There’s an old coaching maxim that when you defend you try to make the pitch small so there’s no room, and when you attack you try to make it big, so there’s space to play in. Fulham – admirably though they played at times tonight – seem to have it the wrong way round, contstantly attacking a forest of defenders, while having to defend big spaces while undermanned.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s some truth to it, too. We seem to spend extraordinary energy trying to walk the ball through crowded defences, while neglecting the wide elements of attacking play. True, we got 45 crosses in against Blackburn, but only four hit their man, which surely says something about something.
Tonight needed Matthew Briggs to hammer into the space on the left flank, but he rarely did so. The ball stayed in the midfield areas, where Dempsey and Dembele hurdled and twisted their way about the place. It was like something off Total Wipeout.
That gripe aside, we saw a terrific game tonight. Both teams came to play, and were prepared to get men ahead of the ball. This led to lots of open football and uncertainty until the final whistle. We could have won, we could have lost, but a draw felt about right. Twente were a good side, making passes our players wouldn’t even have attempted. Their technique was a joy, and while they weren’t nearly as good as Shakhtar Donetsk, it was the same kind of thing. Good, confident, crisp passing. I enjoyed it a lot.
The problem is that while everyone played well there’s something keeping this from really counting. I suspect the system and the players aren’t yet as one, but wonder if they ever really will be. Arguably the team played better with AJ up front than with Zamora, a noodle scratcher if ever there was one. Everyone else was fairly normal, Grygera looks really solid, Baird was excellent, and Sidwell had a good, disciplined match. Much to like on all sorts of levels.
Both keepers had a bit to do: Schwarzer held a few crisp shots well and could do nothing about their goal (a fine header following a terrific, sweeping move) and their man made a couple of decent saves. AJ scored for us, a good goal rewarding his relentless running, and giving him a tidy four for the season already.
No real conclusions here. A good game between two good teams. We could have done with a win, for morale and pointy reasons, but the performance was probably encouraging for Jol.