Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz are the perfect footballing enigmas. Clearly blessed with exceptional talent, the duo have failed to find form collectively for Fulham so far this season. The exciting prospect of the most magical front pairing in the league has a chance of being dowsed, if it isn’t already.
At the moment, one is being compromised for the other with Ruiz ‘shafted’ to the more disciplined, restricted right wing role. It fails to bring the best out of his talents but also the talents of the football team, with some dispiriting, disjointed and numb displays so far this season, especially in the last two or three months. How can this be, with two such wonderful players? Simply, they are playing in a way which is a detriment to the team; getting involved in play so much that we effectively play with six midfielders.
That is not a bad thing in itself. Remember Spain, and Fabregas/Silva up front? What did they do differently on their way to a swashbuckling Euro victory? Again, this is quite simple: verticality! That is, the principle of getting players straight up the pitch, offering momentum and threat, especially in behind. This was evident in the runners from the flank, midfield and even full back. Equally as important in the definition is getting the ball forward with urgency. Perhaps that last point has been where we fail most of all.
Clearly, Fulham are not Spain. We do however possess some good players and a good platform to build on. So when I envisage Berbatov and Ruiz upfront, this is what I want:
(Ruiz is absent just to unclutter the diagram, but as you might imagine he would be behind Berbatov floating and dropping deeper to keep a defensive shape when out of possession.)
This is offensive and requires great athleticism, arguably two attributes we are struggling with right now. However, Emanuelson and Richardson offer plenty of pace down the left, with Dejagah and Riether offering equal industry. Another lacking thing from this season is runners from the middle in behind defences. It happens often, tonight even with Marchisio’s goal for Juventus against Celtic, that a runner is not tracked and so has space to run in to, or a runner IS tracked which opens up space for someone else. I chose Sidwell for this role but Karagounis has shown himself to be capable. That, you would say, is our weakest area but Emanuelson can fit in with room for Frei/Kaca/Duff down the left instead. Either way, there are options.
Really, the point is this: Berbatov and Ruiz play quite deep. But the position they leave can be taken up by someone else, and by doing that we exploit their creativity and fluidity of movement. Right now, there is nothing there. By maintaining this offensive pressure and momentum, they themselves would be further up the pitch. It is kind of a chicken-egg thing, I feel.
Berbatov would be vital in the creating of chances, but also offering his own vertical runs and an out-ball when needs be; we are not Spain. He has done this role against Arsenal and Reading and he was superb, so he must get over himself and appreciate that the team needs him further up the pitch a lot more.
So essentially, for Berbatov and Ruiz to work EVEN as deep as they drop (not in order to compensate, but to exploit it), we need them to play the ball quicker but more desperately we need pace and/or urgency from deeper. The problem is that they are not functional enough for this current crop in the same way a Zamora and Johnson may shine, just because they like to maintain shape and always cause a nuisance, and while we would be, right now, doing a kind of square pegs round holes thing, this is what Jol is building towards surely, and it is something that can be achieved even in the short term.