alexander Kacaniklic on the list.   Good players tend to be employed unless something odd has happened.

So it’s fascinating that the club found Ryan Babel in Turkey.  In a way this is exactly what they need to be doing.  Babel has a track record and has played under managers like Rafa Benitez.  He’s 33 but was always athletic, so you’d expect him to be able to battle Father Time for six months (and he played for Holland last year, too).  He’s been a regular at Besiktas and they’ve been winning.   It’s six months so you’re not saddled with a bad contract if relegation isn’t avoided, and he may (or may not) have that intriguing Dutch habit of speaking his mind and showing some leadership and calling out underperformance.  I mean, I don’t know, but everyone seems to think that the team lacks a bit of this, and maybe it does.

We don’t know what kind of player he is now, but for whatever it’s worth, Statsbomb did one of their radars, which suggests that, as a forward, he’s a creator of chances.

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As a player I always enjoyed watching him.  He had (has?) pace and a thunderbolt of a shot.  I don’t know exactly how he’d be used at Fulham but some are suggesting a role cutting in from the left.    That would make sense to me.   I have nothing against Joe Bryan but an inordinate amount of our attacks seem to go through the full-backs at the moment, and these full-backs are more or less midfielders anyway, so I wouldn’t be against seeing Sessegnon in that role on the left with Babel ahead of him cutting in onto that right foot.  It feels like Sess could still do his thing there and bring more attacking range to the team.   You’d want to do something similar on the right, too, perhaps, but one player at a time.

Presumably this signing is an indicator that the club is being pragmatic around the team’s needs.  As noted earlier, there’s only so much you can do in a transfer window when in this position, so a few clever additions of this kind may be just the job.

For what it’s worth, my shopping list is now:

  • one centre-back, but if Mawson returns this perhaps isn’t urgent as the players aren’t terrible back there (no really)
  • one right-back/wing-back/midfielder – I quite like Christie but I think the role’s too important in this team to not consider getting the best available player we can here
  • a centre-forward to play off Mitrovic and stretch defences.   It’s hard though because if you play Cairney behind Mitro, which I think we should, then there isn’t necessarily space in the team assuming you play Seri and Chambers, too, which again, we probably should, and Babel, who presumably didn’t come here to watch.  So at this point it’s about squad options.

So really it’s rearranging things a bit.   Here’s my sort of team as of now, but as you can see, I don’t really know what to do with the last available space (Babel).  I’d also like to see Anguissa playing under Ranieri but we don’t know if that ship has sailed or what.   Moving Chambers back into defence would be worth doing, too.

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We have to go back to a point I raised earlier, though.  Even the best players are worth 5-6 points over an average one over the course of a whole season, and we’re not getting in the best players.  So, all else being equal, there’s little to be done in terms of transformative new signings unless you believe that one player can somehow unlock the ability of everyone else.  That’s not impossible.  We can be fairly sure that the team hasn’t played to its ability so far, so there’s a possibility that some kind of alchemy can be performed that changes this underperformance.  But as Roy always said, there are no magic wands in football.

Burnley 2-1 Fulham

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I’m guessing most of you watched most of that so no need to go over the gory details.  This time we’ll do some bullet points:

  • It was always going to be hard and ultimately that’s probably a par result.  The damage was done well before today
  • But there was still a chance.  In the first half Fulham played like a team with no idea what to do.  The panicked football was an eyesore and the team looked thoroughly incoherent.  So often the only players with space were Bryan and Christie and I don’t think that can be allowed to continue
  • In the second half Cairney came on and the team focused on maintaining possession.  Cairney and Seri (90+ touches and 70+ passes – more like it!) started to run the game and Fulham potentially deserved something from the game, but again too many moves saw Christie as a key man at a key moment and he couldn’t take advantage of that.   We all remember Damien Duff on the right edge of the area, don’t we?  It’s not a fair comparison but that’s life.
  • It’s unfortunate in a way.  Burnley were on top for a short time and scored through two own goals during that, whereas Fulham had the upper hand for most of the second half and nothing quite went their way.   The much maligned Vietto deserved a goal for a well taken volley which was scrambled off the line, for instance.
  • Absent a miracle it’s quite hard to see a recovery now.   Other suspects are getting their act together and a string of wins will be needed.  There’s actually a reasonable argument for selling some players during the window rather than buying them, building for next season and dodging a financial apocalypse.  Nobody would ever do that of course and probably quite rightly but you’d question the wisdom of lobbing another £50m at this given the probabilities and the difference said players might be expected to make anyway.  I mean, put Cahill in the middle of that and maybe you survive those goalmouth scrambles, but maybe you don’t.
  • The chance to change things around was when the club changed managers but I don’t know that they got that right, and now we have a team that once played good possession football playing a strange hybrid formation that seems to nullify the strengths of its best players while emphasising some of the more limited players.  I mean it’s encouraging to see players like Vietto given a run out because clearly the man has talent and you want that to shine through because if you get talented players firing you go places, but somewhere there has to be more doesn’t there?  Somehow there has to be more.   And there isn’t.

Burnley v Fulham preview of a kind

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TL/DR Burnley are better than they were and we will probably lose, which is a shame because we’re running out of games

So this weekend’s game is important. Fans throw around ‘must win’ far too much and this isn’t a ‘must win’ game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a ‘it’d be really good to win if possible’ because of the state of the bottom of the table.  I can harp on all I want about how this isn’t an awful squad but the bald facts are that there aren’t many games left in which to earn points.   If there were no relegation this Fulham squad would surely surprise people next year, but in this league there is relegation and with that all kinds of unfortunate dynamics.  You don’t just get to say “well, we have a good squad and I back us to come straight back up” because there’s a load of financial and psychological mess that comes with relegation.  So.  Points are needed, and points against relegation rivals are important.  A draw would probably be good in that sense.

Burnley are a weird team. They’ve outperformed expectations every season they’ve been in the top division, and indeed, have had a funny knack of outperforming even the advanced stats that tend to give a good measure of teams’ real quality (the league table does lie!).

Anyway, a few notes:

Burnley were doing very badly for a long time but have picked up of late

This may or may not be because of Dwight McNeil, a young player who’s come in and played very well in the last few games, during which time Burnley’s results have 180d. Whoscored has a summary on him here, and I guess it’s a minor worry in that he’s playing well and doing so wide on the left. This feels like an area where Fulham have been quite vulnerable, so in that sense it’s something to look out for and an area for the whites to be concentrating on.  Christie and Odoi are both decent players to my mind, but that channel, for whatever reason, does seem to be exploitable by opposing players.

Whoscored tells us that Burnley are good in the air, and at protecting the lead. They play long balls, cross often, and are quite aggressive. Against that, they are bad at keeping the ball and concede a lot of chances, particularly down the wings. They also allow a lot of long shots, which might mean we want to play Schurrle or we want to keep Schurrle on the bench lest temptation sees a barrage of ambitious long range punts from our optimistic friend.

The other point worth noting is that we’ll probably lose. It’s an away game against an approximately equivalent team. So by definition, a defeat is the most likely outcome. It just is, and it doesn’t mean that the players don’t want it enough or that even now they aren’t burning with pride. Jonathan Wilson in the Guardian was quite interesting on this, talking about Solskjaer vs Mourinho at United. In any case, I think he’s right. Battle is battle, but the manager needs to unlock the potential in what he has. Sean Dyche has proven he can do this with his current Burnley squad, but I guess we haven’t seen the first great performance from Ranieri’s Fulham. It probably won’t be this Saturday either, but we can hope, can’t we?

On Seri

I am aware, because people tell me sometimes, that not everyone is bought into the idea of statistics in football. We won’t rehash that here.

But here’s something that was put up on Twitter and shows top midfielders around Europe and their contributions to passing and scoring. The green shading shows midfielders in the top 5 percentile among central midfielders across Europe.

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I’m showing it of course because here’s our friend Seri. The axis he’s standing out on is “accurate passes per 90 minutes” which in itself isn’t a deal breaker, but look at the players around him. Alcantra plays for Bayern Munich. Verratti PSG. Iniesta is a Barcelona player. He is further along this axis than the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Everyone on that chart is a top player.

So next time you hear someone say “Seri can’t pass” you can tell them that they’re not correct. He can, and he does. This might just be one number in a vacuum but if nothing else, the man has built his career on the pass.

Again, you can tell me that stats lie and that Tony Khan is responsible for climate change, brexit and James Corden, but these are facts. Seri passes. The “Barcelona link” must be a millstone around his neck by now but in this context you can absolutely understand how he’d have been on their radar. He’s a passing machine. That’s what they do.

And we know from WhoScored that he creates chances at a level that is among the elite for the division.

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What gives? Obviously the team is not doing very well, but to what extent can we blame this on our French midfielder? Because people are. There was a rumoured interest in a Ligue 1 left back on Twitter last night and someone responded with “haven’t we learned?” to which I asked “learned what?”

Thing is, he averaged 70+ accurate passes per game in France, but only 45 at Fulham Again, so what?, you can ask, but it’s a lot less influence on a match. So just as Anguissa isn’t getting his France thing done over here, Seri too is diminished.

Some hypotheses might be:

– Seri was good but isn’t now
– Seri was good then and still is now
– Seri is struggling to adapt to the league
– Seri should be prioritised more in this team
– the team needs to play the possession football it was built for but just do it better than it was before. Otherwise you waste the very thing the players are meant to do
– who cares, we’re getting relegated anyway

Or all of that. We know, I think, that the team as idealised was supposed to defend with the ball and Seri would appear to have been an obvious and excellent pickup in that game-plan. But now what? If you set up to not have the ball then you blunt the players who are good on the ball. So while we might have hoped to see Seri and Cairney blossom into a wonderful creative 1-2 punch in the middle of the park, now that seems extremely unlikely to happen. It’s not how the team plays now.

It’s a mystery in a way, but I’m absolutely certain that the answer is not that he doesn’t “want it” or that he can’t play, which sound ludicrous but which are actual things people are saying.  Equally, we have a very talented midfielder in the team, and that’s something to build around, not something to get angry about.  If you believe in Mitrovic and in Cairney and in Sessegnon, and if you believe in Seri, too, then you can believe that there’s a decent squad here somewhere, and that relegation isn’t a certainty.

Everyone wanted to be in the Premier League, but nobody can handle being in the Premier League

It feels like another classic “perils of ambition” situation doesn’t it? Like maybe I want to be MD of a company but I get there and can’t hack the pace, or perhaps I’m manager of a small club and doing well but go to Liverpool and get crucified, or the lottery winner who finds that being loaded is worse than being skint, or the musician who get everything he wanted but then hates his fans and everything they represent….etc. In any case, everybody wanted to be promoted to the Premier League, despite having a team full of journeymen and loanees.

Now, in the actual Premier League, a league that’s harder and more unforgiving than it was last time, life is hard. Wins are hard to come by. And people are losing their shit.

Now I’m not going to stand here and suggest that losing to Oldham is a good thing, but there are reports that people at the ground were in Tony Khan’s face today. There are people all over the internet screaming into the void about the Khans destruction of their club. It’s absolutely ridiculous. YOU WANTED THIS. YOU WANTED TO BE PROMOTED. YOU KNEW IT WOULD BE HARD. IT’S HARD AND NOW YOU’RE SCREAMING LIKE A CHILD WHOSE OLDER BROTHER ATE ONE MORE ROLO THAN YOU AND THERE’S NOTHING TO BE DONE BECAUSE IT WAS THE LAST ONE AND WHAT AN IRONY BECAUSE ONCE THAT WAS THE ONE FOR PEOPLE YOU LOVED AND YET HERE IT IS CAUSING ALL THIS GRIEF!

First, Oldham Athletic. This one had banana skin written all over it and oh look we slipped. But if Mitro puts away that stupid penalty (stupid because it wasn’t a penalty in a million years) we all laugh nervously and move on. Instead it’s the apolcalypse on the Thames. That’s the margin here. Now OBVIOUSLY thin margins shouldn’t be under discussion here after a home game against Oldham Athletic, but this nonsense is what happens when teams short of confidence get involved with the FA Cup. It happens. Fulham aren’t above this kind of thing and especially not at a time like this. It happens.

There may be – there are – very reasonable questions to be asked about the club’s overall direction but all involved are working hard to remedy the situation. Fans can reasonably question the competence of those making these decisions, but why does it have to get so nasty? The club was promoted last season and most teams that get promoted struggle. And yet somehow the Khans get no credit for that and are ruining the club. Ha! Good one.

Unless you give all the credit for last season to Jokanovic and all the blame for this to the Khans, which might seem a bit unbalanced but.. it’s an angle. Actually it seems to be the angle doesn’t it? Poor Slavisa and his attractive football and he’d still be at it now if it wasn’t for those meddling Khans and their laptops and they should stick to the NFL or wrestling or autoparts even. (The last idea was mine; nobody’s suggested that as far as I can see).

Honestly it’s stuff like this that I hate about football. Of course everyone has the right to take the game more seriously than I do – that’s their business – but when it comes to abusing strangers online because of a few results not going right then perhaps things have gone too far and perhaps steps back need to be taken and perhaps… no, we all enjoy these things for our own reasons, right? And it’s not for anyone to tell anyone else how to enjoy their hobby.

But you can also not be a shit about it all. You wanted this. You wanted promotion to the top flight, and you knew how hard it is. Fulham have no right to be unlike any other promoted side, and it’s especially ridiculous to complain when the owners did what fans always want and put their hands in their pockets and spent on the squad. But that wasn’t enough either, was it, the fans need the money to have been spent better! Fuck, people, think about what you want here. The Khans were sold a declining asset and made some iffy – and ill-advised – choices along the way, but they did what you wanted. They got the team promoted. Getting angry now isn’t going to change anything. They know that some people aren’t happy. They really do. Protesting and name calling isn’t the answer. Letting Ranieri choose all the new players isn’t the answer either.

It’s getting late in the day now and the negativity swirling around the club now is going to be hard to shake off. It didn’t have to be this way but it is this way. Perhaps a win at Burnley changes things but they’ve just woken up, too, so that might not work as we want it to either. Then what, people? Then what?

Fulham 1-0 Huddersfield

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The Wolves game felt like a carefully managed rope-a-dope performance against an underrated side. Today’s Huddersfield game was something else, a disjointed non-showing against a team struggling to make an impact at the top level, and yet… sometimes good things happen anyway.

The first half was a disaster, or as much of a disaster as you can have and not be losing. The team again felt broken, but this time the back five and protecting midfielders weren’t really able to stop much and the attacking trio: Vietto, Cairney and Mitrovic had nothing either. The midfield and wing backs didn’t really support in attack and it looked like the kind of performance that spoke of a lack of confidence, capability and, well, hope.

There were a few half sniffs to Mitrovic’s head but even then nothing to really work the ‘keeper. The second half saw Seri and Mawson removed: Seri, who had been quiet and picked up a yellow card, was as reasonable a candidate as anyone, and we must presume Mawson had a knock. Le Marchand – who I quite like – and Kamara came on.

It’s not immediately obvious why the new combination would be better than the old. Perhaps Ranieri just gave them the mother of all bollockings. Either way, Huddersfield weren’t half as strong and Fulham at least felt like they were playing with some momentum. Ranieri saved up Sessegnon for late on and again it brought dividends. It’s a legitimate strategy to use certain players for the last 20 minutes given fatigue, etc, so it’s not necessarily the mistake some are suggesting that Sessegnon isn’t in the starting 11, although we might assume that he’ll be there next time anyway. In any case, his presence again brought some forward momentum and soon enough Fulham had a fairly random penalty earned after Bryan’s cross nearly dropped in at the far post.

You’ve seen what happened next I presume, but suffice it to say, Kamara didn’t cover himself in glory there. He’s lucky that Mitrovic nicked a winner late on, a terrific Sessegnon pass setting him free to finish strongly.

1-0 feels okay and while the performance wasn’t very good we must be happy enough with the points. It’s anyone’s guess what happens next, or how this unit is going to avoid losing 7-0 at Arsenal, but that’s a problem for another day.  For now, if you can’t be good, be lucky.

Notes on players, comments by exception this time:
Bryan – decent left foot hasn’t he? Still not 100% but if this is an avenue for Fulham to attack through then probably it needs to be worked into the overall plan a bit more strongly.
Seri – not coping well with the lack of possession. Still does good things when he gets it. Really needs to be playing up the pitch and seeing lots of the ball but that doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon.  I can see what people get cross about.  He is busy and always running around but some players have that Roy Keane ability to make the match about them, to have everything go through them and to have their input in some capacity.  Seri is very good.  I’m still not conceding that.  But he needs to lead, to be the man.
Cairney – bleugh. I’m not at all convinced at this point. How do you fit him into the team you need this team to be?
Kamara – you can’t have a player doing that. He got away with it but that’s not the way a professional team works.
Mitrovic – marvellous again. What a joy to have him in the side. I hope fans appreciate what they’re seeing here.
Vietto – clearly talented but would benefit from a regular run, a regular role, and from a slightly less desperate situation. For players like Vietto and Seri do you need to surround them with other players like themselves? I don’t know. It feels like a waste that they’re not playing to a level they could be. I mean I maintain that Seri is/was fine (not sure now that the new non-possession game is playing to his strengths but we are where we are) but Vietto’s also in limbo somewhat. Anyway.

Fulham 1-1 Wolves

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Well seeing as it was on Sky and I’m at home with time on my hands, let’s do this again for old time’s sake.

Main sentiment was that this was a fair result.  Wolves are a good team and Fulham didn’t see a lot of the ball, but, and this for me is everything, Fulham managed to protect the penalty area pretty well for most of the game.  The back five was defended with great dedication and selflessness by Chambers and Seri and when Fulham actually went and scored you could almost have called it a perfect performance.

Obviously Wolves then went and undid all that but there was much to be positive about.

We could do this player-by-player for simplicity:

Rico – really didn’t have a great deal to do but will enjoy the better organisation in front of him.

Back three:

Odoi – everyone’s favourite candidate for upgrade but my guess is that Ranieri will see plenty to work with here and Odoi could keep getting picked.  There was a late thunderous run forward which was 100% not what was needed from Denis under the circumstances, but he’s a player who will benefit from better structure and coaching.  Thought he did pretty well.

Mawson – he’s just a good player isn’t he? People moan about the summer’s recruitment but Mawson’s one of a number of what I think will prove to be astute signings. Solid here in the face of near-constant Wolves probing and someone to build around.

Ream – solid again. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, probably going to be fine with a decent structure around him.

Wing-backs:

Christie – I quite like Christie. Seems decent going forwards and competent at the back. Did fine today.

Bryan – less sure about Bryan. Not quite seeing it at either end of the pitch, but again played quite well.

Midfield:

Seri – sacrificed himself for the team today with a very very disciplined performance. He and Chambers did a lot of the messy stuff just by holding a shape and sticking to that.  Every time I looked up he and Chambers were shuffling across the pitch together. Peripheral in the first half when Fulham had the ball, but had more impact in the second with a wonderfully judged ball over the top for Sessegnon and some neat touches in counter attacks. I’ll keep repeating myself: this is one of the team’s better players, and those who go on about work rate and ability are simply not correct. It’s instructive that Ranieri has dropped Cairney and not Seri. The trick now will be ensuring that he can be part of this defensive shape but also be featured on the ball more when Fulham attack. It’s a hard one to balance but again I thought he did well today. No question of a lack of effort for me, and it’s an insult to him that this keeps coming up. Very good player.

Chambers – the more in your face of the two, another strong performance from him. Not half the player Seri is with the ball but a much better tackler and bigger presence. In many ways they work very well together. Hugely encouraging performance really and I’m sure Ranieri will feel quietly pleased with progress here. People are talking about Drinkwater from Chelsea but not clear to me where he’d play.

Front three:

Mitrovic – awesome performance, summed up by the late almost-goal in which he muscled his way into a situation where he had no business participating and from there somehow managed to get the ball trickling towards an unguarded net. It didn’t quite make it all the way in but you can’t have everything and his ability to muscle his way into dangerous areas is one of the joys of watching this Fulham team (and using the word muscle isn’t damning with faint praise – it’s a tribute to his awareness that he can see these opportunities, but also his strength that he can then follow through on the ideas). Probably enjoyed having Kamara to take defenders away from him a little. In fact, thinking about it, this is important. If you don’t have Kamara there then everyone can just sit on Mitrovic. If you do play Kamara then the defence needs to be on its toes to expect the unexpected. So Kamara probably has an influence beyond his direct contribution in this sense.

Kamara – see above but probably under-appreciated on the basis that some of what he does seems chaotic. But pace and strength is not to be underestimated in this team and again it’s encouraging that Ranieri is picking him.  Worth pondering his wider impact per Mitrovic comment – potentially one of those who’s going to make the team greater than the sum of its parts.  Again, it’s sad to see him ridiculed on social media.

Schurrle – encouraging early on and did his bit defensively as well. I am not sure what the issue is here in that clearly he is better than we’ve seen, but probably another who needs the team to be more coherent before he can fully deliver. Worth persevering with for sure but equally I can see why fans are frustrated. Today’s approach, an almost broken team with a back seven and front three is probably the way to go for a while and puts a fair bit of emphasis on that front three to conjure something up. Between them they have that ability but probably Schurrle has more he can give in this respect and might need to be the player who links up the midfield and attack and hits the dangerous areas to make the most of that ability to find space.

Subs – Sessegnon made a lot of sense and brought some directness to Fulham’s play. Took the goal well of course and nearly made another. Makes sense not to run him into the ground over xmas though. McDonald and Cairney didn’t have too much influence.

So yes, while you’d have wanted 3 points from that it was an eminently losable game and the team was admirably compact and disciplined. It felt like a transitional performance: after the open carnage of late Jokanovic you’re not suddenly going to be defending like Mourinho’s Inter Milan, but had the equaliser not gone in we’d have been talking about an almost perfectly managed game. That it didn’t happen shouldn’t distract us from what was achieved. Very encouraging.

Addressing this “bad recruitment” thing

It’s become a regular complaint that Fulham’s transfer business was awful, but let’s go back and have a look at this to be sure.

First, the squad that came up. The most commonly appearing players from last year were Sessegnon, Johansen, Fredericks, Ream, McDonald, Odoi, Norwood, Cairney, Kalas, Kamara, Kebano, Ayite, Fonte, Targett, Mitrovic.

What does a promoted side do with this?   Given the loans and overall quality, a few changes are going to be needed.

First, we know that the two full-backs are off. Fredericks to West Ham and Targett back to Southampton.

You know that the midfield of McDonald and Johansen may not be premier league ready, so that’s an angle.

Centre-backs are probably an issue: you have Ream and Odoi, but probably that’s not quite what you want to go with.

Mitrovic is going back, too.

So the shopping list, very reasonably, might be for two full-backs, two central midfielders, a centre-back or two and a centre-forward.

The club addressed centre-forward with Mitrovic which is what everybody wanted.   Joe Bryan, while not a household name, was presumably felt to be a reasonable option on the left. Cyrus Christie was there for right back, too. So while you might not be overjoyed with those two, it feels as if they’re okay options and in any case, are you going to prioritise full-back when basically all the up the middle positions need to be sorted out?

The club moved to cover centre-back with Alfie Mawson. Transfermarkt had him valued at €15m when Fulham came in and signed him for €16m, so that seems reasonable enough. He’d played at the top level and done well.  Again, surely the right analysis here is that the club needed a centre-back and got a good one. Similarly, Calum Chambers should have been a decent signing given pedigree and circumstance. Again, I’m not sure what’s to criticise here. It’s exactly the kind of signing Fulham needed to make.

Maxime Le Marchand is a journeyman French player but no issues with signing him for squad depth.

In midfield Fulham signed Jean-Michael Seri for €30m, which is what Transfermarkt had as his exact value (having been €35m the season before). It’s a lot of money but as a Danny Murphy type complete footballer again, you’d argue that this is exactly what Fulham needed to be doing. A great buy.   He hasn’t pulled up trees, but if we look at the league’s leading ‘key passers’ (passes that create chances) there are some big names there…

seri

Now, that alone proves nothing, but it’s a good sign isn’t it?  As a new player coming into an absolute shambles of a team he’s doing a lot well. I’d argue that you only have to watch him for 10 minutes to see the class and the way he quickly knits play together, but other Fulham fans have been unimpressed and regularly rate him 3/10 on the Fulhamish player rater thing.  Now clearly this is absurd and again reminds us why the modern way of welcoming everyone’s right to an opinion is somewhat dubious, but if nothing else it shows what some people think, which I… suppose… is useful in some capacity?   (No, I can’t see it, but I am not at the forefront of these things.)   In any case, Seri is a good player.  Clearly.  If the squad has problems, he’s not one of them.  If we had 10 more players at this level we wouldn’t be where we are.    I am as confident of that as I was about Clint Dempsey being good when people didn’t see that either.

Which brings us to André-Frank Zambo Anguissa. Seri is fundamentally an attacking player. His abilities on the ball are very clear and he’s not as strong defensively. By contrast, Anguissa is a very defensive midfielder. His stats in Ligue 1 as a 22 year old were fantastic on this front. Statsbomb demonstrated this, and noted that Ligue 1 players usually bring their abilities with them. But look at what’s happened here. For whatever reason, Anguissa’s not been the player he was in France, where he was an awesome defensive midfielder.  See below: generally the radar things need good sized splodges to represent good players.  Here Anguissa was an absolute wall, making enormous numbers of tackles and interceptions.  This is great!

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Either way, he might have been a bit expensive: transfermarkt had him as an €18m player and have Fulham paying €25m. But he’s young and gave every indication in France of being exactly what Fulham needed. To me this looks like a clear case of a good player being lost in a shambolic team, which must bode well for the future (if he gets the chance – we must hope so).

Throw in a Germany international and what appears to be a very very good goalkeeper and somehow this is supposed to be atrocious recruitment by the dreaded Tony Khan and his laptop?   Please.   Fulham identified areas to improve and bought good players.  Tony Khan – part of a process, not the process – appears to have played a blinder.

However, the performance on the pitch has been poor.   But maybe that’s just life.  You can do the right thing and get the wrong outcome, can’t you? I remain convinced that the bad start was largely systematic and the result of a misguided attempt to attack the Premier League in the way the Championship had been attacked in the past.  True, the squad was assembled at haste, but the players brought in were almost exactly what the team needed in terms of their profile and quality.   I think they’ll show this in time.

Minor crisis special: get me Sam Allardyce on the bat-phone

To the extent that I know anything about football, I think I learned it when Roy was here, so I view everything through that prism. I haven’t actually been to a match since about 2011 (kids, etc) and don’t always stay awake for Match of the Day, so my views may be less relevant than anyone’s.  That said, some thoughts:

One feature of defensive play is what you do when you have the ball. This was highlighted the other day – probably after the Bournemouth match – but when Fulham lose the ball the team is not remotely set up to deal with the situation.

This is a huge issue: the best teams set up to either win back immediately or to at least have a basic shape through which to absorb counter attacks.

They also offer the back four a shield. I wrote about this in 2013, and while in retrospect this piece is quite hard to follow (I was defending Philippe Senderos, too!), the points still hold I think.  Whenever I see Fulham highlights I see defenders everywhere, generally running back towards their own goal, and in no position to stop anything.  The Arsenal game was awful for this.   It isn’t all of the goals that get conceded – there have been many different kinds of those – but illustrates a fundamental issue with how the club is approaching the game.

This openness is weird. Usually teams that do this compensate to some degree when they attack, but Fulham currrently fall into the old “can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field” trope. There’s almost nothing going well.

This is double weird because the coach is capable and has a track record of winning football matches. But perhaps defensive organisation is simply not part of his skillset or something he’s ever needed in the past. A quick visit to Wikipedia shows a dazzling season at Watford (entirely reminiscent of what happened to Fulham last year) and a lot of work in smaller countries. There is no evidence of performance at a high level where defending has happened.  Yikes. Maybe Slav simply doesn’t know how to do this, in which case he isn’t the man for the job and my thoughts about loyalty (all the screeching muppets wanting their club back deserve not to be heard) don’t matter. Core competence is missing and that’s reason enough to change things.

To that end, probably on field personnel isn’t the issue. While the defenders may not be of A1 quality, we see everyday how ‘journeymen’ defenders can be perfectly capable in a half decent system. It’s my contention that almost nobody would look good at centre-half in this team.

Just as Hodgson’s teams made our defensive players look better than they ‘really’ were (remember: Paintsil, Hughes, Hangeland and Konchesky formed a watertight unit, but three of those players were decidedly average through most of their careers, at least in public perceptions), the current system (or lack of) is making the present players look worse than they are.

Which is not to say that the individuals in question haven’t been individually culpable because of course that happens too, but we make mistakes when we’re at our limits and a good system offers safety nets and balances so these things matter less. In a good system you can slot players in and out as necessary, you can adapt personnel (e.g. Fabian Delph and Ashley Young have played top level games at full-back, young does it permanently now, and he was an out and out winger. You see this all the time…).

Put another way, constantly changing personnel isn’t necessarily the answer. A great, commanding centre-back wouldn’t be a terrible thing to happen (look at liverpool after Virgil Van Dijk signed) but equally, I suspect people will be disappointed if this is held out as a magic solution.  It’s not a question of ‘if only we find the right combination’… it’s much deeper than that.

There is also a general criticism around lack of fight, bite, heart, and other such combative terms. It’s a very English reaction to blame lack of results on lack of desire, and I think this is miles off, at least in terms of what to address. These players almost certainly are not cowards lacking in moral fibre, but probably the apparent apathy is a symptom of the lack of direction they’re experiencing.

Any office staff survey measures motivation levels, and more often than not things like salary don’t have any impact at all on satisfaction or well-being. Rather, people want to feel part of something, have autonomy (but not too much!) and generally it’s crucial that they know what their role is. Without this things float, drift, and other passive words that don’t evoke biting or eating things.

This is what I’m seeing here, I think. Players are losing belief because they’re not being instructed, they’re not sure what’s going on around them. And while the crowd would respond to a bit more charging around, it’s bigger than that.

As Roy used to say, there’s no magic wand, you can’t just shout at people or feed them red meat before games or anything like that: you have to work at it and give the players a chance to shine, to deliver on their skills. This team is way, way less than the sum of its parts, which is a shame. It might change: a lot of new players coming together will take time to adjust. But the signs aren’t very good at the moment.

Afterthought: people are moaning about the Sam Allardyce suggestion but honestly he’d be perfect for this team. He’d absolutely love Mitrovic as a focal point who can score and bring others into the game, he’d get Seri firing, and he’d sort out the defence. People forget that it was Allardyce who brought JayJay Okocha to England, who featured all kinds of exciting talents in his over-achieving Bolton teams. He’d be excellent for Fulham.