The early concern about Martin Jol was that he can at times be tactically naive. It’s a criticism levelled at Jol by many of the leading continental journalists, who remember how his Ajax side missed out on the Eredivisie title, and Fulham fans will remember how his Spurs side let a 3-1 lead slip at Craven Cottage some four years ago after he took off Jermaine Defoe.
Brede Hangeland has been quoted in the local press this morning as asking the manager to select a move settled back four as the season moves on and there are times when Jol’s rotation does leave you scratching your head. However, credit where credit’s due, the manager got it spot on against Liverpool on Monday night. He was quick to set up his side to nullify Liverpool’s attacking threat and that resulted in a remarkably disciplined defensive shift from what was a particularly attacking side.
Moussa Dembele made a real impression gliding past tacklers for fun on Monday, as we’ve been accustomed to him doing for some time now, but his most telling contribution was going the other way. Positioned out on the wing, as he was against FC Twente, the Belgian had an important job to do in quelling the threat of Craig Bellamy. Too often John Arne Riise, who has a slow start to his Fulham career, has been left horribly isolated against speedy opposition wingers. Dembele tracked back with regularity and, as you can see from his chalkboard, plenty of his tackles were in defensive areas down the Liverpool right:
What was even more impressive was how Fulham countered Liverpool’s notional numerical advantage in the middle of the park. In the absence of Lucas Leiva, Dalglish went in with a midfield trio of Henderson, Spearing and Adam but they never really felt the benefit of the extra man against Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu, who had another commanding game in central midfield. The Nigerian was particularly disciplined in ensuring that he patrolled the midfield area and offered support in front of the back four as his heatmap shows:
With Dempsey and Ruiz often drifting in from the wide areas, this created real problems for Liverpool at the other end of the pitch as well. Dembele’s forward runs found space as early as the sixth minute and the visitors never really got to grips with the fluid movement of Fulham’s three attacking midfielders. The number of shots that Fulham fired in from the edge of the box shows just how little pressure they were put under:
Finally, a word on the central defensive partnership. Hangeland had a desperately disappointing game against Suarez last season but, as Lork noted in his player ratings, he rectified his mistakes on Monday. He didn’t get too tight to Suarez but also denied him the room in which to work. As the Uruguayan’s heatmap shows, he was far better policed in the final third this year – and had to wander deeper to influence proceedings:
Senderos, preferred again to Hughes alongside the Norwegian, demonstrated exactly why. He dominated poor Andy Carroll in the air time and time again and won all five of his tackles. It’s worth mentioning the impact that the Swiss defender has had since arriving from Arsenal. Fulham have conceded just seven goals in the 15 games Senderos has played and we’ve kept a remarkable 10 clean sheets in that time. Some record.