What on earth is Felix Magath doing?

I’ll have to watch the highlights later, but for now, here’s a quote from our manager before the game:

“It depends how we play and how the result goes. If we have a good game and good result, we will not change so much. If we have no result, like on Saturday, we have to change something.”

Hmm.

Does he mean that he’s looking for something in his team and sees every match as an opportunity to find out whether he’s found it?  (like a lottery ticket, where you buy it on Wednesday and see if it worked out on Saturday). Will he, after we do win a match, think: “yes! that was the configuration we’ve been looking for!”

We have talked about partnerships around the pitch, and Steve Claridge on the radio did the same last night. When I was researching the Roy book (have you got yours yet?!) David Elm told me how during the week forwards would practice in pairs (he was with Eddie Johnson) to help build up an understanding.

Fast forward to 2014 and it’s not clear that anyone in the team has played next to someone else more than once, except for the back four, which was remarkably stable until being hacked up last night.

If we think we need 10 games for luck to even out then does that not become about 30 if we field a different team every week? When you want to test something you generally try to stabilise the test as much as possible. So if I want to see what impacts on students’ abilities to pass exams I look for two groups with as much in common as possible except for the variable I’m interested in. By looking at their results I can deduce that the variable they didn’t share may be responsible for any variation.

(say you make two sandwiches: one has jam in the middle, the other has mashed snails; when you get people to rate the sandwiches sandwich A might get 8/10 and sandwich B 1/10. If you want to know why, you can deduce that since they both had bread, they both had butter, and they were both freshly made today, the difference is in the filling).

Put another way, if Fulham play a different team every week, one with 5 or 6 changes, it’s very hard to learn anything. Suppose he makes 6 changes for Saturday and we sneak a 1-0 away win. What do we deduce?

That football is very random and we can’t read too much into it
That these six changes were collectively responsible for the turnaround
That one of the six changes was crucial. Which one? 

I don’t know. What you would hope is that Magath has a vision for his team and wants to identify the team that best fits this. Anyway, here are our stabs this season (formations as per the Fulham website):

Back fours:

Hoogland Bodurov Hutchinson Stafylidis
Hoogland Bodurov Burgess Stafylidis
Hoogland Bodurov Burggess Kavanagh

Midfield

David Parker Hyndman Burgess (Diamond)
Parker Christensen Hyndman (4-3-3)
Roberts Parker Fotheringham Stafylidis (4-4-2)

Forwards

McCormack Dembele
Williams Rodallega Eisfeld
McCormack Woodrow

There are a few scenarios here:

He knows the opposition well and has designed a master plan for each team
He is ‘trying things’ to see what works
He is rotating the squad like Sir Alex Ferguson
He is wary of young players having a long season and trying to guard against burnout
He’s trying to make Fulham impossible to scout
He’s trying to keep his players on their toes and create a “battle for places”
He doesn’t know what to do

Whatever, my guess is that the players are as confused as we are.

I sometimes think of football managers as being a bit like doctors. “Do no harm”. Fulham seem to have stumbled into the opposite. I am the most patient person around but this just looks like chaos. We might well improve – conceding early goals in all three games has been unfortunate – but I haven’t seen anything in our play to suggest that we’re better than this.

The reasons to be optimistic are:

The defence has been quite settled so might come good
Parker and Hyndman seems like a reasonable basis for a midfield
We have Patrick Roberts
Ross McCormack does score goals.

And perhaps much else besides.  But sooner or later we need points.  

26 thoughts on “What on earth is Felix Magath doing?

  1. I could not agree more. All good teams you can name the 11. For example our 2010 europa team or our 2001 promotion team can be named in a flash. Same as Man U 1999 or Liverpool 1984. Sort of proves the point.

  2. Thoughtful and reflective as ever Rich. If ever we needed a level headed and analytical appraisal of the current FFC squad it is now (some of the bile and vitriol directed at the team last night from behind me in the Hammersmith end has reached ridiculous proportions.) I am not sure what to make of all this and the body language of the players when Hugo was brought on from the bench suggests that the players are as bemused as we are. McCormack was genuinely perplexed as to where he should play following this introduction and approached the bench to seek advice (I think he ended up at left mid in the end.) The constant pack shuffling can’t be helping and the decision to start Fotheringham alongside Parker was baffling to me. I take no pleasure in saying it but I have a feeling things might not get better anytime soon.

  3. I had been backing Felix until the shambles that was last night. At least in the first two games there was some sort of pattern and structure to play, and we had seemed to be improving.

    Last night he changes it all (again) and the players look lost, the team doesn’t perform and he goes to a CM pairing of 30+yr olds, which should be written in the big book of football as a big no-no (look at last season!!)

    I don’t know what to think and it doesnt look like we are building anything anymore. Felix is pleading patience for the sake of the younger players, but that seems like a load of convienient bullshit for him to hide behind as the kids have done pretty well in a very uncertain situation. Its the structure that is lacking, and the consistency.

    At this rate, I can’t see Felix lasting much longer. But I have no faith in the board either, yet another time where it looks like they have royally ballsed up.

  4. What a shambles it was last night. Very depressing as I thought we couldn’t get any worse than some of the performances last year but this felt worst. The total chaos at the end featuring our left back in central midfield and our star buy on the left whilst a whole combination of different strikers were running around in different directions really upset me. I felt sorry for the young ones cruelly exposed some of them might not ever recover from these run of games. Don’t really know what the answer is to be honest. very soon the window will be shut and i fear for our set up as it stands.

  5. AlexL’s thoughts above are very similar to mine. I was previously willing to believe something interesting was building and Felix knew what he was doing (it seemed rational)… but last night is just haunting me.

    Goodness knows what will now happen on Saturday – or at Griffin Park for that matter. In a funny kind of way I’m quite intrigued to see. Can Felix’s job survive if after Cardiff we have zero points from five?

    Poor kids!

    1. Yes I agree with you Jamie. My friend and I left Craven Cottage last night in a kind of bemused daze, both genuinely surprised at how bad the match had been. I very much doubt that we will get anything at Derby or Brentford (I am going to both and feel slightly queasy at the prospect). I too have a kind of morbid fascination to see how much worse things can get. Hold on, isn’t this supposed to be enjoyable or something?

    2. ” Felix knew what he was doing (it seemed rational)…” Really? I haven’t noticed anything rational from this fool since he arrived! His whacko team selections started last season and continued unabated. Anyone wanting to offer Magath more time to “let the team gel” is as delusional as Felix.

      1. Sorry, my sentence was split too far: I meant believing Felix knew what he was doing seemed the rational thing to believe – based on his past. But as you say, there is increasing evidence which points to the contrary…

  6. And another one that has Lost faith in FM.

    He is just mad: but what bemuses me more is that there is no one around him to help him see see sense. I know they are his appointees in the main, but still.

  7. One thing I think we’re doing is looking at this season in the context of the EPL. Which makes sense considering 75% or so (more? less? I’m being serious) weren’t around last time the club was in the Championship.

    We need to keep looking at this long term. Three losses to start off the season stinks. But it’s not devastating. This is not the EPL where, due to its absurd economic stratification, 3 losses for a club like ours would be very bad. Where every result does matter and WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN.

    I’m not being a pollyanna but my sense is that Felix is figuring stuff out still; as he should be considering 25 new players are donning the shirt. He’s not my favorite but I still trust him, and some of the underlying stats are assuring me in that.

    This league is much like baseball where the season is absurdly long and talent far more evenly distributed. You have to ride the waves otherwise you will go insane.

    Take my Baltimore Orioles, who are currently one of the best teams in baseball (somehow?!?!?!?!?! wowowow), had Tommy freaking Hunter as their closer for 2 months or so. Things will even out; or get worse and changes will be made.

  8. I’m also still inclined to support Magath. It seems strange to suggest that a man who won the Bundesliga 3 times has somehow ‘gone mad’. And since it seems highly improbable that we’ll get relegated (or promoted for that matter), I’m willing to let Magath treat the first stretch as an extended preseason. Despite the losses, the team has looked decent so far and the games have been a lot more fun to watch than last season’s (even Wolves wasn’t too dire). It’s a pleasure to see all of the academy products in action, and I expect that team selection will become more consistent with time.

      1. The stats from whoscored show that we’re mid to upper table for most of the important stats (#4 shots per game, #2 average possession, #3 pass completion rate, #11 shots on target, and mid-table for both shots conceded and interceptions). Compared to last year, that’s an enormous change, when we near or at the bottom of the table for all of those measures.

        Also, the idea that we ‘should’ have most of the play because we’re behind is a little strange. The teams with the least possession in the EPL last year were Crystal Palace, West Ham, Aston Villa, Fulham, and Cardiff. My expectation is that those teams spent most of their matches behind. In contrast, the 4 teams with the most possession in the Championship were QPR, Derby, Brighton, and Leicester. All of those teams ended up in playoff/promotion spots. Bad teams don’t just end up with the ball because they’re losing, even in the supposed rough and tumble of the Championship.

        In contrast to last season, when all of the underlying stats were dismal, we’re doing more than okay this season. If we continue to keep the ball, take shots, and prevent other teams from doing the same, we’ll be okay. Any of our games this year could have (and perhaps should have) gone either way. A little faith might be in order.

        That said, if Derby dominates the youngsters on Saturday, I take back everything!

        1. The stats really aren’t telling the story. Last night it was talented boys against organized men. We most certainly fully deserved to lose.

          1. I agree that the game state matters, but then the takeaway is that we’ve been (at worst) evenly matched with the teams we’ve played, which is quite different than “we’re going to get relegated!”

            This is because — in terms of magnitude — most studies suggest only around a .05 per minute effect of losing on ball possession (after controlling for opponent quality). So, even if we were losing for all 90 minutes, our possession would probably only be 4.5% higher than the possession we would have expected if the entire game was tied. That’s why good teams tend to dominate possession and poor teams rarely have it: quality is more important than game state. Constantly losing last year wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that our team was shit!

            So, turning to this season, in which we’ve been losing for about 230 minutes (of 270, ouch!), that works out to about 55% ‘true’ possession per game (if the models are right). That would still place us in the top 4 of the Championship last year for possession!

            In sum, our form so far has probably been mid-table and the quality of our players probably is too. Only our results haven’t been. But, you know… small sample sizes, random events, and all that fun stuff. We’ll have a much better idea after 10 games, but I would be shocked if we’re relegated with Magath as manager.

            For references, see http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640410600944626, http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/hukin.2010.25.issue–1/v10078-010-0036-z/v10078-010-0036-z.xml, and http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2013.853130.

            I look forward to your post tomorrow!

              1. Patience is a virtue, or so we are told. We all complain about short-termism and yet it seems we have no ability to accept a long term plan. Magath may be a mad man or then again….he may just be trying to build a unit built on youth and committed to his approach. Ohhh but Fotheringham ……. Because he is part of a squad that has been promised an opportunity. Nothing more nothing less. But why not play Tunniclife……..because he is not part of the squad. As simple as that. For good or bad the manager is clearly attempting to build a balanced squad driven by youth. Fotheringham is clearly not of the quality required on the pitch but it may be that he is a leader off it, hence his contract. His start in my view should be seen as no more than team building. He may be a coach in a year. Magath clearly believes in togetherness. He has been consistent in this. Maybe some of those left out don’t like his way of doing things – so be it. Let’s give the man a chance. A zealot he may be but I for on would prefer a man with a long term plan with next to nothing to prove.

    1. Wow! I never thought I would read that! Just how long does your “first stretch” go for and how many/few points would you be happy with by the end of it?

  9. He lost my support last night.

    Wonderfully talented kids but most of the players brought into the club are seriously underwhelming.

    Above all though there’s no team. It really is a collection of random individuals doing their best but having to make it up as they go along.

    I am convinced that things won’t improve under Magath. We need a defensive minded organizer and if he’s not appointed in the next few days he’ll have to organize a squad seriously lacking in experienced nous.

    I expect another relegation.

  10. It’s starting to look like Hangeland was right about Magath. What must players like Burn, Kaca and Tunnicliffe be thinking, players who have performed well at this level, but are behind kids (talented kids) with no previous league experience whatsoever. And what about David and Eisfeld dropped for a fullback. For the successes of Roberts and Hyndman I sense a lot of individual damage is being done – and only 10 days into the season. I can’t see anything to suggest FM is the right man for this plan – quite the opposite. Better to change now.

  11. When I saw the lineup before the game yesterday I thought, like you Rich, Magath has no idea what’s going on. It feels like last season only different players. At least Scott Parker’s place in the starting XI isn’t in jeopardy! Whew. He doesn’t provide what’s needed defensively and he certainly doesn’t going forward. He’s existing on a reputation that was made years ago. Yet he’s revered. Oh captain! Oh experienced captain, leader of men! The team flashes his image all over their social media accounts as though we should still be grateful they landed him. Where the hell are Kaca and Ruiz? They really can’t play before they are sold? I don’t get it. Plenty of teams use players before the window closes and they’re sold.

    I generally take the long view but I see a club in decline over the last 2 1/2 years, roughly, and it has gotten hard to see a way out. A year ago now none of us would’ve believed we’d lose to Ipswich Town, Millwall and Wolves to start next season yet here we are. We will definitely be the underdogs against Derby.

  12. An eloquent summary of the questions which pretty much everyone must be asking, just less articulately. Three thoughts:

    1) The club have created a rod for their own backs by peddling the ‘going for promotion’ line. The approach we’re seeing here must surely be the right one, even though the absence of an experienced keeper and a creative midfielder is killing us. But it was never going to deliver promotion in one season and the more reasonable fans (even on the message boards!) knew this. The unreasonable ones are never going to be happy anyway, so it doesn’t really matter about their expectations. That said, it strikes me as legitimate to judge the club according to their declared intentions, and by this standard, we have started terribly, I also think we have every reason to expect things to get worse before they get better. On the subject of which…

    2) What scares me isn’t so much the prospect of relegation, because I honestly do think we will be OK over 46 games. As Jamie says above, we now have two games against a couple of the stronger sides in the league, plus a game at Brentford which simply screams ‘ultimately irrelevant, but potentially highly embarrassing’. Derby away is the sort of game you’d have had marked down as a defeat even before the start of the season, while Cardiff beat us home and away last season, including under Felix. Lose even 2, let alone 3 of those, and there’s serious pressure on Magath. I personally wouldn’t consider getting rid until we’ve played at least 10 games and probably more like 15, but the board do have form for letting someone put together a squad and then promptly firing him the moment the transfer window closes. The narrative that Rich described the other day about the kids is pretty well set (despite Fotheringham!) and any shift away from that (probably inevitable if we are actually in a relegation fight come November) risks losing the best of them too early, and the rest to Adam Green syndrome.

    3) The crowd reaction, booing and all the rest of it, is difficult. On one hand, shouting abuse at the kids (even Roberts copped some from the guys at the back of G/H Block on Wednesday night) is ridiculous and counter-productive. On the other hand, people care about football clubs, and invest a lot of time and money in them, for what, especially in the last couple of seasons, has frequently been a pretty miserable experience. This particular club has made a series of pretty terrible decisions in the last year and a bit, and the obvious conclusion is that it isn’t being run all that well. Keeping Jol for as long as we did, hiring Meulensteen and the two horsemen of the Championship (thanks Rich), firing Meulensteen, freezing out Berbatov and Ruiz rather than trying to find an actual system they could play in, buying Mitroglu – there are about 10 more. Of course, they could all have been justifiable percentage calls, each of which has unluckily failed to pay off, but the list is getting pretty long by now. Anyway, my point is that the means available for the fans to express some understandable disappointment at the way things have gone are pretty limited, and the reaction at the end of the Wolves match, which was a pretty dreadful performance, is perhaps best understood in that light.

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