Southampton thoughts

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.

9 thoughts on “Southampton thoughts

  1. All agreed with the above.

    I also believe the 3-5-2 could work, just not entirely sure we have the manager to deploy it effectively.

  2. We started with the wrong formation and tactics and that is Jol’s fault . The players followed orders but the system was never going to work against a team that presses so high , given our lightweight midfield .

    #Ruiz was totally unsuited for that match and Jol would have ben better placed playing Karagounis or putting Parker into an advanced position and playing Boateng or Zverotic alongside Sidwell .

    However , your posting is spot on .

    I still believe that Jol cannot see the wood for the trees and is obsessed by the “quality ” players we have and not how they are playing .

  3. “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.”

    I’m not convinced that he does. I think he looked too slow to play this role, much like most of our team looked too slow to deal with what Southampton threw at them. You mention a time he was caught offside but I think there were a couple of other through balls that he was just not fast enough to reach before the defender. Contrary to (or maybe building on) what Lee said above, I think the problem is that Jol is *wrongly* obsessed by the “quality” players we have, more than a few of whom are not as good as he thinks.

  4. parker .sidwell .problem.will not play long passes ,will not move with the ball ,draws all the play into our own danger zone ,pulls all our players towards them ,full backs get tighter wingers get tighter ,drawing like a magnet ,berbatov comes deeper.end up trying to play ever decreasing triangles until we are dispossessed mainly in our own half,usually in our final third .

  5. Rich, you posed the question the other week about why Martin Jol was not succeeding when he has a track record of being a decent manager. I think you have partially answered the question here – he’s a manager who prefers an individualist style of play but over the last 5 years functional football teams have become the trend right at the top of the club game.

    Take Bayern Munich for example – Whilst they have always done well, over the last few seasons they have focused on the collective rather than the individual and this has seen previously ‘untameable’ players like Arjen Robben bust a gut for the team rather than just themselves. The results have been spectacular.

    In comparison, look at someone like Real Madrid. They have come up short in europe for the last 10 years because the entire club is set up to focus on the individual rather than the collective. Even arch-pragmatist Mourinho couldn’ change the culture, continually clashing with the RM board and ending up leaving a failure.

    What does this mean? Perhaps that Jol’s entire coaching beliefs lie in the individual therefore meaning he can’t adapt to the way top tier football is changing. He seems bemused as to why a team with some of the ‘name’ players we have is struggling, but for the rest of us it is plainly obvious – they are not a coherent unit and this season we probably won’t get away with it.

  6. If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend you google the gif of Amorebieta punching Lovren in the rear and ask yourself: “Is this what the club is becoming?”

    Jol got this one wrong again because he’s gotten most matches for the past 13 months wrong. We may be able to see him through the lens of the expressionist manager, but all that does is highlight his shortcomings on the training pitch. We let in another early goal from a corner. We manage to not have one attempt on goal during the first 45 minutes. We conceded over 60% possession, again.

    All of this falls on Jol’s shoulders as it highlights what is not happening on the training grounds.

  7. That about covers it. What a mystery Jol is still, after all this time. He is clearly decent, perhaps better than decent, at finding and acquiring talent. But so often it seems not that he’s playing the wrong system, but rather that there’s -no- system at all. The team moves like a group of players who don’t train together; nobody has any understanding of when a run is going to happen or where. They constantly get worked into corners. In defense, the point you make about chasing individually is incredibly important.

    Jol’s an argument for a split division of labor between a squad builder and a day-to-day manager.

  8. Jol obviously carries the can in the position of manager, but more and more I am questioning whether he even has the right support around him with the coaching staff? He may be entitled to feel that his coaching staff could be doing more to prepare the team positionally for games. Philosophy is one thing, but am sure even Jol must be thinking the team has to be better organised than the current showing?

    Not knowing enough about how big clubs work, I find it difficult to tell if he himself thinks that it’s the coaching staffs issue to work with the players on who marks who at corners, crosses etc. & perhaps that leadership is just not there at the moment. Just thinking back to Jol when he had Lewington support -v- Jol over the past 18 months.

    But I guess if that is the case, they need to find another senior coach to come in quickly, and someone who can make a difference.

    1. Been thinking the same a lot lately: How much of this is Jol, and how much is it his seemingly awful assistants?

      For instance, if this was occurring in any of the big sports here in America, Jol would have canned one, if not more, of his assistants a LONG time ago. That’s not to say he’d in turn not be canned eventually, but it’s certainly a stopgap measure. For instance, last year the Baltimore Ravens fired their Offensive Coordinator (arguably the #2 role in the club) the last few weeks of the season. Baseball teams often fire a pitching or hitting coach if it’s not up to par.

      Yet there’s been little movement on that front beyond wanting whatever that Dutch fella’s name is. The whole situation around the club is so perplexing, as the remedies seem so obvious.

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