Signing off

I returned to this quite abruptly this Christmas. With time on my hands and interesting things happening it seemed like a good opportunity to get stuck in again. For those who aren’t aware – most of you perhaps – we moved away from London in 2012 I think, and with two small children football got left behind. My wife worked, and still works, on both days of weekends, and neither of the kids likes football. Also we had no money. So really I had to put football behind me. I’d written this since 2006 and enjoyed most of that, and the opportunities it brought me, but there was realistically no way to keep it up. Which was saddening as I’d have preferred the Championship on a number of levels, but the timing was off and that was that. And it got very very negative towards the end of the Premiership run. I’d forgotten that but was reminded recently when results went bad and stayed bad.

This is important because it’s why I’m signing off again now. I am aware that football is very important to a lot of people, and I’m not going to judge anyone for that. But where I take exception is to how some of the club’s fans behave when things aren’t going well. I am not someone who relishes negativity or conflict, especially around something that’s supposed to be a bit of fun, so this has all become unusual and not especially enjoyable. Of course a football team being relegated isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of a good time, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world either. I mean, as best I can tell, people loved last season in the Championship. So going back doesn’t seem to be a disaster.

It would be a problem if the club had spent itself into oblivion and saddled itself with stupid contracts this January, but it didn’t, so the team that gets relegated will be reasonably sustainable. The transfer money spent will have been broadly in line with income I should imagine, and wages will be a problem that can be dealt with through outgoing transfers or contractual reductions. Relegation doesn’t seem to be a catastrophe for the club in that sense.

So why all the anger?

There is a perception that the club has not been run well, and I don’t know that I have the energy to explore that particular challenge here. I have written a fair bit over the past month or so and if you are a regular reader you’ll have a sense of my perspective. The club was promoted before it was ready, had to replace too many players, and didn’t get everything right. The manager then had a nightmare and, depending on how you look at these things, this was either because Tony Khan and the laptop of doom gave him awful players, or he completely failed to coach a decent group into a unit able to sustain itself at the top level. The truth seems uncomfortably nearer to the latter than the former to me, with transfers that were more good than bad, if not especially efficient.

The team also did some new things, and if you do new things and get them wrong you can expect problems.  There were a couple of stories in the news to stir this particular pot, fed to journalists and not indicative of reality (I believe), and some of that has been impossible to shake off and has basically dominated the narrative ever since.  I mean teams make bad signings all the time but hey.

I also believe that the club has been almost comically unfortunate. The Brighton penalty, the Anfield goal that wasn’t, and the sheer volume of individual cock-ups by defenders who really do know better. I don’t know how you prepare for this. The team has a soft underbelly but we’ve seen enough of Callum Chambers and Alfie Mawson to know that they are good footballers and could have been a useful centre-back pairing together had the team been set up properly. Chambers of course was written off by the experts in the stands as “shit” quite quickly, but of course who could look good defending in the team as it was set up? Nobody. It was a disaster on the pitch and much of that was coaching (I believe). The players are alright.

Joe Bryan looks okay and if Cyrus Christie’s not everyone’s cup of tea, a team can function without a star right-back if it plays to its strengths and doesn’t do anything daft.

In midfield we have Cairney and Seri who are obviously both quality footballers (that people couldn’t see Seri’s quality remains baffling but perhaps indicative of something.. I mean his play’s been one of the most exciting things about this team, he’s beautiful to watch, incredibly so.  Wonderful player, and yet people were writing out ideal teams without him in them well into the season.). Anguissa never showed what he could do under Jokanovic, but wasn’t alone in that and I’m assuming would look more than decent under Ranieri in the current setup. Then Mitrovic up front, Sessegnon and Schurrle…I mean that should have been a team capable of staying up. I don’t know why Schurrle is so bad. It doesn’t seem inevitable that he would be.

The squad doesn’t have everything but it’s not a bad collection. To me, this does not deserve the abuse handed out.

I typed “Tony Khan” into twitter this morning and with no amount of scrolling got the following.

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This is what I’m on about and it’s symptomatic of the general tone of the fan base. Khan famously told a fan to go to hell, but only after said fan had told Khan to “leave my club” (yes, the *fan* used “my”). There’s been almost never-ending abuse, and while Tony would have been well advised to delete twitter and not look at the internet whilst focusing on the job in hand, his social media strategies have inflamed people whatever he does. If he announces a signing it’s him trying to get credit. If he stays silent people want to know why he isn’t saying something. He can’t win. He is damned whatever he does, even acknowledging that his overall performance has not led to the results expected.

It hasn’t been that bad though, in my opinion. This doesn’t make me an idiot, or an apologist, it’s just an evaluation of the work carried out and what might have been expected to happen from said work. He bought some good players. Maybe not quite enough, but the car crash of football that ensued is not all down to him. This isn’t one of the three worst squads in the league, and even if I’m wrong and it is, that only emphasises how strong the league is now. (shrug).

Personally I have no time for all the negativity. People have the right to enjoy their hobby as they wish and I have the right to do something else. Whether that’s a poor reflection on me as a fan I don’t know. Probably it’s a reflection of the times we live in, in which the internet is a festering hive of opinion. And we all have opinions, don’t we? And we all think they’re important and they’re right because we’ve been watching this for years and we think of nothing else so of course we know what we’re talking about don’t we? And we pay our money and that gives us every right to call Tony Khan a cunt because the team’s second from bottom and we hoped it wouldn’t be.

Fuck it. Honestly, this isn’t for me anymore.

It’s not the losing, I can deal with that. Football’s football. If you lose you play again next week and do better. If you keep losing you have to do that in another division, but that is fun as well and then you win some more. No big deal, not really. Unless the club’s at risk, I get that, but as best I know it isn’t.

So this little return is over for now. Thanks for reading and good luck to you. Obviously I’m still going to be following the games but it’ll be on my own terms, which is the right thing to do, no?  COYW.

Fulham 1-2 Spurs

Disgraced film director Woodie Allen starts his famous film, Manhattan, with an author writing and re-writing his opening paragraph because he can’t quite get his ideas out right, or the words won’t come, or he can’t quite decide how he feels about what he’s trying to do.   I feel a bit like that here.  What do you with a game like that?

On the one hand, given the season so far we’d have expected to lose to Spurs anyway.   And of course, we should be delighted to have played well against a team like Spurs, who are very good and high in the table.

Against which, to do a few things quite well and then lose to an injury time goal is devastating to Fulham’s already slim survival hopes.  So yes, it’s a mess.  I might do some random bullets again and see where it takes me.

  • Ryan Babel was really good.  He seemed physical and a good foil for Mitro.  He had a presence, but a meaningful one.  He was in the game.  He nearly scored early and my belief is that this is what kicked everything else off.  Suddenly under lights at the Cottage the team got a bit of a boost – we can do this! – and that led to as good a half as has been spied for some time.  So yeah, good pickup and let’s hope there’s more of this to come because he added another dimension and the team seemed to grow 10% with him around.
  • Probably as good a time as any to draw a contrast with Mr Schurrle who was basically everything Babel wasn’t, or wasn’t everything Babel was perhaps.  He nearly got another wonder goal but that can’t be your contribution to a team in this position.  He went off in the end but I would guess that at some point you have to say that this isn’t working out.  Now it’s possible he’s doing good things that we the fans can’t quite comprehend but I don’t think so.
  • Which makes Tom Cairney’s absence even more worrying.  You have two players, Cairney and Seri, who are excellent at keeping the ball.   That being so, I believe they’d be better together.   Especially if Schurrle’s not really contributing anyway.  Could it be that Cairney’s going to be sold?   Or is Ranieri just after a more high tempo, physical game?  I don’t even think that precludes Cairney, as you still want someone who can use the ball however you’re approaching the team.  It’s a mystery.
  • Seri and Chambers, though, were excellent.  Seri was fizzing bombs into the box from corners and free-kicks in a way that suggested we’d score sooner or later, and Chambers was able to construct a very sound all around performance.  It’s a good combination and partly why I’ve been trying to suggest all along that this team has talent.
  • That said, the defence is still a problem.  I argued a fair bit early on that nobody could look good in this defence because of the team’s setup, but you can’t give that excuse anymore and again mistakes cost the team badly.   And sadly you can’t overlook defensive mistakes because they are always punished at this level and being a good defender for 99.9% of the time won’t cut it.   Harsh but true.  So in that sense fingers can be pointed all over the place at the back.
  • Christie I like on so many levels, but again he seems to be the key person in so many attacking moves which isn’t really a forte.  It’s frustrating because we so often seem to be nearly there in the attacking third.  Something to work on perhaps.  I like him and he seems like one for the longer term, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, but attacking combinations down the right so often seem to be just not quite right.  He’ll be excellent if we go down and might grow into the role if we don’t.
  • Bryan did fine, too but the winner seemed like something he ought to be dealing with.  I remember Mark Hughes turning sour on John Paintsil quickly because of a perceived inability to defend the far post, and it’s something I’ve always been interested in since.   Dunno, Bryan seems fine overall but again, you could hope for a bit better right at the death with so much at stake.  But he gave a lot to the cause.
  • Where it gets really daft is the equaliser.   We all knew that there’d be defending to be done, but make them work for it.  Ream’s air waft spoiled an otherwise competent afternoon, but really… Ranieri must have been in bits at those two goals.  It’s not what should be happening.    Today we could see why the 3-5-2- or whatever it is can be effective but… well, what can you do about stuff like this?  Maybe I’m wrong and Gary Cahill would help, but then who’s to say that someone else back there won’t do something daft?
  • Odoi must not shoot ever, unless he’s in a position where it’s really the only option

That’s about it I think.  I guess you have to take the positives and try to build on them.  The team absolutely can play and in another season would have taken 2-4 points from the last two games, but football’s unfortunate like that. Ranieri’s job now is to keep heads up and keep working hard and hope that some kind of miracle can be put into motion.   These things do happen.  It looks lost now but momentum is a funny thing and perhaps we saw the first signs of it today.

WHO WANTS IT?

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Joe Bryan, in the Times today.

Only posting this because it’s a subject we return to again as fans over and over keep banging on about fight and whatnot which always seems slightly atavistic in that we’re not in 1972 anymore and did Roy’s team ever get angry ever?   Everything is reduced to how much players “want it”.  Now Gary Cahill is not wanted because he’s not sure about joining so obviously “he doesn’t have the stomach for a relegation battle” or “really want to be here” and of course we “only want players who really want to be here”.  As Bryan points out, it’s a job, and Cahill, or anyone, is a professional and will do his best.  If you think he’s good enough you sign him, if you don’t, you don’t.   It’s simple.

That said, I think what we of course need is determination and focus and being well drilled.  I once spent a year sat next to my boss at work and that year I was absolutely on it, so I’m not saying that there aren’t levels here.  The players need to be playing at the edge, have that bit extra and I can see that fans see players not having that, but as noted in this space in days gone by, that’s probably more a function of lack of instruction and clear ideas of what’s supposed to be happening rather than any inherent laziness, which was commonly considered to be the problem for a time.  Frankly there aren’t many ways to look good losing every week and crashing into ridiculous sliding tackles doesn’t really help either.

Anyway, it’s an interesting article – here’s a link to the article via Keith’s twitter.

And so to Spurs.  It’s at home and it should just about be dark so I’m quite optimistic.  The Cottage under lights is always a transformative experience for everyone in the ground and it should give the players and fans another 5% (which should make for 115% if they’re already giving the 110% we need in a relegation battle) and with Spurs down a couple of key players, that’s something.  That said, Spurs are the kind of well drilled, physical team to be able to punish timid teams who are prone to mistakes and maybe not playing at their peak, so it’s a toughie isn’t it?  Intriguing nevertheless.   Can’t wait.

Fulham’s recruitment in context: the season we lost Dembele and Dempsey

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The transfer business of 2018/19 will be discussed long into the year, especially if Fulham do fail to drag themselves out of this sorry mess. But we’re all about context at CCN and so I’d like to remind the world about the 2012/13 season.  With Dembele/China in the news, I got to thinking back…

You’ll recall that in 2011-12 Fulham rampaged to a pretty exciting 9th place finish. By getting knocked out of all the cups quite early the team was able to focus on the league, and we saw some legitimately exciting football under Martin Jol.  The core performers that year were:

Mark Schwarzer, still as strong as ever
Stephen Kelly, the archetypal solid right back after John Paintsil had been offloaded under Mark Hughes
Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes (enough said)
John-Arne Riise, who disappointed some fans but who brought a lot to the team and probably was underrated in retrospect
Chris Baird, by now a swiss army knife player, able to help out anywhere but increasingly at home in midfield, which is nuts when you think about his early days at the Cottage
Steve Sidwell, who brought energy and goals from midfield
Danny Murphy, the team’s brain, which is not to undersell the rest of the players’ intelligence, but he was just super-sharp
Dickson Etuhu, another Europa League legend, now settled into a solid groove
Mousa Dembele, first identified as an attacking player with no great end product, but soon to become a midfield colossus
Clint Dempsey, reborn under Mark Hughes, stratospheric under Martin Jol
Damien Duff, a terrific pro on the wing, much loved by fans
Andy Johnson, again, probably underestimated but always brought serious work rate at the front – we’d miss that after he left
Bryan Ruiz, who terrorised his own fans with a couple of laboured early performances but who would grow into a wonderful craftsman, even if only a handful of us really ever believed that!
Pavel Pogrebnyak, an unexpected Russian who couldn’t stop scoring

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If you’ve forgotten how explosive this team really was, there was a 6-0 win over QPR at home, a 5-2 hammering of Newcastle (Dempsey 3), 5-0 v Wolves (Pogrebnyak 3!) and to be honest, a few hair-raising thrashings going the other way. But probably this would be the purest joy I’d felt in that particular era: exciting football with compelling players. Fulham belonged. There were games towards the end of the season with Mahmadou Diarra and Dembele in midfield when you had to pinch yourself: it almost didn’t seem fair. Diarra wasn’t able to stay fit but there were two, I think, world class players together in our engine room. Wow.

BUT the team absolutely messed up the off-season.

Murphy had been squeezed out by the Dembele Diarra partnership and chose to move to Blackburn rather than take a reduced role. True, he was getting on, but in retrospect seemed to be the kind of player you keep around.

Pavel Pogrebnyak parlayed his late season goal explosion into a lucrative move to… Reading, so the centre-forward position that looked solved was nothing of the sort.

Andy Johnson took his work rate to QPR.  This might be more important than we think.  Dimitar Berbatov scored more goals, but was he more effective overall?

Then it really unraveled. Dembele I believe had a minimum fee release clause, which Spurs met, and he was off, and Clint Dempsey thought he was going to Liverpool but also ended up at Spurs.   These two moves explain everything that’s happened since.  Had Fulham held onto these two players I believe all would have been well for some time.  True, ifs/buts/etc, but we had them, and possibly losing them wasn’t unavoidable.   Tsk.

In return Fulham replaced all that know how and skill and, yes, work rate, with Dimitar Berbatov, Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega for a total outlay of £9m.

In 2012-13 Fulham finished 12th but closed the season with an absolutely dire run in which saw the club go seven games without a win and, perhaps predictably, the next season was impossibly bad. We might meanly call this the Scott Parker era, but in any case, that team relied on Parker and Sidwell in the middle and featured an unfortunately not-what-he-once-was Darren Bent up front.  The squad had visibly lost its mojo and Martin Jol’s side was poorly regarded by the fans, who had a couple of really good teams fresh in their memory, and realised that this was not that.   If only…  so it’s a lesson in how quickly good things can turn bad.   So yeah, the last off-season wasn’t what people wanted in retrospect, but as I’ve tried to say a few times here, the club were at least trying to do the right thing, spent good money on what looked like good players.  Maybe there are lessons about core DNA or something, losing leaders like Murphy and Dempsey, but fundamentally this off-season looks far, far better than that one.  The result’s the same, of course.

Are we where we should be?

Sporting Intelligence published something about salaries in sport and did a handy table for the Premier League.

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It has long been suggested that wage bill is the single best predictor of Premier League finishes, (there are studies galore on this), and in the chart above we can see a couple of mini leagues.  Cardiff and Huddersfield should be struggling, and while Huddersfield are bottom, Cardiff have outperformed their wage bill by a fair amount.  This might be a false position though and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them drop as the season goes on.

Above that group are Watford and Wolves, who are decent and well run sides, then Brighton, Fulham, Burnley and Newcastle, with little Bournemouth just above.

I know everyone goes on about Fulham’s recruitment and we won’t go there now, but what this tells me is that the club’s squad might reasonably be expected to be a bottom third side and is therefore well within the realms of expected performance as a result.  If people wanted the team to be better than it is, they’re probably underestimating the level of investment needed to make this safely happen.   Yes, we’re not outliers here, but given the team’s new arrival in the division and the high turnover of players, we might argue that the problem isn’t that the wrong expensive players came in, but that there maybe weren’t enough of them.

Innocence and Experience

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There was a fascinating piece in the Independent today about English attitudes to young players. Most clubs of Fulham’s size will lose their best youngsters, and a good recent example for us might be Patrick Roberts who swapped potential stardom for a chance to play in Manchester City’s reserves before going out on loan to Celtic and beyond. Now that might be unkind in that Roberts has actually had game time, but who’s to say that Ryan Sessegnon won’t face a similar situation in the next few months?

It speaks to a general lack of trust in young players in the English game. This quote from the article is I believe attributed to a Dortmund scout:

The scout, from one of the clubs most globally respected for bringing through talent, couldn’t quite believe the situation – let alone what he was seeing. It was a run-of-the-mill under-23 game, but Fulham’s Matt O’Riley was putting in anything but a run-of-the-mill performance. The teenage midfielder was brilliant.

“It’s amazing,” the scout said. “Fulham spent how many millions in the summer for two midfielders, and we wouldn’t pay for either of them. But O’Riley can’t get in the team and we’d pay for him.”

That’s hard to hear. I know the club would disagree with this statement – they bought the players they bought because they believed in them – but to have a proven club say something like that is quite damning.  It’s a blow to those of us who still believe that Seri at least is a quality player looking to find his feet, and who think that Anguissa just needs a few games in a less chaotic team to show us the form that made him an ever present in Marseilles Europa League run last season.   But apparently perhaps not.  Anyway.

There’s more:

Many who work on the continent simply can’t believe how wedded English clubs are to a hierarchical system regarding age. It is like they get hung up on it, and won’t trust an 18-year-old if they can bring in a 21-year-old. The director of football at a Ligue 1 club confided that, “we can’t believe some of the quality English clubs have and don’t use. Age doesn’t come into it with us, it’s just about level of quality.

“English clubs seem to give the least amount of respect to the same players they’ve spent years developing.”

I’ve long believed this to the the case. If we look at the NBA or the NFL, talented young players get regular game time and are able to play at a very high level in their early 20s. And while their skills might change and improve as they age, they are trusted to perform.

In England this is simply not the case, and over the years dozens of talented young players have seen their careers sputter out because there’s no room at the top, which results in international squads leaning heavily on players not getting first team matches. And people will say “the cream rises to the top”, to which we might suggest that the cream won’t rise if it never leaves the cow (or a better metaphor if you can think of one). If you don’t let young players play, they don’t become as good as they otherwise would have become.

Fulham fans talk a lot about experience at the moment, but what does that really mean?  I would assume that personality is personality.  Does an experienced player stay calm towards the end of a stressful match more than a young player would?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps a calm player stays calm and an excitable player doesn’t.   Does an experienced player know how to deal with different kinds of opposing tactics?  Probably, but a manager ought to be preparing all of his squad for this kind of thing anyway, old or young.

So what exactly is it that experience brings?   More consistent form?  Again, perhaps.  But perhaps again that’s just a function of personality.  I would guess that it is.   No, I’d be surprised if there’s anything that experience brings to a team that isn’t directly a function of talent and personality, and those traits will be there however old a player is.

To make this real again, everyone was interested in Gary Cahill because of his experience.  But I’d be interested to know in tangible terms how that helps us.  Is it about leadership, about setting high standards?   That’d be good.  Probably that’s needed.   But I don’t know that this is a function of experience.  Perhaps we’re on semantics here.

It’s one of those things that we all take for granted because all the pros talk about it, all the football men go on about its importance, and let’s face it, our best manager went a bundle on getting in older players who’d been around the block a bit.  Even so, I’m not convinced, but then who am I?

Interesting times anyway.

Ryan Babel signs for Fulham

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As noted in our last post, it’s a troubling time for Fulham.  The league table is bad and makes attracting new players difficult.  Furthermore, even really good players only add a handful of points over the course of a season, so given that there’s only half a season left, and we don’t really have access to really good players, how much difference can be made?

It’s a tough one.  The pool of available difference makers is probably tiny, and in some ways limited to cast offs and unproven talent of the kind that Fulham fans are so nervous about (although of course Brede Hangeland had no Premiership experience when he signed for us last time this situation was faced).     I mentioned this on twitter after the Burnley defeat, but really the answer is high risk short-term deals.   There’s actually a list of free-agent players on Transfermarkt where we learn that Yohan Cabaye is currently without a club, as is Mikel John Obi, but otherwise it’s not long before you bump into Alexander Kacaniklic on the list.   Good players tend to be employed unless something odd has happened.

So it’s fascinating that the club found Ryan Babel in Turkey.  In a way this is exactly what they need to be doing.  Babel has a track record and has played under managers like Rafa Benitez.  He’s 33 but was always athletic, so you’d expect him to be able to battle Father Time for six months (and he played for Holland last year, too).  He’s been a regular at Besiktas and they’ve been winning.   It’s six months so you’re not saddled with a bad contract if relegation isn’t avoided, and he may (or may not) have that intriguing Dutch habit of speaking his mind and showing some leadership and calling out underperformance.  I mean, I don’t know, but everyone seems to think that the team lacks a bit of this, and maybe it does.

We don’t know what kind of player he is now, but for whatever it’s worth, Statsbomb did one of their radars, which suggests that, as a forward, he’s a creator of chances.

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As a player I always enjoyed watching him.  He had (has?) pace and a thunderbolt of a shot.  I don’t know exactly how he’d be used at Fulham but some are suggesting a role cutting in from the left.    That would make sense to me.   I have nothing against Joe Bryan but an inordinate amount of our attacks seem to go through the full-backs at the moment, and these full-backs are more or less midfielders anyway, so I wouldn’t be against seeing Sessegnon in that role on the left with Babel ahead of him cutting in onto that right foot.  It feels like Sess could still do his thing there and bring more attacking range to the team.   You’d want to do something similar on the right, too, perhaps, but one player at a time.

Presumably this signing is an indicator that the club is being pragmatic around the team’s needs.  As noted earlier, there’s only so much you can do in a transfer window when in this position, so a few clever additions of this kind may be just the job.

For what it’s worth, my shopping list is now:

  • one centre-back, but if Mawson returns this perhaps isn’t urgent as the players aren’t terrible back there (no really)
  • one right-back/wing-back/midfielder – I quite like Christie but I think the role’s too important in this team to not consider getting the best available player we can here
  • a centre-forward to play off Mitrovic and stretch defences.   It’s hard though because if you play Cairney behind Mitro, which I think we should, then there isn’t necessarily space in the team assuming you play Seri and Chambers, too, which again, we probably should, and Babel, who presumably didn’t come here to watch.  So at this point it’s about squad options.

So really it’s rearranging things a bit.   Here’s my sort of team as of now, but as you can see, I don’t really know what to do with the last available space (Babel).  I’d also like to see Anguissa playing under Ranieri but we don’t know if that ship has sailed or what.   Moving Chambers back into defence would be worth doing, too.

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We have to go back to a point I raised earlier, though.  Even the best players are worth 5-6 points over an average one over the course of a whole season, and we’re not getting in the best players.  So, all else being equal, there’s little to be done in terms of transformative new signings unless you believe that one player can somehow unlock the ability of everyone else.  That’s not impossible.  We can be fairly sure that the team hasn’t played to its ability so far, so there’s a possibility that some kind of alchemy can be performed that changes this underperformance.  But as Roy always said, there are no magic wands in football.

Burnley 2-1 Fulham

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I’m guessing most of you watched most of that so no need to go over the gory details.  This time we’ll do some bullet points:

  • It was always going to be hard and ultimately that’s probably a par result.  The damage was done well before today
  • But there was still a chance.  In the first half Fulham played like a team with no idea what to do.  The panicked football was an eyesore and the team looked thoroughly incoherent.  So often the only players with space were Bryan and Christie and I don’t think that can be allowed to continue
  • In the second half Cairney came on and the team focused on maintaining possession.  Cairney and Seri (90+ touches and 70+ passes – more like it!) started to run the game and Fulham potentially deserved something from the game, but again too many moves saw Christie as a key man at a key moment and he couldn’t take advantage of that.   We all remember Damien Duff on the right edge of the area, don’t we?  It’s not a fair comparison but that’s life.
  • It’s unfortunate in a way.  Burnley were on top for a short time and scored through two own goals during that, whereas Fulham had the upper hand for most of the second half and nothing quite went their way.   The much maligned Vietto deserved a goal for a well taken volley which was scrambled off the line, for instance.
  • Absent a miracle it’s quite hard to see a recovery now.   Other suspects are getting their act together and a string of wins will be needed.  There’s actually a reasonable argument for selling some players during the window rather than buying them, building for next season and dodging a financial apocalypse.  Nobody would ever do that of course and probably quite rightly but you’d question the wisdom of lobbing another £50m at this given the probabilities and the difference said players might be expected to make anyway.  I mean, put Cahill in the middle of that and maybe you survive those goalmouth scrambles, but maybe you don’t.
  • The chance to change things around was when the club changed managers but I don’t know that they got that right, and now we have a team that once played good possession football playing a strange hybrid formation that seems to nullify the strengths of its best players while emphasising some of the more limited players.  I mean it’s encouraging to see players like Vietto given a run out because clearly the man has talent and you want that to shine through because if you get talented players firing you go places, but somewhere there has to be more doesn’t there?  Somehow there has to be more.   And there isn’t.

Burnley v Fulham preview of a kind

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TL/DR Burnley are better than they were and we will probably lose, which is a shame because we’re running out of games

So this weekend’s game is important. Fans throw around ‘must win’ far too much and this isn’t a ‘must win’ game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a ‘it’d be really good to win if possible’ because of the state of the bottom of the table.  I can harp on all I want about how this isn’t an awful squad but the bald facts are that there aren’t many games left in which to earn points.   If there were no relegation this Fulham squad would surely surprise people next year, but in this league there is relegation and with that all kinds of unfortunate dynamics.  You don’t just get to say “well, we have a good squad and I back us to come straight back up” because there’s a load of financial and psychological mess that comes with relegation.  So.  Points are needed, and points against relegation rivals are important.  A draw would probably be good in that sense.

Burnley are a weird team. They’ve outperformed expectations every season they’ve been in the top division, and indeed, have had a funny knack of outperforming even the advanced stats that tend to give a good measure of teams’ real quality (the league table does lie!).

Anyway, a few notes:

Burnley were doing very badly for a long time but have picked up of late

This may or may not be because of Dwight McNeil, a young player who’s come in and played very well in the last few games, during which time Burnley’s results have 180d. Whoscored has a summary on him here, and I guess it’s a minor worry in that he’s playing well and doing so wide on the left. This feels like an area where Fulham have been quite vulnerable, so in that sense it’s something to look out for and an area for the whites to be concentrating on.  Christie and Odoi are both decent players to my mind, but that channel, for whatever reason, does seem to be exploitable by opposing players.

Whoscored tells us that Burnley are good in the air, and at protecting the lead. They play long balls, cross often, and are quite aggressive. Against that, they are bad at keeping the ball and concede a lot of chances, particularly down the wings. They also allow a lot of long shots, which might mean we want to play Schurrle or we want to keep Schurrle on the bench lest temptation sees a barrage of ambitious long range punts from our optimistic friend.

The other point worth noting is that we’ll probably lose. It’s an away game against an approximately equivalent team. So by definition, a defeat is the most likely outcome. It just is, and it doesn’t mean that the players don’t want it enough or that even now they aren’t burning with pride. Jonathan Wilson in the Guardian was quite interesting on this, talking about Solskjaer vs Mourinho at United. In any case, I think he’s right. Battle is battle, but the manager needs to unlock the potential in what he has. Sean Dyche has proven he can do this with his current Burnley squad, but I guess we haven’t seen the first great performance from Ranieri’s Fulham. It probably won’t be this Saturday either, but we can hope, can’t we?