Stuff

Not much to declare.  I’ve two more days left in my job so lots of tying up of loose ends, etc.    Funnily enough I resigned from my job the same day Roy resigned from Fulham.   I had to serve three months’ notice though…

Anyway, discussing Mr Hodgson in Fulham circles no longer seems to be ‘the done thing’, but for whatever it’s worth (a fair bit to me), I sent Roy a Fulham Review on Friday and got a nice thank you note back today.    So that was nice.

In other news, there’s a good Q&A with Clint Dempsey up on the official site.   Weird that he’s still here – how many players stay at a club for so long, play so many games, make such a positive contribution, and still don’t really have a position?    A strange one alright.     As ever, comes across as a decent bloke.

The mysterious case of Danny Murphy’s missing legs

There are growing rumblings about our captain’s ability to last for 90 minutes ‘week in, week out’.   I haven’t seen this myself but then I do tend to sit in happy stupors at games and miss all sorts of things as a result.   So perhaps this is a case for the scientific method.

If Danny Murphy was struggling to last for 90 minutes we might reasonably expect to see a difference between second half and first half performances, right?   If he can’t keep up he’ll get the ball less, give it away more, etc.

Here’s the Everton game on chalkboard:

Can’t see anything there that might give us cause to worry.   How has he done in other games?

Yikes.   Why did we struggle at Blackpool?   Murphy hardly saw the ball.   Aside from a very conspicuous drop off against Man Utd (what can have happened there?   They had all the ball?  Someone stationed on Murph to stop him getting it?) it’s even steven, especially allowing for reduced time on the pitch (which also, of course, supports the ‘legs gone’ argument).

So that’s passing.  What about other things?  Defensive things in particular.  If he’s tired he might not get to as many challenges, right?

Aha.  Maybe it’s nothing, but this season Murphy’s attempted 17 tackles in the first half and 9 in the second, and of those 9, six came at Bolton.     Put another way, since the first game of the season, Murphy’s tackles break down as 15 first half, three second (25 defensive ‘acts’ to 9, too).    Hmmm.

I’m not going to draw conclusions either way here, but if we were looking for some evidence of tiredness here we may have found it.  Of course, this may be very normal for a footballer, but I haven’t looked at this yet so for now we’ll just have to wonder.

For whatever it’s worth, I still think he’s one of our most important players.   With the entire midfield out of form  (and a bit shapeless now Roy’s patterns have worn off), with nobody to find up front, and without the same kind of full-back runs, it would be a bit surprising if Murphy wasn’t struggling a little.   That said, I haven’t really seen it, and remain partly convinced that people are latching onto ‘groan’ moments where he gives the ball away needlessly (and that’s happened 2-3 times this season) as evidence for his decline (apologies if that sounds patronising).

The counter argument may be that we seemed to do quite well without him last season.   So time will tell.

*UPDATE* – Timmy’s examined Damien Duff. Veeeeeery interesting.

Fulham 0-0 Everton

It has long been a suspicion of mine that ourselves and Everton are essentially the same side, with a few variations here and there but nothing to make one stand out from the other. We lose up there, we win down here, and everyone’s more or less happy.

And so it goes.  Today neither side had much of an attacking presence so we saw a very even midfield battle that never did get resolved.  Everton perhaps gained a late ascendancy late on by moving Pienaar infield, a switch that left us outnumbered and scampering, but at no point did it really feel as if we’d lose.

Or win.  Without Zamora and Dembele we had another honest Clint Dempsey shift but the shame of all this was underlined when he was allowed to play wide-left in the second half: different player.   At this point we were attacking with the surprising combination of Joe Kamara and Eddie Johnson, which was fun as far as it went but didn’t look like making a goal.

Where was the goal coming from?  From the trickery of Arteta (the more I watch him the more I see a young Danny Murphy) or the slipperiness of Pienaar or the whatever it is Yakubu does while being a menace.  They made a few half-chances but Mark Schwarzer (dressed in a dashing scarlet) was back to his best and made some decent saves.

Fulham’s best chances fell to Zoltan Gera, who skewered over from an angle when given half a yard to shoot, and to Dempsey, who shot hard but straight at Tim Howard when a placed finish could have been more effective.  Otherwise?   Duff is still in Newcastle form, Davies was perhaps unfortunate to be replaced, but what else was there?  Murphy played well but Etuhu’s new found freedom seems to be confusing him at the moment, and today he was neither fish nor fowl, and at one point allowed himself to be outshoved by Seamus Coleman of Everton, which perhaps ought not to happen.

I’ll leave the brightest spark to last:  Salcido.  It was only in glimpses, but our new left back played in three quite delicious crosses, one of which Etuhu headed goalwards.  But the nice thing with the crosses was that he hit them early and accurately.  The modern game is not full of good crossers, in part because players like to take a steadying touch before ‘whipping it in’.   Not Salcido.  Our man seems thoroughly nerveless in his attacking work and I fearlessly predict several goals from such deliveries before too long.

Otherwise a stalemate.  It was an absorbing contest and one I could happily have watched for another hour, but the teams cancelled each other out very effectively and will probably both be content with the point.

Fulham v Everton and the crowded midfield battle ahead

Tactically speaking, tomorrow’s game could be quite interesting.

The issue both teams have is a lack of centre-forward. Everton ended up with Fellaini and Cahill the other day; Fulham will probably use Dempsey and Gera tomorrow.

These are ESPN’s ‘average position’ charts, and until the players in yellow came on (these are the subs) neither side really had someone playing right up front.  Curiously, Fulham’s furthest forward player was Simon Davies, but look how advanced the full-backs were, too (the axes are wrong on their co-ordinates – that’s Salcido up top and Kelly down below, wrong way around).    Then you had the likes of Dempsey, Dembele, Etuhu and Murphy all very close in the middle of the pitch.

Similar for Everton, with only Fellaini up front and everyone else squeezed right together.

What does it all mean?   First, huge shame that we’re missing Dembele, but Gera (if he plays) might be just the kind of player to find space out there.   Otherwise it’s the usual thing with Everton:  expect a home win, and be frightened of Cahill and Yakubu, who in my mind are the most frightening players we play against.  Whatever, it seems certain to be a super-tight game (cue 4-3 win…) with no space in midfield and neither team at the top of their game.

Goalkeepers are different

Goalkeeping challenge:

Take a goalkeeper, any goalkeeper.

In this hypothetical challenge your goalkeeper gets two games against Premier League opponents.  If he plays well he wins a million pounds.  If he plays badly he must do 400 hours dredging rivers by hand in Cambridgeshire.

Which two teams would our goalkeeper almost certainly want to avoid?

If I was a goalkeeper I would try to avoid Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City.

Mark Schwarzer’s season, then:

Much uncertainty over future.

Wants to go to Arsenal.

Not allowed to go to Arsenal.

Has a bad back.

Comes back from bad back to play Blackburn.  Hurly burly.  Looks a bit bewildered out there.  Fouled for goal.

Only a couple of days later he must go away to Stoke City.  Concedes poor goal from corner, and another from a Delap throw (“Mark Schwarzer put his hands up for the second goal as he misjudged the flight of the ball which was unfortunate.”)   He isn’t the first goalkeeper to get bothered by Stoke  (indeed, we conceded three messy goals up there last year).

Fair?

Does this mean:

a) he’s past it
b) he’s not past it, but because Arsenal wanted him he’s not interested anymore
c) he’s fine but circumstances have led to a slightly shaky but understandable start to the season

Or something else?

Has to be ‘c’ doesn’t it?

Attacking away from home – tactics

One of the issues with the Roy years was the steadfast refusal to ‘give it some’ away from home.    The point can be summarised with the following diagrams:

Here we see the ‘double stalemate’, something of a Hodgson goal when we met big teams away from home.

The idea here is to ensure that both teams have two banks of four behind the ball at all times.

Both teams?

Sure, because if you try to get beyond the opponents’ midfield four and lose the ball, they have men goalside.  Hodgson hated opponents to have men goalside, and went to great lengths to ensure the two banks of four remained intact.  It is, as Inter Milan showed last year, very very hard to break down a well organised defence in which people are where they’re meant to be.   So if you avoid the sorts of things that lead to the breakdown of organisation – especially over-commitment to attack, it’s reasonably straightforward to nick a 0-0.

Which is more or less what we seemed to strive for under Roy.

In the diagram you see this played out:  the ball (black dot) always has to get through two banks of four, whichever side has possession.   It leads to some particularly turgid encounteres, particularly (as in our Hamburg away game) both teams play with wide men who play very narrow.

Another good example of this type of game was Aston Villa away a couple of years ago, where we almost seemed to be deliberately slowing down the game when we had the ball.  This ensured Villa regrouped in front of us, and therefore that Villa’s pacey forwards weren’t going to catch us out behind us.  0-0.

This is what happens when you open up (just a bit).

Get men ahead of the ball (top) and you create much more favourable matchups (numerically), much more support for the poor forwards (this is why I used to defend Zamora, even pre-goals).

But if you lose the ball, as noted above, we see the below.

Roy wasn’t going to let that happen.

This is the difference between an open game and a tight game.

The frustration for a lot of us wasn’t that we played like this sometimes – clearly it worked against superb sides like Shahktar Donetsk – but that we played like this too often.

In an open game both sides will have lots of attacks.  In a tight game both sides will have fewer attacks.

The law of averages says that, generally, the more attacks the more chances.

So if you think you’re playing against a superior team you close the game down, lessening the opponents’ opportunities to make their ability count.    If you give Manchester United 40 attacks they’ll score more than if you give them 20 attacks.

But if you’re playing against a team of similar or (especially) lesser ability, it makes every sense to open up and trust your players to outplay their opponents.    Hodgson seemed intent on playing the same way against Burnley as against Man United.   It wasn’t fun.

Anyway, so far, so obvious.   But look what happened at Blackburn yesterday:

It would be silly to say that this never happened under Hodgson, but it didn’t happen that often.

Here we see Etuhu with the ball, and four men ahead of him.   Hodgson wouldn’t have been too keen on this – if we’d lost possession we’d have only had six men behind the ball.  If Blackburn were able to break quickly it’d be worse.

Particularly when we note that Murphy and Kelly are also in advanced areas (second frame).

And so is Salcido (third frame).    That’s eight players in attacking areas, giving the Blackburn defence much more to consider, stretching them and giving us options (it’s very easy for four defenders to cover 2-3 attackers; if eight men are up then the defence needs to get serious numbers back to defend).

All of which led to a good Salcido shot (look at the space he was in (#8 in the picture above)).

And it’s how we scored, too.  Again, eight men up, giving the defence issues, and giving us options.  We took the right choices in the attack, spread the play brilliantly, and had someone on the end of Salcido’s fine cross.

This goal wouldn’t have happened with only 2-3 men attacking.

So the signs are quite positive.

Blackburn 1-1 Fulham

Another day, another point.  These games are notoriously tricky, so while we all hope the away day hoodoo might be banished, a draw’s a good result.

There is a but though: Blackburn’s goal came when our old friend El Hadj Diouf blocked/tripped/screened Mark Schwarzer on a free-kick, allowing Christopher Samba’s header to bobble gently over the line.  It was clearly a foul and the goal should not have been given.

After that Fulham played pretty well.  Paul Robinson didn’t have enormous amounts of work to do, but this was due to the good work of his defenders, for our approach play became increasingly impressive as the half went on.  Damien Duff found his form and Simon Davies looked pretty good, too, and with the Etuhu/Murphy axis looking passable if less predictable than in seasons past, our midfield was dominating theirs.

A goal back was deserved and came when Murphy freed Salcido on the left, and the new man dinked infield towards Dempsey, whose header flew past Robinson for an emphatic equaliser.  Clint roared off to hug Eddie Johnson on the sidelines.

This done we saw some more uncharacteristic flapping from Mark Schwarzer as Blackburn came back at us.  Stephen Kelly made a fine, twisting headed clearance to repel an alarming right-wing cross from under his own bar.  Hangeland looked up for the fight, and the parity seemed more or less safe.  At the other end we were 10% short when it mattered, Etuhu’s first touch in advanced areas reminding us that he’s not used to attacking, Dembele looking good but not great this week.  Our best chance to win it came when a Duff cross fizzed across the six yard area without a Fulham shirt in sight.  Andrew Johnson might’ve got himself on the end of it.

But no matter, we’ll take this.  It’s quite hard to judge Mark Hughes’ Fulham at the moment.  Roy’s attacking patterns are all but gone, so our play is refreshingly unpredictable, but this irregularity does seem to make us a little less coherent at times.   Still, our most interesting game in Blackburn for some time.  Onwards and upwards (and 13 draws in the last 17 Premier League games for our manager).

Wise words

“So I think it’s time for certain fans to decide if they are fans of the album, or the artist”

– DJ Shadow

Seriously though, have we got a better team than Liverpool?

Schwarzer v Reina
Baird v Johnson
Hangeland v Carragher
Hughes v Skrtel
Salcido v Konchesky
Duff v Cole
Etuhu v Poulsen
Murphy v Lucas
Davies v Jovanovic
Dembele v Gerrard
Zamora v Torres

So no, we haven’t.  But it’s not that far off either.  And Roy looks a lot angrier these days, doesn’t he?

Onwards and upwards.  As I mentioned on TiFF the other day, Mark Hughes still feels like someone else’s manager, but I love what he’s doing so far.

You learn something every day…

As part of my top secret and very thrilling current project I’ve been reading some of the old FIFA Technical Reports that come out after each World Cup.

Many new things have been learned,  not least the way that holding midfielders were described.

In England, the report (I think it might be 1990’s report) says, we call them “anchorman”, which makes sense, anchoring the midfield.   Germany, as I recall, was something like the “vorlibero”, or “forward libero”.  

And in other parts of the world they called this player the…..

Windscreen Wiper.

Excellent.