Well… it wasn’t a classic, but a really strong defensive display from Fulham starved Newcastle of opportunities on goal and managed to grind out a 0-0 away from home to earn their first clean sheet of the season. Claudio Ranieri made a tactical tweak for the trip to St James’ Park with Cyrus Christie coming in for Aboubakar Kamara to create a 343/541 with the aforementioned Christie playing at right wing back, Joe Bryan opposed him on the left and Alfie Mawson positioned as the central of three centre backs; Tim Ream to his left and Denis Odoi to his right.
Each member of the back five was exceptional at Newcastle with Sergio Rico not facing a single shot on target, but Alfie Mawson takes my man of the match reward. With a game leading seven clearances and comfortable distribution from the back, the former Swansea centre half is starting to show glimpses of being worth the outlay he cost the club in the summer. Calum Chambers alongside Jean Michel Seri patrolled in front of the back five with the defensive efficiency that he’s now setting standards for; his four tackles was tied top for frequency within both teams.
Since Claudio Ranieri was appointed, it felt like he would need a window before serious progress could be made. Ranieri-ball is less focused on possession statistics and more so on being defensively well structured and attacking with pace, a formula that mixed with his Leicester City squad of 2015/16 created that miracle title winning team that I’m sure none of us will forget. Fulham’s current squad was built with Slavisa Jokanovic’s slower, more methodical form of football in mind and is lacking in serious pace throughout but Ranieri is making do with what he has at his disposal.
Fulham struggled to really build counter attacks, partially handicapped by an injury to Ryan Sessegnon but the depth in the squad of players with those characteristics. The Whites struggled to make the ball stick in the final third for large parts of the game, and were dispossessed a massive 21 times (8 of which courtesy of Andre Schurrle, and 4 each from Tom Cairney and Jean Michel Seri). This team needs to play more into space and keep an eye on that for the January transfer window – players that can chase balls into the channels, that can skip past their opposing player and keep up with a more intensive counter attacking approach.
While Wolves will likely be a tougher test with a bit more offensive fluidity than Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle, that first clean should hopefully see Ranieri outlay more for those McDonald’s meals he suggested in his first press conference at the club. Fulham round out the year with two huge home games against Wolves and Huddersfield and should have the confidence to put in a similar defensive display.
January is the key for me, but that was a big step for Ranieri and team…
To all Fulham supporters, have a very Merry Christmas. And if you don’t hear from me by then, a Happy New Year too.