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!

5 thoughts on “Where next?

  1. One feature of Hodgson’s sides was that Danny Murphy usually played deeper than the more ‘defensive’ player in central midfield (Baird/Etuhu/etc). This helped us when things broke down, and gave him a little more time to pick out clever through balls. Could Scott Parker do the same? Or is his long passing not good enough?

  2. For the moment I’m content for Jol to keep moving forward with this shape, and the roster selections necessary to make it happen. If the goal for Fulham is to achieve something better than mid-table (which it should be), then they have to play a style of football that has a higher “ceiling” than a shielding, defensive style that might shut down lower table teams but be overrun by the better squads. I suppose a focus on counter-attacking would be the happy medium between the two options, but I feel like we should be more certain the current group of players cannot flourish in they style Jol is attempting impose before we switch course in that direction.

  3. Will have Diarra back in the team (fingers crossed) helps things a bit perhaps defensively and keeping possession? Perhaps a 4-3-3 shape, with Parker, Sidwell and Diarra in midfield. Perhaps Ruiz inside right with Riether offering the width on that side. Kaca offering some pace on the left and Berba up top?

    How do we fit likes of Bent, Taarabt, Dejagah etc in? Such a strong squad but not the correct balance in the starting line ups this season yet me thinks.

  4. Rich – what a great set of analysis! The best proof of how good your recent analysis has been is the flattering words from Phil Mison on his ESPN log. Congrats!

    You’ve done great analysis with available data. The shots on target is possibly the best available data, but it would be great if there was data available on “quality scoring opportunities”. This would discount inoffensive dribblers towards the keeper, but would count blocked shots which are goal-bound, or very near misses in shots off target. This would require a different type of analyst that would enter the data as opposed to the junior people that today just have to see if the shot is on target or off target.

    On your Berba and Ruiz comments, I believe that Ruiz is just doing what Jol is asking him to do, especially when he plays on the right wing. Fans criticize him for slowing down play, but he’s really looking for the best quality pass option as opposed to just a sideways pass, or he’s waiting for Reither to overlap and make the run on the wing, as Riether is faster and stronger, or looking for other runners. When it does not materialize and he loses the ball or breaks counter-attacks, the moans and groans from fans are evident. I think I’m now in the minority of fans that would like Ruiz to stay with the team, but it seems more plausible now that it’s best for him to go to a team that has a well defined passing strategy, like Swansea, Arsenal or Liverpool. I don’t think FFC fans will tolerate him in the team anymore.

    Berba is a different story. Jol has gone on record saying that Berba should not drop that much into midfield and should be charging more towards goal, but somehow it seems that Berba has not gotten the message, or he is not interested in listening to Jol and just doing his own thing. The way that Sir Alex dealt with it was benching him and bringing him late in games, where he actually ended up producing a bunch of goals, as he has immense quality and God given talent.

    In general I like your suggestion on what the blueprint should be moving forward, but I’m afraid that FFC does not have the players to fit this style, especially on the forward line. Taraabt, Ruiz, Berba are not a good fit for this style. We would need faster, pacier, more physical players to play this right. And even some of the more pacy players we have like Dejagah, Kaca and Rodallega are not getting enough opportunities at the moment to try this out. You are right, if Jol makes these changes it means that he’s reading and you’ve gotten his attention.

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