Chelsea 0-0 Fulham


In retrospect, we shouldn’t be surprised that two teams fielding three defensive midfielders each would get a bore draw on a cold night in West London. Both teams battled in a rather fruitless affair and Fulham could have snatched all three points, conjuring up the best chances in the second half.

Fulham lined up in a hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1/4-2-3-1 with a defensive bent to counteract a potent Chelsea team, who up until recently, had been scoring with ease in the league.  A midfield trio of Diarra, Sidwell and Karagounis did the water carrying, but a lack of creative midfield spark left Berbatov stranded up top for most of the first half, as Chelsea controlled possession but could not find a way past the resolute Fulham defence.

In the second half, the game opened up slightly. A fantastic ball over the top of the Chelsea defence by the hard working Karagounis found an onrushing Riise who managed to fluff a relatively simple chance and weakly push the ball into Petr Cech’s arms.  Changes were made to both sides which saw the game open up further, but unfortunately the quality of the game did not follow the games upward trajectory.

Kerim Frei did add some pace, ingenuity and danger to the left flank that Fulham had been missing, and he made several good runs, but a lack of match sharpness was clear. His passing was poor when he got himself into good positions. Despite this, he did lay off a good pass on the edge of the area to Riise, who hit a rasping shot which tested Cech and brought a corner.

As the game came to a close, there were a few late penalty area scrambles but nothing came of them and the game finished goalless.

All in all, a good away point at a top 4 side. Fulham could have grabbed all three and despite the dullness of the match, it felt like a reassuring hug from a Fulham team reminding us that they still can defend when needed. The defensive performance was superlative and Hughes and Senderos put in a performance which will hopefully wake Brede from the slumber he has been in all season. With a resurgent Spurs side up next (damn you Moussa!) it was important for Fulham to get more points on the board and prevent a potential run of four straight defeats.

Fulham’s New Balance

This season has seen some significant changes in personnel and style of football signalling that we really are starting to see Martin Jol’s team. One of the most interesting changes has been that this current Fulham side has become a lot more balanced when it comes to attacking. Last season attacks were split like so:

Left – 27%

Middle – 38%

Right – 35%

This shows the influence of Dempsey’s consistent cutting in and the impact of Dembele, Ruiz, Diarra, Murphy and Duff who attacked through the middle or on the right. This spread of attacks was not a huge problem, although there were times when Fulham cried out for a bit of width to change games. An example that springs to mind is the Blackburn game away when Fulham were playing against 10 men. Rich has outlined this last season and against Blackburn’s 10 men we struggled to spread the play in what was one of the worst performances of the season.

This season there has been significant change:

Left – 35%

Middle – 33%

Right – 32%

Not only is the distribution of attacks much more balance across the pitch, for the first time in what must be a while (pre Hodgson I would imagine) the left hand side has seen the most  Fulham attacks. This can be directly traced to the loss of Dempsey and the introduction of Kaca and Richardson on the left, both players with pace who like to stick to the left of the pitch. This is not to say that they do not cut in, both do, but they are happy to attack from this area into the box; providing both crosses and shots.

So the question is – is a more balanced Fulham a better Fulham? I would imagine that it makes us far less predictable going forward, which is a positive thing. The stats would indicate that we are also much better at not only shooting but getting shots on target so this more balanced attack seems to be paying dividends. Often in seasons gone past we could get funnelled down the centre too often, but now Fulham have real width and pace to balance out the lashings of creativity emanating from the middle in the forms of Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov.

International Break Part II

Just a quick post.

In this weeks ‘things to look out for’ column in The Guardian, I was alerted to an old blog written by Paul Doyle about Hodgson’s arrival at Fulham during the winter of the ‘Great Escape’ season.

Doyle not only gives a very insightful review of Hodgson’s past but also makes bold claims that Hodgson will be an excellent choice for Fulham at a time when most did not give us a hope of staying up and the majority of mainstream journalists were asking questions such as ‘Hodgson who?’.

Although Doyles positivity was nearly ruined by Fulham’s terrible form to the last 4 games, it is interesting that he could see something that few others did – Hodgson could save us and beyond that, build a competitive and interesting team.

Fulham’s Age Old Problem

Note: For those older readers, the use of  ‘old’ in this article is purely in a footballing context

With club football finally about to get back underway after yet another asinine international break, I thought I would investigate one of the less heralded issues that Fulham currently have at the moment – the age of the squad.

To put it simply, Fulham have an old squad. Although over the last season Fulham have gotten younger, the average age remains over 30 years old. In fact you could put together a pretty good team by selecting over 30 players only:

This team would be the oldest ever fielded in the premier league with an average age of 32.4yrs old. Jol has consistently said that he wants to reduce the age of the squad and has so far been unable to achieve this. I have a fair amount of sympathy for him here – there was a definite move to replace key players with younger players until late this summer when Dempsey and Dembele decided to jump ship and Fulham were forced into panic signing the likes of Karagounis and Tavares. Despite letting go a fair few youngsters (Gecov, Sa, Dembele) the age of players brought in (28.7yrs) was almost exactly the same as those let go ( 28.6yrs).

So, is the old age of the squad a big deal? I’m not so sure. Firstly, football has changed so much over the last 10 years that being in your thirties no longer represents the terminal decline of your career. A good premier league professional should be able to perform to a very high standard up to the age of 33, and players being influential up to 35-36yrs old is no longer that odd, particularly defenders.

Secondly, Fulham may have an old squad, but look at the age of the Fulham bench in each game this season:

V Norwich – 26.8

V Man Utd – 26.8

V Sheffield Wed – 24.7

V West Ham – 25.5

V West Brom – 24.5

V Wigan – 27.1

V Man City – 24.7

V Southampton –  26.5

Overall AVG – 25.8

Encouragingly, much like with the over 30s, you can put together a good under 30s team with an average age of 25.5yrs old (although, unsurprisingly, defence is a bit of an issue):

Thirdly, and this is an important point, all of the players who are over 30 years old (except Berbatov) have only one year remaining on their contract. This is an important factor to take into consideration because it gives a high level of flexibility when it comes to lowering the age of the squad. The players over 30 who left (Johnson, Murphy) or were sold (Zamora, Etuhu) all wanted expensive multi-year contracts or already had them.

So is there an age problem at Fulham? I would argue that it is a concern, but Fulham are in a good position to continue with the squad overhaul and the introduction of younger players because of the flexible contract situations and young age of the reserve players.

Assessing the Understudies

On Friday I popped along to the u21 game being played at Craven Cottage with the Whites taking on Chelsea’s youngsters. These games always strike me as a bit odd – the new u21 and u18 league set up is designed to give youngsters a more competitive edge but the game still had a bit of a sense of a friendly match about it, particularly with several first team players included to aid their return to full fitness.

It is also difficult to know exactly what level the game could be compared to. I saw two sides with obvious talent and ball playing ability, playing in difficult conditions and an entertaining match with plenty of skill. Would a team of this calibre be able to hack it in League One? The Championship? I would imagine they could give a good account of themselves in the former, although the physicality of the league might be an issue.

Anyway, without offering up a full match report, I thought I would comment on a few of the more notable performances from various players who caught my eye:

Philippe Senderos – Gave a very good account of himself and was head and shoulders above the rest of the defence, as you would expect a first team player to be. Very assured in possession and was happy to step forward into the midfield to help shepherd the ball out wide or forward. It was his fantastic raking cross-field ball that Charles Banya expertly lobbed the keeper with for Fulham’s first goal. With Hughes and Hangeland both looking shaky at times it would not surprise me to see Senderos replacing one of them in the near future

James Musa – Our new signing from the Antipodes, Musa put in an impressive performance, playing both a support role alongside Senderos and then a more dominant role alongside Jack Grimmer in the second half. He made several good tackles and blocks and combined this with a calm attitude on the ball and a noticeable passing ability. We may never see him in the first team, but to my eyes he looked better than Rafik Halliche

Jack Grimmer – An assured performance from the right back, particularly when linking up with Dejagah in the first half. Strong on the ball and in the tackle, it would not surprise me to see him on the fringes of the first team sometime soon

Mickael Tavares – Seemed to hide for most of the first half, happy to sit back and not stamp his authority on the game which worried me as these are the kind of games that first team players should be trying to stand out in. Improved in the second half and looked tidy in possession but I can’t see what he would really bring to the current first team other than cover.

Ashkan Dejagah – Had a 45 minute introduction to Fulham fans and looked every inch the established first team player. Had the young Chelsea left back struggling significantly and was happy to take the ball to the by-line or cut inside to have a go on goal. Unsurprisingly looked short of match fitness but he appeared to have all the characteristics of a successful premier league winger – pace, strength, confidence, two-footedness and stamina. There was one point where he waltzed through the Chelsea defence only for Trotta to steal it off his toe and shoot wide. The look on Dejagah’s face was delightful; one of pure disgust and frustration. I think he will do well here

Kerim Frei – A return to action for the youngster who lit up the Europa League last season but has missed most of this season due to a hamstring inury. He looked bright and, crucially, a cut above most of the attacking talent on show. A criticism may be that he was trying a bit *too* hard but he was to driving force behind much of the creative play going forward. I am really looking forward to see him and Kaca battling it out for the starting spot on the left this season.

Marcelo Trotta – An enigma of a forward. He didn’t really offer much other than wasteful shots and grass stains on his shirt yet came away with two goals. I really want him to do well but his all round game seems to be lacking. He desperately needs a loan to the Championship for at least half a season because he needs to step up a level – let’s hope Jol has plans for this

Did anyone else pop along? Agree/Disagree with the way I saw it?

Deadline Day


So, transfer deadline day is finally over and Fulham managed to secure three signings to add to the team. Some quick thoughts on each one:

Dimitar Berbatov

Obviously the star signing of Fulham’s transfer window. The loss of Moussa Dembele upset many but the signing of Berba on a two year contract had most Fulham fans dancing a jig of delight. In just over 6 months Fulham have gone from an attack of Andy Johnson, Pavel Pogrebnyak/Zamora and Orland Sa to Berbatov, Petric and Rodellega. As well as making a £2m profit – sensational business. As for the man himself? He is a proven premier league goalscorer and probably the classiest player in the league. In his opening interview he said he wanted to be happy and to play, so Fulham sounds like the perfect place for him to see out the rest of his days. I personally cannot wait to see him in a Fulham shirt.

Kieran Richardson

The 27 year old joined from Sunderland in a £2m deal on a three year contract with an option. It was his bad luck that this was first announced just after the Dembele news broke but he should prove to be a very solid signing. He can play all over the park, is meant to be a top professional and most Sunderland fans were very sad to see him go. Jol has already hinted that he sees Richardson playing on the left wing, although with the lack of centre midfielders available, don’t be surprised to see him lining up alongside Diarra. Rich always goes on about the importance of good squad players. This appears to be what we have, and possibly more.

Ashkan Dejagah 

A bit of a surprise signing for £2.5m from Wolfsburg, Ashkan looks to be the answer we were looking for with regards to pace and width on the right. He had a very successful season last year with 3 goals and 10 assists in the Bundesliga. I have not seen much of Dejagah, but I am reliably informed by those who follow the German league that he is a good solid right winger with an excellent cross on him and will definitely add to the team.

There will be more on CCN in the coming days about Fulham’s transfers and how the team will be shaping up until Jan.

Alex is in two minds about the successfulness of this transfer window

Only Fools and Horses

Something that flew somewhat under the radar this past week was the announcement that Marcello Trotta has signed a new contract with the club. For those that reacted to news, the response was pretty muted, with many expressing a mild surprise that the club had seen sufficient talent and upside to offer new terms.

Martin Jol’s recent comments regarding Trotta were also interesting:

“Trotta is a goal machine – if he gets the ball in the box he’s very good. But when the ball’s on the deck he’s got to learn to be a bit more composed, in the air with crosses as well.Outside of the box we’re still trying to teach him one or two more things, he should work on his performance.For him going to Wycombe was a great step for him. We have to wait for the next couple of weeks and see if he can get something else.We believe in him. Hopefully he can step up another gear in the next few months.”

So the manager and the club evidently see something that most of us do not. What could it be?

Trotta is currently 19. The hottest young Scottish striker on the market is Jordan Rhodes, aged 22. How does the former compare to the latter in terms of career trajectory? If we look back at the 2009/10 season, the year Rhodes was 19/20 years old ( the season that Trotta is currently entering) we see his explosion onto the scene in league one – 19 goals in 47 appearances in the league.

How does Trotta compare? We can partly answer this due to his highly successful loan spell last season at Wycombe Wanderers where he bagged 8 goals in 8 games. This is a season ‘ahead’ of the trajectory set by Rhodes. Would it be wildly optimistic to propose that Trotta might be able, over the course of the season, to match Rhodes’s league one goal tally from 2009/10?

Considering that Trotta was a revelation for an awful Wycombe Wanderers side who were relegated one off the bottom of the league and that he was put into an underperforming, unfamiliar team at incredibly short notice, it might not be. Remember Rhodes was part of a well functioning and attack minded Huddersfield team. He was able to forge a relationship with his team mates over pre-season and hit the ground running in August.

It would be absurd to suggest that this will definitely happen. But it might explain why Fulham are happy to sign him up long term and are making positive noises about him in the press.

Alex is a Fulham fan based in SW London.

This is an optimistic post that will no doubt be dragged out in future to remind him how wrong he was.

The Quiet Man

The recent brouhaha surrounding Clint Dempsey and the general bombast of the transfer market has made me reflect on the way the club is run.

Over the last five or so years there seems to have been a real maturation process within the club. Gone are the days of the big name star signings, the adrenaline fuelled rush through the leagues and ambitions of becoming the ‘Manchester United of the south’. Fulham have also weathered the more barren post-Tigana years , characterised by poor fitness, loose lips at the training ground and poor results on the pitch.

In recent years, things can not have been more different. Transfer business is low key and done behind closed doors. Mohammed Al Fayed and Alistair Mackintosh don’t feel the need to take to Twitter to reassure fans or declare statements of intent (although one shudders at the thought of Twitter existing in 1997 and MAF being computer literate). Even the playing staff seem to reflect this change – there seem to be, for want of a better phrase, no ‘billy big bollocks’ players and where they have reared their ugly heads they are swiftly and mercilessly dealt with.

So Fulham have become the quiet man in the premier league. A team that keeps to itself, does not court controversy and gets on with the job at hand. The results have followed and the transition between three managers has been performed superbly. Fulham feel like a club that is very comfortable in its own skin, looking for sustainable growth and one that is realistic in its short term targets. The complete reformation of the youth programme at Fulham has also been a huge success, giving Fulham a base from which to build with young players, some of whom are making their way into the first team already.

Whilst stability has been evident at Fulham in recent times, this summer has seen the biggest change of personnel in its recent history and the fans have been understandably uneasy with the change and the size of the squad. However, Fulham’s business has been suitably low key and – so far – encouraging. The fantastic Diarra has been signed up for the year, two astute free transfers have been made in the form of Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodellega and a dependable workhorse of a right back has been brought in on loan in the form of Sascha Reither.

Perhaps the only downside to being the quiet man of the premier league is the lack of respect it can sometimes engender. Despite being a consistent top 10 team over the last few years, we get little recognition from the media or other teams who still seem to view Fulham as a soft touch and a team that ‘we really should be beating’. However this often works in our favour – when Hodgson was in charge one journalist likened a trip to craven cottage as being prey to gentleman muggers who lure you in with the pleasant surroundings and send you on your way bereft of points.

Overall the current outlook at Fulham seems to be incredibly rosy. The loss of players and managers is adapted to with little fuss, the academy is producing some home grown talent and along with the new Riverside Stand in the works, sustainability is the way forward. As long as the football is good and the commitment from the players and manager evident the quiet man of the premier league will keep on chugging along nicely.

Alex is a Fulham fan based in SW London and has been trying to remain positive over the summer

Oh Andy….

Today, Andy Johnson officially signed for QPR on a two year contract, leaving Fulham after four seasons of patchy service. Tim has a great run down of Andy’s impact at Fulham from earlier this year here, albeit with some not particularly glowing conclusions.

So what will we remember of Andy’s time at Fulham? Signed in the summer of 2008, Johnson represented the new beginning for Fulham under Roy Hodgson. Having been rescued from imminent disaster, Hodgson was putting his mark on the team by rebuilding the strike force and it was certainly made in his image – both Zamora and Johnson were hard grafters with a built in team ethic contributing to a new Fulham line up based on defensive solidity. This limited the attacking output for both players (AJ had a relatively meagre haul of 7 goals in his first term and Zamora became a fan scapegoat) yet Fulham finished the season in their highest ever position with both strikers gaining plaudits as the ‘hardest working strike partnership in the league’.

Unfortunately for AJ, this represented the high point in his Fulham career. Badly injured in an early Europa League game by a horrific tackle from an Amkar Perm player, Johnson was ruled our for a long period managed only 8 games in the league before injuring his knee and being ruled out for the season. He was never able to build upon his first solid season and missed out on the now mythical Fulham Europa League campaign that changed the fortunes of so many players – Gera, Zamora and Baird to name a few. This is the part of the problem with AJ. He was brought in as part of the rebuild but ended up missing the pinnacle of the Hodgson era and was never taken to heart by the Fulham faithful. Yes we chanted his name, but it seemed more because of his positive attitude and hard running than actual affection.

Which leads me on to the second part of the problem with AJ – his output. He is a classic English poacher, always ‘running the channels’, ‘pulling defenders out of position’ and all those other classic phrases from the English footballing lexicon. The problem was, he rarely achieved anything significant. Two more attacking managers have since come to Fulham and Johnson has only ever been a peripheral figure. Perhaps his greatest Fulham moment was scoring a hattrick in October against QPR. At that point it looked as though he might have turned a corner but he quickly fell back into not scoring before injury claimed most of his season.

So ultimately, he was the high profile striker who failed to deliver the goods. We should not overlook his role in our highest ever finish, but injury and poor form never allowed him to improve. No Fulham fans will be mourning his departure, with initial reaction seemingly one of mirth that QPR is his destination. He might just be a shrewd signing for them though – assuming the role that he was brought to Fulham for initially: an experienced player who can help make the team a solid outfit after a very close shave with relegation.

Born in the US, raised in the UK and now living in London, Alex has been following Fulham since the late 90s and is a current season ticket holder. Part time Football Manager addict.

Getting Defensive

When I was younger and played 11 a side football on a regular basis, I was a centre back. Coupled with Italian heritage, I have always been a big fan of this rather unglamorous position.  Italy’s World Cup success in 2006 was as memorable for the peerless defensive work of Fabio Cannavaro (later seen being imitated by a stand-in at Craven Cottage in 2010) as for the thrilling victory against Germany or the Materazzi inspired head butt in the final. The fact that Italy conceded only two goals in the entire tournament (one of which was an own goal) is a testament to that defence, particularly since it was rocked by both injury to Alessandro Nesta and later suspension for Marco Materazzi.

What has this got to do with Fulham? Italy’s current incarnation under Cesare Prandelli has evolved into a much more possession based team rather than a classic Italian reactive one, in a move similar to the change seen at Fulham this season. At the Cottage we have seen the most decisive change in playing style since the arrival of Roy Hodgson with Martin Jol initiating a much more attacking philosophy. Suddenly the defence has had less cover and has looked shaky at times. Philipe Senderos deputised for, then displaced, the injured Aaron Hughes and became the subject of much opprobrium and a lightning rod for the criticism of Jol’s new system before it had fully clicked. What this change has revealed is a much clearer picture of how good Brede, Aaron and Philipe actually are. How have they each reacted to the new style?

Hangeland has certainly had more ‘hairy’ moments this season than all of his other seasons at Fulham combined. However, he remains a top notch centre back. He is excellent in the air both because of his height as well as his fantastic positioning. He is an aggressive centre back, and this season has seen him much happier intelligently fouling players (this is not an oxymoron) to stop dangerous counter attacks and force the issue in terms of attack by striding out of defence looking for a killer ball or a layoff to a striker. It feels as though we are seeing a more continental, rounded centre back than perhaps in previous seasons, even if there is more chance of an error.

Hughes is a different prospect all together. His successful partnership with Hangeland was built on the tried and trusted ‘Stopper/Cover’ relationship with Hughes performing the latter role to perfection. This season has seen different questions asked of the defence an emphasis on being more proactive and more comfortable in possession. Hughes struggled to a certain extent earlier in the season, with his lack of passing exposed more than under the Hodgson regime. Previously a hopeful punt up-field had a target in the form of Bobby Zamora and was a legitimate ‘out ball’, but with Zamora’s struggles and a change of style this was less of an option. However, as Hughes was reintroduced to the side in the place of Senderos it was noticeable how improved his passing was. Perhaps some additional competitions for his place or getting over a niggling injury are the reasons for this. Whatever the reason, he has been back to his usual high standards.

Senderos has been a player I have really enjoyed watching this year. He is a similar player to Hangeland – always looking to force the issue and also happy to foul players to stop dangerous situations. This is partially what I enjoy about watching him – he is a very Italian defender. There is also something really likeable about him; he always seems to be fully focused on the task at hand, usually whilst pulling an amusing face.  At the same time, I can fully understand people’s frustrations and worries about him and his role as this season’s divisive figure. There is the air of the accidental about his play, the feeling that disaster is never far away, even if the stats do not bear this out. I lay the blame for much of this at the feet of Fulham’s new style. Whenever there is a big change, there is always an adjustment period and this stands for the fans too. We have all been used to solid and dependable defence with two star performers. This season the defence has chopped and changed and has had less cover, with Jol sometimes preferring to play a much more aggressive defensive line in the form of Hangeland and Senderos.  The breakup of a tried and tested partnership and the benching of a fan favourite have no doubt helped to fuel scepticism as well.

So what of next season? Again it will be a tussle between Hughes and Senderos in who partners Hangeland. However, if Jol continues along his current thinking and splits the playing time between each depending on circumstance, we should see positives results equal to this season, particularly with a full pre-season under their belts and a fully developed understanding of the system that Jol wants Fulham to play.

 Born in the US, raised in the UK and now living in London, Alex has been following Fulham since the late 90s and is a current season ticket holder. Part time Football Manager addict and popular culture buff.