As Fulham fell to defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers on the evening when the headlines were dominated by the sad passing of Prince Phillip, making it four losses on the bounce and extending the side’s poor home form this season, Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa began proceedings on Scott Parker’s bench once again. Despite being perhaps the most talented player in the Riverside outfit’s roster, the midfielder only made his appearance in the 63rd minute. So, what has led to him being dropped to the bench in recent weeks?
Just a few weeks ago, the Cameroonian international was the first name on the team sheet. Parker looked towards him to provide an element of defensive stability, stopping the flow of goals that leaked past Fulham’s defence early in the season. He was deployed deep in the midfield, creating a fairly effective midfield duo alongside a box-to-box midfielder, as Lemina and Reed constantly rotated. However, Anguissa was able to sure up the defence whilst simultaneously making lung-busting runs forward with a beautiful balance of grace and power.
This was an important part of the 5-2-3 system that was first adopted against Leicester City in late November for attacking reasons as well, as Frank is able to break a press and add a creative element with his sublime passing – something that was crucial as the side’s number 10 was sacrificed for defensive numbers. Therefore, for many, Anguissa, who has previously been linked to Real Madrid, is the epitome of a segundo volante, defining the position with a unique mix of technical and physical prowess. In Zambo’s case, he is able to do everything that is needed of him. Well, except shoot.
This is an invaluable player to have, one that draws many envious comparisons from rival fans, such as that with Bissouma of Brighton and Hove Albion. However, as the Whites began to scramble for points to beat the looming drop, Anguissa himself has found himself dropped. Multiple changes in system and formation has led to Parker moving away from what had become a fairly settled 5-2-3 to multiple variations of four-at-the-back as he attempted to inject some creativity into the side with the re-introduction of a number 10 as Fulham struggled for goals.
Parker first tested a 4-2-3-1 in Fulham’s 0-0 draw with West Ham at the Cottage in early February, with Anguissa dropped to making a substitute appearance as the ex-Hammers man selected Reed and Lemina for a double pivot behind Ruben Loftus-Cheek. At the time, this was simply attributed to rotation as he had been substituted off against Leicester in the game before, having started all five league games in 2021. Fatigue began to show as he put in some displays that weren’t quite up to the standard that we had come to expect from him.
In fact, the fatigue was showing for the whole squad in January and February after Fulham’s COVID-19 outbreak. Whilst the no specific names of those who caught the virus were announced, the break clearly affected everyone, whether infected or not. Two weeks without training is a long time for footballers, just long enough for individuals to lose fitness and sharpness – especially if suffering from long-COVID, which has had a variety of effects on sufferers, with some athletes reporting that they are lacking energy and the lung capacity that they once had. Whether Anguissa was suffering the symptoms of this disease we don’t know, however the effects were there to be seen even as the squad carried on putting in impressive performances.
Over the coming games, it became abundantly clear that Anguissa was not at his best. The tactical reasons behind his drop-off in form after the introduction of the number 10 are fairly simple. The very presence of someone in that position dampens the need of creativity from deeper down the pitch, rendering the segundo volante role less potent going forward.
This is because the pocket of space that Frank would normally run into becomes crowded with Loftus-Cheek and whichever defender is assigned to marking him, disrupting the large space that once would have been left between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines. A large part of the segundo volante’s role is to burst into this space, attracting opposition players and pulling them out of position, so allowing wingers to slip into the spaces that are left along their backline. Therefore, the presence of both a segundo volante and a number 10 within the same formation, in this case, had an inhibitive effect on both Anguissa and Loftus-Cheek.
After Anguissa was phased out of the starting eleven, many noted just how well Reed was playing alongside Lemina. This is because the omission of the segundo volante role allowed the box-to-box role to have more expressive freedom. Harrison’s role was once to simply win the ball and give it to Anguissa, who would charge up the pitch like a bull. Then, Reed would shadow Zambo, staying slightly further down the pitch to try and prevent an opposition counterattack. Now, Reed and Lemina are free to add the creative element to their own game, no longer restricted in their role, thus explaining some of the impressive performances that we have seen from both, even if the scoreline doesn’t necessarily reflect the team’s performance.
Now, it seems as though Parker has chosen to stick with a midfield duo of Reed and Lemina – even as he returned to the 5-2-3 formation against Wolves. There are various reasons for this, however, whether the team is truly better off without him in the first XI is up for debate – especially as the defence seems to have returned to its leaky ways and the attack is still spluttering. With only 6 games left to save our souls, Parker must find a solution and quickly. Despite some of Loftus-Cheek’s impressive displays, quantitatively his return is awful. He is also far too inconsistent for my liking – especially as he seems to be inhibited by multiple players such as Cavaleiro, not just Anguissa.
So, could a 4-3-3 work with Anguissa playing as a deep lying midfielder with Lemina and Reed playing just in front of him? What do you think?