It was an intriguing tactical battle between two of the country’s top managers at the Cottage yesterday afternoon. That Roy Hodgson won it hands down was the main reason Fulham were so rampant. Sir Alex Ferguson can justifiably point to a list of absent defenders as long as his arm but you felt he compounded his problems by opting to play a back three instead of an orthodox 4-4-2. That left two midfielders alongside Richie De Laet, who I liked the look of, on a difficult afternoon. It simply wasn’t a fair contest.
Hodgson’s set up was spot on too. I argued in the preview that it was best to go with two strikers, reasoning that a front two would give Fulham more presence in the United box. As it turned down, the back three played into our hands. It’s far more difficult for three defenders to pick up a lone frontman than two forwards. With two men to mark, you can employ a spare man who can anticipate, pick up the loose ball and move out of defence. That option isn’t available against one. Yes, you could have two ‘free’ men in theory, but who decides to mark the striker? What do the other two do in the meantime?
The best part of Hodgson’s tactical plan was to play Zoltan Gera in the hole. As we’ve said all along, he’s a cracking footballer but he sometimes looks lost out wide. In not seeing as much of the ball, his mistakes are highlighted and you can form the view that he drifts through games. That’s harsh on the Hungarian, who has had a far better second season at the Cottage, and in his natural position he is every inch the potential gamechanger. Gera was unlucky not to score on two ocassions (at least) but it was his intelligent running and vision that stole the show for me. Zamora will get the headlines, but Zoltan deserves some plaudits too.
You can see from his chalkboard that he barely wasted a ball and was heavily involved high up the pitch.
It speaks volumes for the confidence flowing through the squad and the competition for places Hodgson’s created that I’ve no idea how he’ll decide to line up against Spurs on Boxing Day.