Given the grim nature of yesterday’s capitulation at Derby, you don’t need me to tell you that Fulham’s gameplan isn’t working. Felix Magath has chopped and changed his players and systems, but the brave new world doesn’t appear very promising. Magath’s bold relaunch might itself but rebooted before too long, with the club rooted to the bottom of the Championship table, pointless, after four games.
Much mirth has already been had about the shambolic nature of that fifth Derby goal, coming as it did directly from the kick-off. But, that to me, seemed like the response of an utterly shell-shocked side, whose belief was broken by the two Derby goals that came so soon after Scott Parker’s equaliser. There’s a much broader problem, for me, and it comes from the deployment of the full-backs in Magath’s system, regardless of whether he opts for a diamond or a more traditional 4-42, like the one that lined up yesterday.
Width is at a premium in the side, even when Magath starts with Patrick Roberts, who naturally looks to drift inside onto his left foot. The return of Alex Kacaniklic – who made his first appearance of the season from the substitutes’ bench at Derby – might address this but, for the moment, the onus is on forward-thinking full-backs to provide an attacking threat down the flanks. This is all well and good when it is done sensibly, but too often already in this brief campaign the desire to add options in the final third has left the likes of Cameron Burgess, Shaun Hutchinson and Nikolay Bodurov horribly over-exposed at the back.
Several of the goals Fulham have conceded have come down our right flank. The decisive goal at Ipswich saw Hutchinson lose a tussle with Daryl Murphy after being dragged into the right back position with devastating consequences. Both centre backs were drawn out to try and deal with Ricardo Fuller’s run against Millwall – and both full-backs were noticeably absent as Martyn Woolford tucked away a simple finish from close range.
Derby’s crucial second also exposed our weakness in that position. Johnnie Russell, who had already created the opening goal with a tantalising cross, was afforded the freedom of the penalty to send a first-time cross in the direction of Craig Bryson as the Fulham defenders stood off, statuesque. There were plenty of other culprits – but Hoogland’s average position as per the official website shows that he was unfathomably advanced for a full-back.
Hoogland was hauled off for Kay Voser, who had a remarkably composed debut in the circumstances, and it’s probably a bit harsh to lay the blame at his door. The benefits of being adventurous from full-back are obvious – as shown by his late goal at Portman Road – and he didn’t get a lot of defensive support from young Roberts. But, with the team teetering at the wrong end of the table, it might be time for a more conservative approach as we tackle the likes of Brentford, Cardiff, Reading and then league leaders Nottigham Forest in the coming weeks.
Hoogland’s not the first Fulham full-back to struggle – we saw Sascha Riether caught upfield several times last season and John Pantsil’s outstanding displays under Roy Hodgson were followed by some horribly error-strewn performances that eventually led to him being dropped and released. The problem isn’t the personnel, it’s that these tactics seem terribly gung-ho for a league that a young side is struggling to get used to.