Lucas Piazon has had something of a footballing odyssey even since he made a big-money move to English football – and was quite outspoken about the impact of Chelsea’s loan policy shortly after he made the short move down the King’s Road. The Brazilian forward has spoken about the need for some stability for the benefit of his future development but has so far struggled to nail down a starting spot since September. He may come to look back fondly on yesterday’s trip to Oakwell as he asked questions of the Barnsley defenders on almost every occasion he got the ball and delivered an all-action display that will have offered plenty to please Slavisa Jokanovic.
Despite not being blessed with any significant pace, Piazon was a lively outlet, drifting in to great effect from the left to begin with – and becoming just as influential when he swapped positions with Tom Cairney. He has great poise on the ball, an ability to go either way, and some intelligent running to get in behind a full-back. Unlike several other forwards, Piazon has a happy knack of making smart decisions in the final third and, in a welcome change from some of his team-mates during the early part of the season, he was more than willing to gamble inside the opposition’s area.
His goal was an excellent example of that as well. His movement to drift ominously across the box and then time a run to reach a low cross from Scott Malone at the near post first, but Piazon also had the presence of mine to take an early speculative shot, even with a defender close by. He got the benefit of a looping deflection that took the ball into the far corner – and the goal came at a crucial time as Fulham were beginning to get frustrated at being behind having so much of the ball and the play. Piazon’s poacher’s instinct – he has already scored twice despite limited game time – could prove vital throughout the course of a tough Championship season.
The statistics underline just how much of a livewire Piazon proved to be. He played four key balls into the final third and whipped in some devastatingly dangerous set plays, including one particularly inviting corner that eluded all the white shirts in the six-yard box. He was always progressive in possession, looking to move the ball forward, but perhaps surprisingly for a south American forward, was tigerish in the tackle. Piazon won six physical duels throughout the ninety minutes and won both of his challenges in the air – and started several promising attacks.
Whilst Piazon was excellent and adventurous with the ball, always willing to attack a full-back or run at defenders in open play, it was his work off the ball that was most impressive. He tracked back diligently in defence, which was needed given that Barnsley started so swiftly, but also made a lot of clever decoy runs and supporting sprints to give an option for team-mates in possession. It isn’t just a coincidence that Chris Martin had his most impressive display in a Fulham shirt when there was so much movement on offer around him – and Piazon was a pivotal part of that.
Piazon’s versatility – being able to operate on the wings or up top – might have counted against him previously, but, in the absence of Floyd Ayite, he has staked a real claim for a regular spot out wide. This excellent performance has certainly given Jokanovic plenty to ponder ahead of the visit of Norwich City on Tuesday night.