Villa reaction

The new era continues to make us happy.

What I quite like with Meulensteen is that he appears to be in the business of fixing issues, rather than hoping they might go away.

A good example here is his midfield setup yesterday. Midfield has been our unspoken horror this year: everyone’s been piling on the defence and the attack but neither of these units can make a fist of things without some support from midfield. It’s why midfield is a very hard place to play; failure here can be unforgiving.

We’ve all been calling for Derek Boateng to come in and help out but Meulensteen’s opted for Giorgios Karagounis instead, which is fine. Having three men there means that if Sidwell goes wandering it’s not Scott Parker against the world; if Parker decides he can only really give 150% by attacking as well, there’s more chance of someone being able to defend if there are three men in midfield than two.

It’s also quite fashionable these days to talk about ‘winning’ an area by having more men there. By deploying three central midfielders we don’t cede control of the pitch like we have been all year.

It plays to Sidwell’s strengths as well. We have been quite negative about our curious looking ballwinner but he has one big strength that the team needs: he can score goals. His strike, or shovel, on Sunday, was a fabulous example of pure Sidwellian drive: a) he got beyond the last defender, b) he got to the ball first when doing so looked pretty tricky and c) he managed to slide and divert the ball into the far corner of the net in one delicious manouever. It won’t win goal of the month but in its own way it was dead impressive.

Now, would Sidwell have made that run as part of a midfield two?

We also have a balanced attack. I have been a bit critical of Dejagah and Riether in the past but there’s no doubting that they work well together. Yesterday the top passing combination in the game was Riether to Dejagah, 30 in all, double the next highest combo. On the other side Kacaniklic and Riise don’t really work together directly, but both offer a bit of directness and vim. Between the two flanks we’re now giving teams a bit to think about, and of course, and this is the huge thing, this’ll open up more space in the middle of the pitch. (a feature of Jol’s teams was their ability to create congestion in exactly the areas where you want a bit of space). The diagram below also shows how Karagounis was playing quite an aggressive interpretation of his role: if Parker was patrolling the halfway line, and Sidwell was box-to-box, then Karagounis was a sort of battering ram playmaker, charging forward like a mad thing, looking either to make the defence nervous or draw a foul.


Without even mentioning Berbatov we can see several Fulham players making constructive, QUICK attacking contributions. Again: Meulensteen isn’t waiting for some good players to gel into a team; he’s making a team and letting good players show themselves within this framework. It didn’t take long, did it?

Which is not to say we’re out of the woods. You can’t ignore a year of failure and assume that a magic wand can be waved and suddenly everything’s fine. Good though Meulensteen may be, football tends not to work that way. And Villa were in many ways a perfect opponent. It was noted before kick off that they are happy to cede possession and hit teams on the counter, which Sky Sports’ wise men thought might be a problem for Fulham’s slow defence. Well maybe but this year’s Fulham have struggled in the main with teams… well, with teams who attack with the ball (everyone). By taking such a reactive approach Villa neatly skirted our glaring weakness.

We also got a bit of luck. This season has been dire and direness brings a lot of gut punches: late winners, long range screamers, etc. Against Villa the right things happened at the right times. Benteke headed wide when well placed, Kacaniklic got a penalty when a lot of refs would have waved play on; Villa’s own shouts for a penalty were ignored. We earned luck in many ways but the referee had a big impact on the game as well.

There are lots of encouraging signs though. When things are going badly there’s an exponential ripple throughout the team: we were bad in almost all ways. Now there’s a structure and, oh look, the defence looks good again. In football context is everything and Senderos and Hughes will be sleeping easier knowing that they’re getting some help back there.  John Arne Riise has a career again.  You can imagine Motspur Park is a different place already.

8 thoughts on “Villa reaction

  1. All true. The only part that I foresaw was the Sidwell. For the reasons you outline, I made the suggestion on Wednesday to my neighbours who must have passed it on to Rene. For it to pay off within minutes was an unexpected bonus, and no-one’s suggesting he’ll be turning into Frank Lampard, but there is that aspect to him.

    One aforementioned neighbour made a good point about pace, but, since he usually drops by here, I’ll leave that to him.

    1. I’m sure I did but I’ve forgotten what it was.

      We took the game to Villa. They had to cope with us not the other way round. We had more energy than them, denied them room and looked to attack as often as possible. So we had many more shots than we’re used to and the opposition had many fewer.

      Playing like this we’ll win as many as we lose and when we lose we won’t mind so much because we’ll have seen a good game and we’ll have given it a go.

      If I’m suddenly optimistic think how the players must feel.

      Good times ahead I think.

  2. One swallow doesn’t make a summer (or two if you include the Spurs performance ) but we are certainly on the right track .

    The main reason is the manager has dumped the ineffective luxury players such as Ruiz and Tarrabt who make bursts of constructive activity but add nothing to the overall momentum of the team . Darren Bent also falls into that category and I just hope we are strong enough to keep them as bit part players but we cannot rely on Berbatov and Karagounis to carry us through the season unaided; so we need another striker and midfield playmaker in the January window plus cover for Riise , as Richardson is a lightweight .

    Wasn’t it nice to feel that we could and should have had 4 goals yesterday and were always in control – when was the last time we can honestly say we felt like that – probably almost a year ago !

  3. i didn’t see the match but i love the fact that people are nominating senderos karagounis and sidwell as the man of the match. the thing that those 3 players have always shown at least is passion.

  4. I have to say I am pretty shocked (in a good way) at quite how quickly this team has reacted to the manager change. I mentioned on Twitter than Rene appears to have us playing in the traditional Man Utd style of width, attacking fullbacks and energy in midfield – basic stuff but it allows the team to play to our strengths rather than expose our lack of possession football ability.

    I fully agree with your points about the midfield three, and the chalkboards show the pleasing way the three midfielders complemented each other throughout the game. To put in two high-energy performances in the space of 4 days is also very encouraging – we may be old but perhaps we can actually keep this exciting new style of play. Sidwell looks a new player freed of onerous defensive duties or the pressure of being a creator – I still think he is a limited player, but he is just the tonic in midfield at the moment.

    Still work to be done – the wingers whilst exciting, need to be more productive and some of the decision making in front of goal can be worked on but they are relatively minor quibbles.

    Some tough games coming up which will give us further indication of our chances of staying up, and questions over the future of players like Ruiz, Taarabt and Bent in this set up which we no doubt be resolved by xmas (can Ruiz play like he did in Holland as a high-energy attacking winger?).

    It’s nice to be happy with Fulham again.

    1. We need to keep Bent as his ability to find the goal is superb, especially when we comes on a 2nd half sub. There’s hope that Ruiz could be ‘rehabilitated’ by Meulensteen to play a role similar to one Rooney and Kagawa now play. Taarabt, however, still has a touch of the QPR about him…

  5. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the things that is making that midfield work is that Rene has clearly drilled them to hunt in pairs. Under the late Jol games, Parker or somebody would be doggedly chasing the ball endlessly around the opponent’s midfield, then eventually collapsing in exhaustion. Now, we send two players, and we’re winning a ton of possession with simple moves where one player screens off the opposing ballhandler and the second one steals it. We’re winning more possession and also probably saving a lot of energy we wasted chasing before.

    The spacing is really key, it is allowing everything else. Your points about the right (where Reither and Dejagah have a great rapport) vs the left (Kaca and Riise, not so much) is well-taken. Kaca is unusual for another reason, in that he continues to be the player who seems to have the best mutual understanding with Berbatov in terms of movement and position. They find each other.

    1. Good points, both about hunting in pairs and Berba/Kaca. There is some Berba/Kasami rapport too, and the youngster was one of the few bright spots pre-Rene, but his replacement was nevertheless vindicated. Bolstering central midfield need not diminish attacking intent or effectiveness — and Saturday’s stats amply bear that out.

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