Firstly a quick word on the great performance in the Port Vale game. It really was a potential bananaskin, Micky Adams has got his team playing well and they would have been feeling confident after a good start in the league so for us to be so professional and to dispatch of them so overwhemingly was really nice to see. We played a strong line up suprisingly, infact I think we were the only Premier League club to make less than 9 changes, although I wanted to see a reserve side to help with writing this article!
It was only Port Vale so let’s not start claiming that we’re dead certs for a top 10 place yet but it was nice to see us win 6 – 0 and some of the quick attacking football was incredible to watch. We could have gone into double digits easily if we weren’t so hesitant to shoot or if some of our finishing was slightly better, although that sounds strange baring in mind the superb goals we scored. Nice to see Micky Adams and Geoff Horsfield get a good reception too. Anyway, on to the article.
Left Back – we only have one recognised left back at the club in Paul Konchesky, an area of weakness that Mark Hughes has acknowledged. Not that Konchesky needs to be replaced, far from it infact, but we need another player to challenge him for the position and to be able to perform up to his standard when he’s unavailable.
At the moment our only reserve for both full back positions alarmingly is Stephen Kelly who can play left back reasonably well, but his favourite position is clearly right back. Matthew Briggs has promised much for a while now, and it was an impressive debut yesterday (it’s a shame he had to be subbed with an injury) with regards to his attacking play but who knows how he’ll do when he has to defend so I’m a bit hesitant in saying he’d be a good second choice left yet.
Going on Hughes’ quotes from the press conference today it seems like Konchesky is staying and Salcido could be coming in to give him some competition (and to cover other areas of the pitch too, Hughes pointed out his versatility, but Salcido’s best position is left back). Considering there isn’t much difference between both players in terms of ability this is a great signing if it comes off, but if it doesn’t I wouldn’t mind seeing someone like Wallace, a young Scottish left back at Hearts, or even Shorey again.
There is a potential issue that Briggs’ developement could be stagnated if he doesn’t play much which is a balancing act Hughes has to play well, he certainly looks promising enough to be a Fulham regular but there’s the vicious circle of a player not being experience so he doesn’t play hence he doesn’t get experience and so on. Hopefully he’s a cup regular this season but then how do you keep our second choice happy! Who’d be a manager eh?
As a side point to this I’ve seen loads of Fulham fans take issue with Stephen Kelly which I think is well unfair, he’s a good player who’d probably start for most bottom ten teams which is about as much as you can ask for when you’re looking for a reserve at Fulham. He’s good enough back up for John Pantsil so I wont mention right back as a problem area for us.
Up Front – since the unfortunate injuries to Andy Johnson (and then Kamara’s loan) we’ve played a lone man upfront with an attacking midfielder behind them and it’s worked wonders. However our only out and out target man is Zamora, and while Dempsey tries he can’t do the role nearly as well. I had an interesting talk with AlFayedsCheckbook on Friends Of Fulham about Johnson potentially playing upfront on his own when/if he recovers and yeah he did do that for Palace but he played in a 4-3-3 compared with the 4-4-1-1 we use which is very different and I think demands someone who’ll play with their back to goal, get involved heavily in build up play and hold the ball, something that Johnson can’t do.
So when we look for alternatives for Zamora at the club we’re in an uncomfortable situation. Eddie Johnson isn’t good enough, neither is David Elm and Kamara is a completely different player whose injury problems make him too unreliable as back up. With any luck a couple of them will leave to free up some funds. Looking at potential players to sign, Caicedo from City is very similar to Zamora, only 21 and fairly cheap to boot (reports suggested 10 grand a week and a million quid had been agreed with him and West Ham but because of an admin error it couldn’t go through, I’d take that with a pinch of salt but he wouldn’t cost too much more). Roque Santa Cruz could be another option as long as City were to heavily subsidise his wages, the only season he’s really shown his true potential was under Mark Hughes at Blackburn so it’d be interesting if he came here in order to try and get his career back on track.
Again this has raises a tough situation for Hughes though. Let’s assume we have Zamora, his back up, Andy Johnson as the main ‘1’ upfront, then Dembele (and Gera and Dempsey but they’re competing with places on the flanks too), that means we have Elm, Kamara and Eddie Johnson surplace to requirements, and Andy Johnson who’s on the bench for 30 or 40 grand a week! In my opinion we’d be better off selling all four of them.
Central Midfield – probably the most interesting area of the pitch we have at the moment. Under Hughes Etuhu has licence to get forward with late and quite clever runs into the box. In every game so far he’s been quite unlucky not to score; against Bolton the ball was nicked off his toe in stoppage time, against United van der Sar made a great double save although Etuhu still should have scored and against Port Vale him and Dembele manager to tackle each other when behind the defence 12 yards out from goal!
Despite this, I don’t think he has the necessary qualities to play this role. When you play as a box to box midfielder you need to be fairly quick, strong and fit and it’s obvious Etuhu satisfies this, he’s probably one of the best physically in the league. But when you get forward into the final third you also have to be technically pretty good. In general you get less time on the ball so you have to make one touch passes and flicks, as well as being pretty creative and imaginative. Etuhu I don’t think is capable of making quick little passes to unlock a defence or has the necessary technique to score alot of goals (apart from his threat in the air from crosses but even then he’s not a great header of the ball). However what Etuhu is very good at is taking up defensive positions, making simple passes and tackling, whereas Murphy can pass and shoot but isn’t anywhere near as quick or strong and hence so far he’s almost always been the deepest of the two when we have the ball. So who do you look to replace? Personally I don’t think Hughes will replace either of them, we’ve played well so far, but I do think it’s an area we should look at especially for next season where Murphy will not play as much.
If he was going to sign someone, well Emana impressed me for Cameroon at the World Cup, same with Asamoah for Ghana, and Micheal Bradley of the US is someone who I think we should have signed a couple of years ago. Sidwell’s a good box to box player but Hughes doesn’t fancy him, the reports of him joining us were so widespread and persistant there must have been something behind it but for whatever reason the deal’s been called off. Out of those that we have at the club in reserve we have Greening who’s basically a poor man’s Murphy, and Dikagcoi who is more skilled than Etuhu but wants time on the ball and isn’t as powerful.
Quick note: the players I’ve mentioned we could sign are just suggestions, and not taken from reports or inside info or anything like that.