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What now?

Well, yesterday sucked. I usually like to take some time before sitting down to express some thoughts and analyse but honestly, as I sit here and type drinking a cup of coffee listening to Angie McMahon, I still don’t really know where I’m going here.

I’m perplexed by the impressive first half honestly, we were thoroughly excellent in the first 45, dominating possession of the football and holding Leeds into their own half and isolating Stuart Dallas in one-v-one match-ups against Anthony Knockaert, which Knockaert was winning, peppering four shots but without seriously testing the goalkeeper. We overrun the Leeds midfield and they’d have been delighted to go in level let alone a goal up.

The second half was simply a disaster. It was far from a good performance from anyone over the course of the game but I do feel it apt to repeat a point I made on Twitter, both Harrison Reed and Michael Hector were playing in central partners but on their own. Tim Ream and Harry Arter’s performances contributed to the fragility of the left hand side with Joe Bryan like a deer in headlights not knowing whether he was coming or going. Leeds are credited with creating five chances from open play in the game – and four of those five came down the left hand side of our defence.

How to solve a problem like the left flank? It’s been a problem area in many of the games this season but the last two matches have just highlighted exactly how it can cost us games. I think it’s time to change the team about a bit and it wouldn’t be the first time this season that Joe Bryan has been dropped for poor defensive performances but maybe now it’s time for club stalwart Tim Ream to join him; he just looks finished. With Terence Kongolo injured and Alfie Mawson not in the match squad for the past two fixtures, his replacement would likely be Maxime Le Marchand who hasn’t started a game for Fulham since November and you have to go back to August in the EFL Cup against Southampton to find his last start at centre back.

This team feels a little lost at the moment and in desperate need of a spark. Sometimes that comes with a change of personnel, or a change of shape. Now Slavisa Jokanovic kept faith with the famous 4-3-3 that won promotion at Wembley but you wonder how that season may have ended if not for Matt Targett – who not only solidified the left back but allowed Ryan Sessegnon to push up to the wing – and Aleksandar Mitrovic who gave Fulham a forward, when Jokanovic had previously played Stefan Johansen as a false nine, such was the ineffectiveness of Rui Fonte. It’s too far into the season for Scott Parker to be so one-dimensional when this team’s fragilities have been exposed and I think a switch to a 3-4-3 of sorts could be ideal.

In our system, we’re putting pressure on our full backs to get forward and attack but Ream can’t defend that channel nor is a midfielder dropping in to cover (see Jordan Henderson’s work allowing Trent Alexander-Arnold to essentially play as a winger). In a 3-4-3, our full backs (now wing backs) are naturally positioned more aggressively allowing them to support attacks quicker but they’re also covered by three behind and typically a midfielder as well (Harrison Reed likely). Suddenly, Fulham are attacking with the two wing backs maintaining width, a central midfielder supporting and three up front – it’s a six pronged attack.

Teams to think of in this shape would be Wolves, who comfortably won the title with their wing backs (Matt Doherty and Barry Douglas) contributing 27 goals (more than Anthony Knockaert, Bobby Decordova-Reid and Anthony Knockaert combined this season). Neves could dictate games knowing he had three centre backs behind plus Roman Saiss covering, width in the wing backs allowing Jota and Cavaleiro/Costa to float in between the lines as options. Jota scored 17 this season and Cavaleiro assisted 12, not only did Wolves outscore Slavisa’s promotion side ‘the Entertainers’ they also had the best defence in the division.

Another team to consider would be Sheffield United who actually utilised a three-man defence with a strike partnership – meaning their spare man would float around as a 10. Since promotion to the Premier League this has been tweaked somewhat, adding a holding midfielder to cover those famed overlapping centre halves. I wouldn’t expect Scott to be as bold as to go with overlapping centre backs but the principles are similar in it allowed Norwood and Fleck to control games in the middle. Sheffield United, like Wolves, had the best defence in the division and finished fourth for goals scored (their goals largely came from the front two in Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick). Fulham, on the other hand, have scored fewer goals than fourteenth placed QPR and as many as relegation-threatened Hull City.

Onto how Fulham may look if they were to break with Parker’s favoured formation. It makes most sense to move towards a 3-4-3 to retain the wide players (also with Aboubakar Kamara seemingly injured, we’re not exactly spoiled for choice with strikers). Marek Rodak retains his place in goal, Denis Odoi can comfortably play the right side of the back three, his experience playing centrally in a two as well as being confident pulling wide into the fullback positions to cover is vital. Michael Hector is the tank in the middle and Maxime Le Marchand, like Odoi but less comfortable, has experience playing full back and can pull wide if need be; he’s also comfortable on the ball and we won’t lose anything in terms of distribution from the back. Joe Bryan’s performances would likely improve with the freedom to fly forward whilst his left back area is covered. I’d go Cyrus Christie as the right wing back, and while he’s no Ryan Fredericks, he can fly and bomb up and down the wing. We’ve not seen Christie’s best at Fulham and perhaps he may thrive in a wing-back role.

In midfield, Harrison Reed is one of the midfield two, his job would be much like Romain Saiss at Wolves, break up play, cover the back three and give it to the attackers. I don’t think Tom Cairney has the range to play as his partner, I’d probably go Stefan Johansen who can switch play, create and cover from a deeper midfield position. But no, Cairney isn’t getting dropped, I’d play him as the ‘right’ of the front three but in reality, he can go where he wants. Just get into space, receive and create, my inspiration for this would be Wigan’s 343 under Roberto Martinez where Shaun Maloney was excellent in doing just that: he created most chances, was second top scorer and had the most assists; Tom Cairney can flourish in a role merely focused on being free in between the lines and making progressive passes.

The other two up top are quite simple, it’s Aleksandar Mitrovic down the middle and Ivan Cavaleiro to the left. Cavaleiro has excelled in this position and has the flexibility to play on either flank and can ask serious questions of the defence with movements inside, runs in behind, or floating over to the right to create overloads and go down the line. In this shape, when the ball is on the byline in possession of the wing back, you could have the opposite wide player and Aleksandar Mitrovic in the box, the opposite winger can take a wide position in the area whilst Stefan Johansen can float around the edge.

I think with a 3-4-3, we can get some defensive solidity on top of allowing us to fire a lot of players forward, maintain the full width of the pitch and have multiple players pick up the holes in the opposition defence. I think it gives you flexibility to be aggressive with subs (dropping TC into the midfield two and putting on a Bobby Decordovia-Reid or Anthony Knockaert in the front three) or gain solidity by quickly switching to a 3-5-2 simply by dropping Cairney into the midfield or Kevin McDonald can come into the 3-4-3 and offer the Matic presence from Chelsea 343 under Antonio Conte (another successful side).

Even during a game, you could have the players simply shuffle over so Denis Odoi shapes up as a traditional right back, the centre back partnership turns into Hector and Le Marchand as Bryan slips into his old left back spot and Cyrus Christie is then a wide player (or vice versa, Christie right back, Odoi and Hector centre back, Le Marchand slides to left back and Bryan maintains a more naturally attack position). The fact that we can do so much with one movement or one sub asks so many questions of the opposition. Fuck it Scott, what have we got to lose?

I didn’t intend this to be an ‘I can do better’ tactical post, but it does outline an alternative to what has been quite formulaic football of late. My coffee is finished, I’m now listening to ‘Summer City’ by Chasing Madison and suddenly everything feels rosy (until Tuesday night). I didn’t want to focus on ‘who could we appoint next’ but I am quite desperate to see Scott Parker do something inventive to find a win as we currently have no momentum and seemingly no confidence to succeed in the playoffs. What say you?

Reed shines even as Fulham full short

Well, football is back. In a whirlwind few months we’ve been tortured with bad news on what feels like a daily basis. Admittedly, my mental health is imbalanced at best, periods of deep depression, hating my own existence and then disappearing to take time to myself (you’ll notice I have a new Twitter account). I’m trying to surround myself with more positivity, more things that make me happy and the return of football was to help. Although Fulham’s result today was more bad news to add to the list, as a lover of the game in general, it’s been great to spend 90 minutes not thinking about life, just enjoying the game, analysing where they’re won and lost. That’s what makes me happy. So I’m not going to talk about the game negatively today, but I’m going to swoon over the return of ginger haired midfielder Harrison Reed.

Having not played a competitive game since New Years Day, Harrison Reed came into the base of midfield today and put in a phenomenal performance. He patrolled in front of the back four with excellent energy, recovered the ball in an inspired manner and not only was tidy on the ball (highest passing accuracy of the 22 starters), he threaded through an excellent ball to Bobby Decordova-Reid for the biggest opening for Fulham in the 90 that the Jamaican forward crashed against the post.

It was the most impressive individual performance in the middle of the park for Fulham I’ve seen for a while (although perhaps my memory is dazed by the break). Reed put in the kind of performance that should’ve had Tony Khan scrambling for the phone to work out how to make the loan permanent. The 25 year old former England youth international showed everything that’s required to play the holding role for Fulham, he was quick along the floor to break up play, intercept passes or divert second balls to a teammate. Whilst others were anonymous, Harrison Reed was undoubtedly the man of the match despite Sky’s award to eventual match winner Emiliano Marcondes.

A youth teammate of Matt Targett at Southampton, Fulham cannot allow this loanee to get away. There was some debate leading to kick off about who should start at the base of midfield with alternatives being Kevin McDonald or Harry Arter, but Reed not only took that position with both hands today, it was the kind of performance that made you think he’s absolutely undroppable for future fixtures.

I also felt Bobby Decordova-Reid showed more promise in that deeper position today. While Fulham were unable to get a real hold of midfield and create chances with much frequency, Bobby buzzed around midfield making a few ball recoveries but more notably looked to combine with Anthony Knockaert down the right hand side and offer some running in behind the opposition defence. Though his shot hit the bar early on in the tie, those positions running beyond Aleksandar Mitrovic as a ‘free’ player is how I see Bobby affecting games, more shots in the box and see him as a real option to help Aleksandar Mitrovic carry the load of scoring goals for Fulham.

Lastly, a congratulations to academy graduate Sylvester Jasper. He had already made his competitive debut earlier in the season at the Etihad but his fine performances for the U18s this season were rewarded with his first league game and he actually topped the Fulham side for successful dribbles despite few minutes on the pitch. Another milestone for the academy and it won’t be the last we hear of 18 year old Sylvester Jasper.

So there we have it, I’m sure many of you will understandably be disappointed following today’s results but a positive spin on today. Reed was absolutely marvellous.

Fulham’s International Fanbase

If I can’t write for this website in times like the current, then I should retire my pen (or keyboard). I sit here locked up having had my one period of daily activity, swiping aimlessly on Tinder and binge-watching Netflix shows, it’s time to do something a little more productive.

Clint Dempsey, Mark Schwarzer, Graham Leggat, chance matches and emigrations are some of the threads that have connected Fulham to an international fanbase. This past week I’ve been asking for some of our international fans to give me an insight on their experiences being a Fulham supporter overseas, from closer to home like Ireland to further beyond in the United States and Canada to even further in Japan and Australia, there’s a footprint of football fans that call Fulham FC their team.

Whilst us closer to the Cottage are leaving home to journey to the Cottage, for me it’s South East London so a train and tube around 90 minutes worth (probably including the walk from Putney Bridge), there’s a number of supporters waking up to alarms to get their own Fulham fix of a weekend. For European based supporters, the matchday isn’t too intrusive but in North America, 3pm on a Saturday could be anywhere from 6am to 12pm dependent on location.

There’s a strange obsession on trying to be a truer fan than others, but I admittedly admire the dedication of those in the Australasia area waking up gone midnight on a Saturday, after a week of work to get their taste of Fulham. The volume of supporters Fulham attract to Craven Cottage isn’t anything special, the ability to make an income from other avenues is important to sustainability, especially in a world where Fulham are no longer an established top-flight club. Receiving a revenue stream from an extra few hundred (or thousand) from elsewhere in Europe and further out does make a difference.

Maybe it’s the ‘Rona but I’m feeling quite sentimental in terms of togetherness. I feel the pessimists reading this thinking ‘f*** the tourists.’ Well, this isn’t a post for you and I apologise for wasting your time, bro.

The footballing world has developed massively over the past decade, streams have become more accessible and social media has created an ability to connect with the rest of the world instantly. Twitter, for example, isn’t even 10 years into serious popularity, the occupation for anyone in social media or most things digital is new and ever-changing and it just displays how bloody awesome it is to be able to talk to people in the US about the same thing.

Tangent over, one of the things I wanted to get from talking to our foreign Fulham family is how they do stay attached to the family, how they remain connected the football club. Social media, understandably was top of the criteria whether it was Fulham supporter run pages (such as here, or Fulhamish/Fulham Focus or Cottage Talk) but also these supporters are making their own avenues – did you know for example; that ‘FFC Norway’ is extremely active on Facebook? I’m not a big Facebook guy but I find it so cool that people from Oslo or Tromso are taking time to talk Fulham let alone actively support or put money into the Fulham bank account.

There wasn’t really a real point to this post I guess, just a shout out to the life of those that support Fulham even if Craven Cottage isn’t within commutable distance on a regular basis. However, you start supporting the club, it’s a testament to the current fanbase and the unique feel that people who may only see the team once a year (or even less than that) are still determined to be a part of it all.

Thanks to all that helped me gather information, hope to see you all at the Cottage in the future.

Just a quick side-note, I noticed this past week that Fulham froze their ‘FFCTV’ membership payments this month given the lack of games – I personally wouldn’t have minded them taking the cash. With that in mind, I thought it’d be nice to donate the money that would’ve gone to the club to the Fulham FC Foundation who do lots of good in the community. It didn’t get much traction on Twitter but heck, a last plug here also.

JustGiving Page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/frankie-taylor2?newPage=True

RT here if you don’t mind: https://twitter.com/fptaylor_/status/1242051615349264386?s=20

Building the Fulham philosophy

Football moves quickly, especially in modern culture where technology allows us to have anything we want without leaving the sofa and all your entertainment is on demand. That ‘on-demand’ lifestyle has been dripping into the beautiful game for a few years as the length of time given to coaches and players has diminished whilst there’s no room for sentiment; coaches that once accomplished great things at a club are thrown out by the very same after one period of poor form. Football has hills and valleys, especially when the squad turnover is as high as is it is now. All of this is relevant Fulham, I promise.

Javier Pereira, once of Slavisa Jokanovic’s backroom staff, was a victim of sackings during our Premier League campaign as the Khans decided to move on in a desperate attempt to secure safety in the top division. Over a year has passed since Slavisa and Javier patrolled the dugout at Craven Cottage and, whilst some supporters have been nolstagic for the return of the Serbian, I don’t think anyone saw the appointment of Javier Pereira as the assistant director of football operations coming.

In the announcement from the club, Javier Pereira’s role was described as ‘working closely with Tony Khan on football business matters including talent identification and development but his primary focus will be on embedding the Club’s playing philosophy through all Fulham’s teams, from youth level to the first team.’ It’s quite an interesting definition and you do wonder whether the ‘power’ of the first-team coach could be reduced by a potential buffer between them and Tony.

But my main focus for this piece was looking at the club’s philosophy. Tony Khan was later quoted as saying ‘We [Javier Pereira and I] share the same vision for Fulham and the same philosophy of football, and we’ll work together to apply that shared vision to deliver success.’ It is clear to anyone who watched Fulham under Jokanovic what this means – possession football. The approach has continued Scott Parker in a slightly different manner. Jokanovic’s iteration was very much central midfield focused with ‘inside-forwards’ and a lot of more of the width being provided by the full-backs. Parker’s vision has seen more from the wide players.

Let us take a look at the chances created. In the top five from Fulham’s promotion season are three central midfielders (led by Stefan Johansen), a full back and then Ryan Sessegnon who played a good chunk of that season at left-back following the sale of Scott Malone and complete failure of Rafa Soares. It wasn’t until Matt Targett was brought in that Sessegnon truly got to enjoy the role on the wing. For Parker so far this season, the top five comprises two wingers, a full back, a central midfielder and striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

The model for this style is most obviously Barcelona, but, already in the two coaches who have applied their vision, we’ve seen the difference in how to create chances and contribute to scoring goals. Even Barcelona have evolved through iterations of their values and everyone has their favourites. For me, I most enjoyed the side that beat Manchester United in the Champions League final back in 2011 – a line-up of Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa but I wouldn’t hate you for enjoying the side that next won the Champions League (2015), with the eleven as follows ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar. Some may even prefer the Rijkaard era that featured Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto’o before the era of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta broke through.

I won’t delve too deeply into the history of footballing philosophies (there are some great books for those of you who are interested – including Jonathan Wilson’s ‘Inverting the Pyramid’) but it would be criminal to link Barcelona to possession football without mentioning Johan Cruyff. Cruyff was in charge at the Camp Nou for eight years and won four titles plus the Champions League, but it was his cultural change of the entire football club that laid the groundwork of what was to come. The great La Masia academy that has records in providing the most players from one club to play in a World Cup final and also host all three finalists of the Ballon D’or was the Dutch legend’s brainchild. His legacy will forever live on, not just through Barcelona, but in the shape of Pep Guardiola, who starred in Cryuff’s Barcelona side, and has taken that philosophy to his own coaching career. Guardiola is just today’s pinnacle of Cruyff’s ‘coaching tree’ that is going to have so many roots as time progresses.

At Fulham, Javier Pereira’s primary focus will be embedding our style of play throughout the club. How this will work is quite interesting as the academy has Ben Bartlett as the Head of Academy coaching and you imagine they will work quite closely on creating training plans that will benefit the young players and their pathway up the age groups to the first team. When you watch the highly-heralded Liverpool kids play for the senior side, you’re struck by how they’re near carbon copies of the players they’ve come in to replace. That’s years of coaching building a long term identity under Jurgen Klopp and, whilst it’s unknown how much time Pereira will spend on the pitch coaching, the idea is definitely beneficial for the entire football club.

Hopefully, Pereira will be able to add some tactical knowledge to the recruitment process given his understanding in what is required from every position. Though whoever is head coach will have their own flavour, keeping continuity in recruitment is vital for the long term success of the football club. Who is replacing Tom Cairney? What is it stylistically you are looking for from that player? If you can have a list of even five to ten players to replace every player of what you feel is your strongest eleven, you almost need a conveyor belt churning out talent. There’s an interesting insight in Michael Calvin’s The Nowhere Men on David Moyes’ recruitment strategy which you can read about here but the book is worthwhile for an unparalled insight into player evaluation.

I understand this has turned into a long post, but honestly, I could probably double it. I will leave you by returning to theme that football moves quickly. Coaches just aren’t given the time that they probably should be. In a similar vein to the recruitment process, the list of potential coaches to replace yours should also be in mind. Who is coaching your style of football well? If you are going to input this process, there can be no more Ranieri’s. I do admire the Sean Dyche way of playing the game but that’s a no go and, similarly, Chris Hughton is not an option. You have to be constantly assessing football across the world and keeping an eye on coaches that could come in and carry on the job.

Thanks for getting through that if you did, I’m more than happy to discuss in more detail in the comments or on Twitter.

Resiliency, The FA Cup and Permanent Loans

It’s been a strange couple of months for Fulham, December started with a disastrous trio of defeats to play-off chasing rivals in Bristol City, Preston and Brentford as Scott Parker’s position was teetering in the eyes of many. A win over Leeds felt like a job saver and Fulham have gone on to lose just one of the seven matches since Christmas. An odd result at home to Reading is the anomaly of the purple patch but still raises legitimate questions about Fulham’s potential to win games when they go behind (they’ve only won one of the twelve matches they’ve conceded first, losing eight and drawing the other three).

But the Whites have still managed to win four of their last six and most notably, three of the four wins have been by a goal to nil, a scoreline that has recently felt unattainable to hold once the last flurry of pressure comes from the opposition. People have noted that reasons for this include Kevin McDonald’s reintroduction into the Fulham team alongside the incoming Michael Hector, and whilst both have had a positive impact, it doesn’t count for the 1-0 win at Stoke on the final game of 2019 where neither were in the squad.

There appears to be a mentality change, at least when Fulham are ahead in games. They seem more intent in protecting Marek Rodak (who by the way, has earned the number one shirt, he’s played just 36 minutes more than Marcus Bettinelli but made more than double the saves – 43 to 21). This more resolute Fulham side have (largely) not lost the core aspect of their philosophy in the process, Stoke had Jack Butland to thank for the game not being out of sight by half time and Jonathan Woodgate would have been delighted that by half-time, Middlesbrough were still within a goal of a result.

Now I don’t want to just dismiss the influence of both Kevin McDonald and Michael Hector. Whilst McDonald doesn’t possess the mobility of either Harry Arter or Harrison Reed, his size and positional discipline creates somewhat of a third centre back. Scott Parker spoke following the Hull game how important he felt it was to have at least five behind the ball with McDonald influential. Hector on the other hand, has brought a serious smooth feel to the defence. He may not have the distribution ability of either Tim Ream or Alfie Mawson, but I think you can safely argue that he’s perhaps the purest ‘defender’ we’ve had at the centre of defence for a long time. That circa £7m initially felt an overpay, but it may not end that way. Could the Aston Villa – Fulham comparisons continue? Is Michael Hector our Tyrone Mings? Only time will tell…

Scott Parker will be pleased that his side has picked up winning form and in January his options are growing despite the disappointment of losing talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic for a few weeks. With Michael Hector becoming eligible and Terence Kongolo joining Fulham on loan from Huddersfield, Scott Parker has the centre back depth to play three at the back on a regular basis if he wished with personnel allowing him to play that with five or four across midfield opening up the potential of a striking partnership (of which we haven’t seen at Fulham since Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele) or the current front three. I know a lot of people don’t like a 3-4-3/3-5-2 but I grew fanatical after watching Antonio Conte’s Juventus side manage to dominate the middle of the park but also cause issues thanks to the two up top. Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio were energy bunnies ahead of Andrea Pirlo that allowed them do the leg work for him, get up the pitch to support the forwards and come back to support the wing back on the outside.

The FA Cup

I got sidetracked there admittedly, but I thought the timing of this piece was ideal. I’m sure we can all agree that an FA Cup game away to Manchester City doesn’t mean in a thing in the grand scheme of things this weekend. Fulham and Scott Parker can only ‘win’ by knocking out the reigning Premier League champions (or taking them to a replay). In fact, I quite enjoy these games because it’s the peak of what we’ll be up against all season. Even against poor Port Vale, Pep Guardiola started with Joao Cancelo, John Stones, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Sergio Aguero; so I’m sure we can expect no less, especially given the title race is over and this is an opportunity for silverware.

Permanent loan moves

It’s been a while so why not turn this into somewhat of a longer piece? Fulham have reaped the rewards of including options to buy in their loan business this past summer. Triggering the option for Ivan Cavaleiro opened up a match day loan spot for Terence Kongolo to come in and beef up our backline whilst news broke yesterday that Tony Khan has also made Bobby Decordova-Reid a Fulham player permanently and you presume that’s to open another potential loan spot for a forward given the injury issues at the top of the pitch for Fulham that were evident against Charlton in midweek. It probably would’ve been cheaper to pick Harry Arter or Harrison Reed for permanent moves, credit to Tony for going for who has impressed most. Whilst I dislike his “I’m bloody brilliant, aren’t I?” attitude when announcing transfers, perhaps (just perhaps) Tony Khan is learning on the job.