The other midfielder

About this time year ago, practically to the date, Fulham labored to a 1-0 win over Portsmouth. After a horrid January that saw many losses and injuries to several first-team squad members, the win over Pompey began an unbeaten run that lasted until mid-March.

Yesterday’s result occurred in the midst of a good patch of form — only two losses in 7, both 1-0 away to Spurs and Pool. But, we can still hope it spurs a similar run like we saw last year.

Anywho, yesterday confirmed to me the big difference between Steve Sidwell and Dickson Etuhu. I’ve posted last night’s passing chart from Sidwell and Etuhu’s performance against West Brom (his last full 90). It’s not so much the passing completion percentage, of which Etuhu dominates, but the location of where each player receives and then passes the ball that we should pay attention to.

I don’t really have any video or other footage to prove my point, but watching Sidwell play the ball is like watching a baton exchange during a relay race. During the exchange, the racer without the baton often runs a few strides with his team-mate before the baton-holder passes it to him/her. Likewise, Sidwell runs with the ball for a few paces before making his first touch. It’s not that he doesn’t go to the ball, or let the ball come to him (every youth coach’s nightmare), but he tries to make the defender commit before making a touch. Sometimes this works, sometimes it ends poorly (as evidenced in the low completion rate).

Compare that with Etuhu. In comparison, he’s a bit more static. Now, it must be said we’ve seen Etuhu come out of his shell going forward this season. But Dickson often uses his massive frame to block opponents attacks, and then quickly distribute to (usually) Murphy or Hangeland. It’s not a knock against him, but he’s playing to his strength — much like Sidwell or any other footballer. He may not spray a ‘killer’ ball, but you can’t get the ball off him.

What this means for either, or our starting midfield as a whole, I’m not too sure. Sidwell offers us a little bit more fluidity, but Etuhu keeps shape.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Etuhu returns in a few weeks time.

19 thoughts on “The other midfielder

  1. Not sure the diagrams show what you suggest. What I see is Sidwell playing more passes of a medium to long length and more forward passes. Most of the incomplete passes seem to be one or the other or both. His Etuhu-like dinky passes to the man nearest him have about the same completion rate, although much less frequency. Sidwell, then, appears more of an expansive passer, with the lower passing completion rate that that entails.

    Having said that, what is also striking in those pictures is the difference between where the passes around the defense were made. Sidwell seems to pick up the ball across the back line implying either that he’s more all-action in defense, or that he acts more as an outlet for the defenders. From what I’ve seen of him it seems more of the latter, with some of the former scurrying thrown in. On the other hand, that big clump right in the middle for Etuhu implies that he acts more like a defensive wall for us, blocking anything that comes his way.

    So what I see in these charts is that Etuhu is more of a blocker and recycler, while Sidwell is more of a general deep-lying midfielder. I think that shows in the live action. And to that end, while Colin’s database implies that they two players are incredibly similar, I tend to agree with Rich’s assessment that Sidwell is more of a Greening type player. Where I disagree with Rich is that Sidwell does seem to do something that Greening can’t, in that he appears a stronger and more controlled version.

  2. Interesting that you should mention that Portsmouth game in a post about our midfielders. We laboured through the first half of that match because Jamie O’Hara in particular was getting the better of Murphy and Baird (Greening was playing wide left). Early in the second half Dikgacoi replaced Kelly with Baird moving to right back which turned the game for us. I’m not suggesting that he should be above Sidwell or Etuhu in the rankings but he appears to be a very peripheral figure at Fulham now.

  3. It may be simplistic, but my observations so far are that Etuhu often appears lazy……and Sidwell seems like a workhorse. Effectiveness over a long period is yet to be evidenced. And this an opinion from a mere woman who understands the offside rule…..I think !? !

  4. Sometimes the best players appear lazy, in all sports, because they play their positioning game exceedingly well, being in the right place at the right time.

  5. An interesting debate here. I agree with rjbiii here, I think that the sublte difference between the two players comes down to adventurousness and physical presence.

    Etuhu offers aerial and physical presence in midfield and can break down attacks. He does get forward but is not particularly comfortable on the ball.

    Sidwell, on the other hand, is not as much of a physical presence (although he loves a tackle) but offers much more going forward as well as some invention with his passing and movement. From what I have seen, Sidwell has a lot more movement and offers Murphy an option to pass to in midfield. With Mark Hughes new more attacking bent, Etuhu was often found sitting in the space between midfield and attack not really looking to recieve the pass, but a bit lost.

    I would be really interested to see Etuhu,Sidwell and Murphy in a midfield three within a 4-3-3:

    Sidwell Murphy

    Dembele Dempsey

    That attack has a nice balance to it – brawn (Etuhu), passing (Murphy) and industry (Sidwell) in midfield, coupled with an attack of Dempsey and Dembele (invention, pace and technical prowess) and Zamora (power and presence)

    1. I think a 433 would suit as very well – we have a good balance of players such that we could alternate between 433/451 depending on the opponents.

      Perhaps such a dramatic change can’t be made midseason, so hopefully we might see this next season.

      Also, as AlFayedsChequeBook points out on FOF, we almost play a lopsided 433 now; Dempsey very much acting as a third forward with AJ/Dembele, and Duff plays in a more defensive role.

      1. “Also, as AlFayedsChequeBook points out on FOF, we almost play a lopsided 433 now; Dempsey very much acting as a third forward with AJ/Dembele, and Duff plays in a more defensive role.”

        That may be because that is my Nom de Plume on FOF!

    2. I’d be interested in seeing that too, there is a lot of attractiveness in the symmetry and an all-purpose midfield. Having said that, I’m skeptical that symmetry is what you need in the modern game. Seems that asymmetrical formations are what’s doing it for modern coaches these days, allowing defensive stability with at least some width. And that team does look particularly narrow, especially with our full-backs at present. You’d at least need Salcido on the left to make that work.

      1. Definitely need some more width, but I am a fan of Salcido and really think he has something still to offer Fulham, especially once ZAmora gets back.

        In terms of symmetry, I agree that lopsided teams often work well, but I think that could be incorporated into those tactics with Dempsey dropping deeper since and performing a midfield/attacking role with Dembele pushing more up front with Zamora, or indeed vice versa. Although as ImperialWhite says above we are playing a lopsided team of a certain kind at the moment with Dempsey joining the attack, so a 3 man midfield with Dempsey dropping back may not be too much of a reach.

        1. Well it’s 4-4-2 out of possession and arguably 2-4-3-1 with possession. These things are so fluid after all. I like the lopsided point though: Duff cuts in but rarely deep into the area (unless the ball is deep in the opponents’ half), but Dempsey does become a forward quite often (which is what makes him hard to stop). Dembele, of course, drops into midfield when we have the ball, so the whole thing is deliciously fluid. It’ll be interesting to see how much of all this is hingeing on Johnson’s movement, and whether we’ll look a bit static when Zamora’s back.

  6. I like Timmy’s relay thought: when Etuhu receives a pass there’s always a “ah! the ball! What now?” moment (albeit brief, whereas Sidwell seems a bit happier to work with things.

    Perhaps the answer is (not that it’d ever happen – we don’t platoon over here!) Sidwell at home and Etuhu away, with Murphy getting a rest once in a while as well.

  7. Do you think Mark Hughes would have replaced Bullard with Etuhu?

    Hodgson, as we know, prioritised the not conceding and therefore not losing approach and Etuhu is perfect for that type of set up. But if you’d rather ask the other team questions rather than hope for a mistake then a more positive approach is necessary.

    Hughes clearly is aiming for that and has managed to do so without weakening the defence. The next three games are tough. If we ship goals then Etuhu may well return but if we stay solid and give Villa, Man City and Chelsea some problems then I’m sure Sidwell will keep his place.

    Etuhu’s the ideal guy to bring on if you want to protect a lead.

    1. Ah, but you must remember that when Bullard was replaced, Murphy really started to flower. Murphy needs someone to do running/covering for him to be able to run the game in midfield. Earlier in the season when Etuhu was first getting up the pitch, we looked so disjointed because Murphy was having to do all the covering and tackling.

  8. I thought Fulham missed Dickson’s physical presence against Newcastle. I must admit I do bemoan Etuhu for ball watching a lot of the time, but at least I notice him.
    Sidwell’s a funny one – while some people are saying he had a good game on Wednesday, others that I know (neutrals) said he was bloody awful. I think he shows more energy that Etuhu, but it give Hughes a nice problem to have.

    I really wouldn’t want to see all three of them line up in midfield though.

  9. Thought Sidwell started well on Wednesday but was less of a presence as the game went on. Agree he is more comfortable in possession than Etuhu. Though there were moments of misunderstanding with Murphy (appearing to leave challenging for the ball to each other) and dovetailing with DM is what being ‘the other midfielder’ is all about.

    My gut feeling would be that Sidwell is taking Etuhu’s place in the first XI, though he looks a pretty unremarkable Premier League player. (I’m another who would like to have seen Dikgacoi get a run in the team – obviously the new regime doesn’t rate him. Also O’Hara gets a mention in this thread… Weren’t we supposed to be interested in him last summer? He would be a good bet as a possible replacement for Murphy longer-term.)

    1. “Thought Sidwell started well on Wednesday but was less of a presence as the game went on.”

      I actually thought the opposite, that Sidwell started quite slowly and as a result we initially lost the midfield battle. I didn’t feel that it was until the second half that he and Murphy got to grips with Nolan et al. Thought that Sidwell got better as the game went on. Funny how people see the game differently!

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