With the possible exception of the timely return of Simon Davies, the only potential positive to draw from another bleak Fulham performance on the road was the latest exciting cameo from Swiss teenager Kerim Frei. The 18 year-old is making a habit of delivering dynamic displays off the bench – leading many to ask whether he should become a more integral part of Martin Jol’s side – and his league debut at the Liberty Stadium didn’t disappoint.
Fulham’s attacking threat was almost insignificant for much of the game and the visitors only really seemed to go at Swansea once they had gone behind to Clint Dempsey’s freak own goal. Even then, much of Fulham’s play was depressingly predictable with a narrow front three of Ruiz, Dembele and Dempsey largely passing the around in front of the Swansea back four. Rarely did they break behind the Swansea defence and when they managed to plot a way through, they found Michel Vorm in outstanding form.
Frei might still be very raw but he’s a prodigious talent. We saw from his outstanding full debut at Chelsea in the League Cup earlier in the season that he possesses the pace and trickery of an old-fashioned winger despite his frail build. He’s got that confidence of youth too and has the one thing that most of Fulham’s wide players lack – the ability and desire to attack and beat a full back. Frei’s introduction for Moussa Dembele with 13 minutes to play yesterday was an attacking move from Jol (although it could have come a little sooner) and offered some genuine width that had been so apparently absent to that point.
Frei’s pace and dribbling ability frighten even the most experienced of defenders. He surprised Alex at Stamford Bridge this season and he won the penalty that might have turned this game too. The build-up to it is as instructive as the end of his run, though. Frei cuts inside from the left, where he offered far more in terms of adventure than the overlapping John Arne Riise had mustered, and takes on Ashley Williams. The defender isn’t sure which way he’s going and Frei surges past on the inside. Faced with very little room to scamper away from Jazz Richards, Frei shifts the ball and makes for the gap before being crudely brought to ground. It was a memorising run and no wonder several of his team-mates were swiftly over to the congratulate ‘the little fella,’ as Jol amiably described him.
Though you obviously have to guard against burnout with a youngster who is clearly still developing physically, Frei needs games to aid his development. He won’t get any better sitting on the bench or having the odd run-out in the reserves and he’s demonstrated the ability to really worry defenders. With Bryan Ruiz ineligible for Wednesday’s make-or-break Europa League tie against Odense, Frei should be given the freedom of Craven Cottage to carry Fulham into the next round. The little Swiss magician deserves a greater slice of first-team action. He’s certainly making a compelling case for himself.