Fulham’s win over Stoke City last weekend might have been routine in the end, but it was certainly billed as one of the toughest challenges Marco Silva would have faced during his short time in charge at Craven Cottage. The Potters had made a terrific start to the season and travelled to the capital in third place, with nothing to split the early pacesetters. Reviewing the game, it was very interesting to see how Fulham set up against a relatively new Stoke system and how their movement in the final third undid the visitors. Here’s the breakdown of how the Whites maintained their unbeaten start to the season.
Fulham started in Marco Silva’s familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, with Jean-Michael Seri acting as a deep-lying playmaker, looking to receive the ball from the centre-backs and transition the ball into wide areas or the final third. Josh Onomah played further forward when in possession in-between the lines of midfield and attack. When the Whites were without the ball, Onomah dropped back in and sat next to Seri with the Fulham front four pressing higher up the pitch. The high press put the visitors under significant pressure in their own half, creating opportunities for the home side to pinch the ball in dangerous positions.
Michael O’Neill’s Stoke City set up in the 5-3-2 that he has largely favoured since the summer, pushing the wingbacks forward in possession, with Steven Fletcher and Jacob Brown pressing the Fulham backline out of possession. When Fulham had the ball out wide, the wing back would press with the wide centre back coming across to cover in a traditional full-back position.
FULHAM 1-0 STOKE CITY (WILSON 5)
As Fulham move the ball across to the edge of the pitch, Tom Smith moves forward to press Antonee Robinson. This pulled the outer centre back to cover at right back. Harry Wilson then dropped into a pocket of space between midfield and defence giving himself space to turn and put the Stoke defence under pressure.
The pass to Harry Wilson takes the Stoke midfield out of the game and leaves several players turning back to face their own goal. Wilson then turns and runs at Østigard pulling him inside creating space for Bobby Decordova-Reid to attack down the wing where Smith had pressed, leaving the space in behind for Fulham to exploit.
With the speed that Fulham attacked and the numbers that they committed forward, Stoke weren’t able to get numbers back to help support leaving space for Wilson and Mitrovic to work a chance resulting in the first goal.
FULHAM 2-0 STOKE CITY (DECORDOVA-REID 53)
With a kick up field, Mitrovic wins the header against the Stoke centre-half taking him out of the game for the Fulham attack. This allows Fulham to run at a disjointed Stoke backline, with the Stoke right-back Tom Smith also caught out of position.
Mitrovic spots the space Smith would normally be covering, so runs across and behind the centre back into the pocket of space, as the defender on the far side is also playing him onside creating that pocket of space in behind to attack.
Bobby Decordova-Reid gets onto the rebound from Mitrovic’s effort due to the sheer number of players Fulham are committing forward creating a 50/50 chance on whether the ball rebounded to a Fulham forward or a Stoke defender.
FULHAM 3-0 STOKE CITY (MITROVIC 73)
With the ball out wide at Bobby Decordova-Reid’s feet, the key overlap from Antonee Robinson fixes the Stoke right back allowing Decordova-Reid the time on the ball to drive inside and pick out the cross under no pressure.
The run towards the front post from Mitrovic pulls the Stoke defender across with him, taking the opportunity to clear the ball away as the defender vacates the space, allowing an opportunity round the back for Wilson to attack the ball at the back post.
O’Neill will be desperately disappointed with the defending for this goal. Souttar in the centre is not alive to either the danger at the far post or Mitrovic lurking behind him and the Serbian has an easy finish from close range once Wilson works the ball back across goal.