With one of the season’s most important games coming tomorrow evening at the AMEX Stadium, how should Fulham line-up to try and close the gap to Brighton and Hove Albion, one of our fellow relegation rivals?
Since Scott Parker first switched to a back five against Leicester, Fulham have seen an upturn in form, picking up eight points in nine Premier League games. This includes the Leicester win as well as draws against Liverpool and Tottenham, with some asking how we were unable to take three against them! The Whites have also given teams such as Manchester United and Manchester City a run for their money, putting in solid performances to be proud of. The team seems to have come a long way since Paddy Power paid out on Fulham’s relegation after just three games.
However, Fulham have also faced criticism whilst using this formation as they are seemingly unable to complete the job against relegation rivals, such as Brighton and Newcastle, taking just two points from the crucial games. What the 5-2-3 formation brings in defensive stability, it lacks in creativity.
When we play against bottom and mid table teams, the general feeling is that we are too cautious. The back 5 means that we lose the creative role that we have seen Cairney and Loftus-Cheek operate in at times over the season. The fast paced, fluid counterattacking style that has been implemented recently is perfect against the top teams who generally prefer to keep possession, winning the ball and quickly exploiting the space that they leave behind.
However, against the rest of the division, we should be looking for a win more proactively, controlling more of the ball. We should do this by adding an element of creativity into the side, switching to a ‘plan B’ four at the back formation that attempts to retain defensive stability whilst utilising possession better and disrupting their back line.
Therefore, assuming Parker’s pre-match assertion that “no new injury concerns have come out of the recent fixtures” is accurate, my line-up would utilise a full squad, minus the injured pair of Cairney and Kongolo or the suspended Robinson. However, it is worth noting that we are likely to see heavy rotation given the squad have just come back from the COVID outbreak, greeted with a congested fixture list against some of the league’s strongest teams, to which Parker said, “we are trying to repair the tired bodies”.
So, as Fulham prepare to play Brighton for the second time this season, what should the line-up be? This is mine:
This starting eleven would deploy Mitrovic to disrupt the strong Brighton back line with his size and strength whilst allowing him to knock balls onto the more mobile Loftus-Cheek, who would be operating as a False 9. Lookman and Decordova-Reid would operate as inverted wingers, crossing the ball into Mitrovic and crowding the box, whilst Loftus-Cheek waits on the edge of the box for any second balls.
They would also add an element of pace to the forward line, meaning that if Fulham shouldn’t squander counterattacking opportunities, as Lookman, Decordova-Reid and Loftus-Cheek can rush forward on the attack. They could also rotate positions across this frontline, similar to Liverpool’s attacking line.
I believe that this tactic would find a suitable role for Mitrovic – despite his confidence, form and fitness worries – who prospered against Leeds United with Onomah behind him and fast wingers on either side. This would dispel the argument that ‘the system no longer suits Mitrovic with its fast pace’, bringing the best of both worlds. Mitrovic may be able to battle Brighton’s big and strong defenders physically, that includes the 6’4″ Lewis Dunk, 6’3″ Adam Webster and a very familiar Dan Burn, who stands at a mighty 6’7″. Whilst Mitrovic could battle them physically, the inverted wingers may be able to exploit their lack of pace, creating the best of both worlds.
The midfield double-pivot of Anguissa with a box-to-box midfielder pairing with either Reed or Lemina would remain unchanged. This has been something of a strong point so far this season, with Anguissa’s physical and technical ability shining through as he wins the ball and makes runs from deep. Anguissa will also come up against Yves Bissouma, a player who he has drawn many comparisons to with a similar physicality and style playing a role best described as a ‘segundo volante’. Whilst Anguissa narrowly beats Bissouma on stats, this game is the perfect opportunity to compare them once again.
Finally, the back line would remain fairly unchanged, despite having one less man, with Aina simply being shifted onto the left from the middle. Aina has been deployed on the left side before, by Torino, either as a winger or wing-back, and offers a more defensively sound option than the beloved Joe Bryan, who often leaves large pockets of spaces for teams to attack into. This is crucial to try and eliminate as Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey will likely bomb down our left hand side and cause us great defensive trouble.
Unfortunately, this line-up is unlikely, due to likely-heavy rotation as well as some tactical stubbornness shown against smaller teams. However, it would certainly make a nice ‘plan B’ and one with which we could play with some more possession and dominate the game. It certainly would be nice to see Mitrovic fit back into the side somehow and find his feet.
What do you think?