One of the interesting things I’ve taken from the analysis of the last week or so is that Fulham were foolish to abandon the emphasis on defending. At the top level it’s MUCH harder to be a good attacking side than a good defensive one. In effect, all Martin Jol did with his change of emphasis was to weaken the thing we were good at without improving on the weakness.
Keeping things tight when you’re playing better teams makes every sense. Imagine Fulham are playing Real Madrid in a sort of training game.
If you give each team one possession of the ball, Fulham might come out of the match with a draw. Madrid would still be favourites, but in one possession each team chances are they won’t have the scope to impose their superiority.
What if you gave each team 1,000 attacks? Madrid would win easily wouldn’t they?
Over that amount of time their ability would eventually tell.
This is why you see Sam Allardyce teams slow everything down so much. Create stoppages. Slow it down more. The less time the ball’s in play, the less time the superior team has to make a breakthrough. It makes every sense. Against better teams you try to condense opportunities. Against lesser teams you need to open up.
So in a way Fulham need to decide where they are in all this. If we feel we are better than the teams we’ll be playing, then a more expansive game is presumably the way to go. If we are nervous then building from the back is surely key. Absent any real clue either way you’d hope for the latter.
On this, I’ve talked a bit about how attacking full-backs aren’t all they might be when your team is in the process of letting in 85 goals. Well part of this is combinations. Roy used to talk about combinations all over the pitch, essentially each player and the man next to him. So Paintsil would have a combination with Aaron Hughes inside and Damien Duff ahead. Konchesky with Hangeland and Dempsey or Davies. And so on.
And so it is that I noticed something odd about Sascha Riether. I’d been criticising him on Twitter, as I do, when a fellow fan named Ewen mentioned that, while everyone liked the Riether and Dejagah combination, he felt Riether had been better with Duff.
That resonated with me. I hadn’t the gumption to notice it myself, but when Ewen mentioned it something clicked. Yes, that made sense. Duff cuts inside and gives Riether proper space wide, but perhaps more importantly, Duff worked hard to defend, too. With Dejagah you didn’t really get either. In a team like Fulham’s that’s a big deal.
I went back to the 2012/13 season to see what I could see. No sense in looking at last year – everything was awful.
Here’s what I found:
With Riether and Duff we scored and allowed 1.6 goals per game. Without Duff it was 1.8 conceded and .8 scored.
1.3 points per game with both; 0.8 without Duff*.
So you might conclude that despite all this attempted analysis, the biggest problem Fulham have had over the seasons is Damien Duff getting older. It’s not that simple but he, probably with Murphy, were I suspect a lot better than they were really given credit for (and I know everyone rated them highly).
So that’ll be a big part of the new Fulham. Finding players who work well together.
*PS it doesn’t seem as if Duff and Riether played together in easier games or anything