It’s always hard to assess how a manger is doing when he takes over a sinking ship. That’s what we had last season when Scott Parker took the reins from Claudio Ranieri with the club needing more than a miracle to stay up. Parker brought back a sense of togetherness, and allowed the team to at least bring some joy to the banks of the Thames. I think the majority of fans were willing to give Parker a summer transfer window and the start of the season before jumping to any conclusions about him. But now, five league games into the season, we are beginning to see what Parker’s Fulham really looks like.
In terms of matches, we have had a relatively simple start to the league – or at least it SHOULD have been relatively simple. OK, there are no easy games in the Championship, but we haven’t yet come up against any of the leagues’ heavy weights such as West Brom or Leeds. Performance wise, things have certainly been mixed. I was there at Barnsley when we had an absolute disaster of an opening game and I can tell you that I was worried about Parker’s tactical awareness. We have a very strong side capable of hurting teams, but we got the game plan completely wrong. Contrast that to our game against Millwall were we played some of the most beautiful football seen this season in an empathetic 4-0 victory under the lights at the Cottage. Before that we also had a comfortable home win over Blackburn before beating Huddersfield at the John Smith Stadium.
What have we learned?
Parker clearly likes to play a fast paced, passing game with full-backs who attack high. We hold a lot of possession, switch the play constantly and put a lot of balls into the box. A lot of our goals have come from wingers or full backs making it to the back line and cutting the ball back for someone to prod home. We also push a lot of players forward meaning that we over load opposition boxes making it really difficult for teams to clear the ball. And with players like Mitrovic, Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Reid and Cairney we should score a lot of goals this season.
However, our style of play comes with a great deal of risk. As we saw on Saturday past, and on many occasions under Slavisa Jokanovic last year, that one miscued pass can allow an opposition team to cut through and be left with a one-on-one with our keeper. Our defence sits very high when we are in possession, so it’s a lot of pressure on those players to get it right. If we continue this then we might turn some teams over, but we will surely be on the end of some bad defeats as well. We also need to be careful that we don’t become a team with a single way of playing. On Saturday against Nottingham Forest we attempted 45 crosses with only 10 of them going to a Fulham player. Our goal came from when we finally kept the ball on the deck, but I really don’t know why it took us so long to try that.
My other worry is that Parker finished the game with no apparent system. I don’t believe for a second that putting every attacking player we had on the bench onto the pitch was plan B, it looked more to me that there wasn’t another plan so we just went into kamikaze mode. We essentially had no formation for the last 10 minutes after taking our right back off for a left winger. Parker had already taken Johansen, a centre midfielder, off for Bobby Reid, a striker. There was nothing coherent about how we finished the game, and that does worry me about Parker’s ability to come up with a plan B. Maybe I’m being harsh, but in any league around the world you have to be able to adapt your tactics according to each game, not just throw on a load of attacking players which results in losing your shape.
We come up against Cardiff on Friday night, and while they haven’t had a great start, we know only to well what a Neil Warnock team can do. They are tough and will sit back, so Parker will need to think about how he approaches this. I really like a lot of what Parker has brought back to Fulham. The team are passionate and they look like they care massively about the fans, but I’m hoping that we start to see more from Parker tactically speaking.