I’m not sure how much can be said that hasn’t been said already.
You had one team playing with great verve, organisation and purpose, and another trying to piece things together on the fly.
Allen Wade, Roy Hodgson’s mentor, said this about football many years ago:
A *functional* team plays to achieve the best possible match result in all forseeable circumstances. The more functional a team, the greater the reliance on the organisation of collective play. Functional teams are prepared to be predictable in order to improve team efficiency. An *expressionist* team allows the individual players to employ whatever skills they feel are appropriate in defeating opponents. The more expressionist a team, the greater the apparent lack of relationships between individual players. Expressionist teams rely on unpredictability to surprise and defeat opponents.
Fulham under Jol have clearly gone expressionist. Or if they haven’t, they’re doing a good impression of it.
Southampton were super-functional, drilled and working very very well as a collective.
It was embarrassing: watching a modern team taking apart a ghost of an XI, out of time, luck and ideas. One of those that could have been 5-0 on another day.
The clever thing for Saints is that they expend all this energy but probably end up running less than their opponents! Southampton kept the ball for long stretches, which is much easier on the fitness levels than chasing after it. Jose Mourinho instructs his teams to have a rest in possession, just moving the ball around for a bit and re-gathering themselves. Southampton did this, leaving Fulham players to pointlessly chase around as individuals (Saints hunted in packs, of course). So they basically schooled us, panicking us when we had the ball, tormenting us when we didn’t. Embarrassing.
If you’ve been reading this site for the last few weeks you’ll have seen that wherever Fulham are struggling at the moment, Southampton seem to be striving. Where we allow lots of shots, make few tackles or interceptions, and generally make life easier for our opponents than they could ever imagine, Southampton are the opposite, chasing like mad things and spreading panic wherever they go. So their approach would not have been a surprise to Fulham. Nevertheless, it looked that way: with such a gale of pressure Fulham needed to understand their out balls, their approach to being closed down quickly, but we didn’t seem to have an answer.
Notionally you beat a pressing team over the top. Pressing is accompanied by a high defensive line to condense the pitch and prevent teams passing around and through a press (think about it this way: if Scott Parker charges at an opponent but the back four stays deep there’s a big gap behind him isn’t there? But if the back four and the rest of the team are coordinated there isn’t this gap). The idea is that you press quickly enough that opponents don’t have the time to play a good through ball over the top. For a good example of this going wrong picture Newcastle against Fulham when we won 5-2 or whatever it was a couple of years ago. Newcastle had the high line but didn’t get the pressure on the man with the ball and Murphy, Dempsey and Zamora all played some terrific through balls that led to goals, if I remember rightly.
Fulham didn’t ever find that time and only played one through ball to Bent, who was wrongly given offside.
(speaking of Bent, he is living down to expectations: a terrific idea as a sub but a non-participant as a starter. Erik Nevland was similar, if less able. Bent does offer a threat over the top but needs to engage more with the rest of the team or we’re just playing a man short.)
Bright points? Only that it puts our failings very clearly in perspective. It goes beyond the failings of individials – I think all of our players are reasonable and could perfectly well be part of a top 10 team – there’s just a collective meltdown in our play. I made the point on Twitter, but if playing for Fulham were an office job you suspect a good number would be talking to recruiters by now. Nobody looks like they’re thriving, enjoying their role, or doing their role well (with the exception of Sidwell, whose qualities lend themselves to chaos! I mean that in a good way…). It was half-encouraging to see Jol move to a 3-5-2 in the second half, and I wouldn’t be that surprised to see him persevering with this in the future.
We have the personnel for it and it would be the sort of thing that a struggling manager might attempt just to give a different look, a different approach. Riether and Richardson are made to be wing-backs, and we have plenty of decent centre-backs. It might be an answer.