Admittedly, I write this having not been in attendance on Saturday afternoon, with work obligations I was left with watching the 90 minutes on Monday morning of Fulham’s 4-0 humbling at home to Bristol City. Rather than give you my opinion of the match, as I’m sure you all have your own already and it’s been discussed to death over the course of Saturday evening, Sunday and Monday already, I wanted to discuss something I noticed and raise the debate for the return to – not only the 18 – but the starting eleven for a talented young player who has been left out harshly by our Serbian manager.
I accept that in watching the game with the benefit of knowing the result it’s easy for opinion to be different but I don’t think we played badly overall; we saw plenty of the ball, took plenty of shots and generally made the right movements. Bristol City were however solid in their defending, excellent in the transition and took advantage of poor defending for their second goal before swiftly making it three following an unfortunate deflection off of Jozabed playing right into the hands of Bobby Reid to end the game before Fulham even recovered to build a response to the second goal. This wasn’t a 4-0 game, but the facts are that Bristol City came to Craven Cottage, scored four goals, conceded none and left with three points when you look at things in the ultimate simplicity of football.
Fulham took 22 shots on Saturday afternoon, and although a strong number, it’s the nature of the shots that is most important – with 12 taken from outside of the box and only two on target, Fulham never really tested Frank Fielding in the Bristol City goal as opposed to our visitors who shot on target 10 times (the same amount of times that Fulham fired shots – all off target – in the opposition penalty box).
Moving away from the numbers and onto the original point of the post – it was noticeable whilst watching the replay how frequently Fulham’s wide players looked to cut inside onto their strongest foot before doing very little danger. The only source of more than sporadic danger was the overlapping Ryan Sessegnon who fired six crosses into the box on top of taking one of our two shots on targets all game. When you have players wanting to float inwards, you may as well reduce the size of the pitch of the width of the penalty box making it increasingly difficult to penetrate your opposition; especially when they defend in a well organised low-block such as Bristol City did. Fulham have looked unbalanced in recent weeks with Denis Odoi not making an impact on proceedings offensively and Tom Cairney’s inability to do anything with his right foot. Whilst Floyd Ayite is injured also, the only form of attack we have in wide areas is the running from Ryan Sessegnon or Scott Malone from the left full back position and that has to change.
Having players take up positions in wide areas naturally stretches the opposition back four to cover more of the pitch giving more room for those in the middle of the pitch to work in as you don’t want to leave a wide player free – if you do, it usually ends in something productive (see Walcott’s goal vs. Chelsea this past weekend). It’s easy to debate that Fulham have one out-and-out winger in Floyd Ayite, and whilst he’s injured, Fulham have meandered with an ever narrowing and depleting attack.
Fulham need a player that will take a player on around the outside, Fulham need a player that can carry the ball 20-30 yards either relieving the pressure on the back four or leading a counter attack, Fulham need a player that can create chances and score goals, and Fulham need a player that will do their defensive job and protect their full back. All roads lead to one player in the current squad, one player who has all of these characteristics in their locker and one player who has been left looking onwards from the outside – that player being Lasse Vigen Christensen.
The academy product from Denmark is admittedly my favourite player in the Fulham squad so perhaps I display some bias, but whilst performance levels have dipped and defensively frailty has crept in, why not utilise the young Dane on the right hand side who can offer support to Denis Odoi and provide a genuine attacking threat down the right hand side? Despite a change of role in the team under Kit Symons and a number of injury issues, Christensen still managed to play a direct part in five goals last season down from the previous seasons’ 12. Christensen has shown the ability to play and make an impact in the Championship in a role where he can influence proceedings in the final third and giving the bundle of energy – who was my nominee for Player of the Season in 2014/15 – the freedom to do what he does best down the right hand side could lead to an increase in offensive efficiency and defensive solidity.
Lets not forget also, Christensen’s Lampard-like ability to be in the right place at the right time in the penalty box, coming inwards from the right hand side when the ball is wide left – Christensen can become an extra body in the area that simply isn’t there currently. Lasse can play short passes in intricate and tight spaces, his burst of movement can be too much for defenders to handle and the skill he has to beat opponents is something none of our other players have.
With this, we can move towards more of a 433, packing the middle of the park and getting support for Chris Martin with the runners from deep like he was accustomed to at Derby County. The adjusting Stefan Johansen can then find a role in the team that suits him as we give the back four more of a shield and modify our game to get more out of our striker. Criticism is growing on Chris Martin but he’s lacked the consistent quality service that is needed for most strikers to score goals; let alone the chemistry with his teammates to deliver him what he wants.
It’s easy to forget that these things take time, especially when the season started so well, relationships are still building and that includes building from back to front, that includes defending and knowing what both you and your team mates around you are going to do and that includes the type of service your team mates want to be able to go from 22 shots with 2 on target to goals and winning matches. I believe the first step to a better Fulham is a Fulham with Lasse Vigen Christensen on the right hand side, lets focus back on getting solid again and if you can get solid, more balanced in attack and provide a different attacking option to what we’ve had thus far; why wouldn’t you take that chance?