In perhaps the most pivotal match of the season, Scott Parker’s side grabbed a precious three points against Sheffield United last night – emerging from a nervy ninety minutes with the narrowest of advantages courtesy of Ademola Lookman’s second half strike. This was only Fulham’s fourth league win of the season but it offers the Whites some serious momentum at just the right time and lifts them to within three points of safety.
The Blades, despite a debilitating injury crisis were still resolute and tricky to break down, played a 5-3-2 formation as they looked to sit incredibly deep in their own half the back five lined up across their own penalty area. This was a ploy that would render Fulham’s counterattacking strength academic. Instead, it was designed to entice Parker’s men forwards to try and break them down with slower passing moves around Wilder’s charges, who would simply wait for someone to make a mistake before charging forward via their speedy wing backs and and two centre forwards who spent most of the game waiting by the half way line. This did cause a few problems for Fulham, when caught with the bare minimum defenders ready to stop a counter-attack, however, for the most part, Fulham’s back line was relatively undisturbed.
The talking point from the first half was a Fulham counter-attack which started when Ampadu attempted a cross into the Fulham box, which was cleared by Reed into the path of Loftus-Cheek, who took a few steps before passing the ball to Nigerian international Ademola Lookman. The left-sided winger then went on a run from halfway-down the Fulham half to the right-hand side of the half-way line before placing a perfectly balanced through ball into the path of Ivan Cavaleiro on the right hand side. The Portugese winger ran onto this ball, meeting it in the space between the box and the touchline on the right. He dribbled into the Sheffield United box and attempted to shoot from a tight angle from the right side of the goal, with his shot tipped over the bar by Aaron Ramsdale.
In the turgid, slow and relatively uninteresting game of football, which was definitely not one for the neutrals, Fulham’s first half nerves were cooled after Ademola Lookman’s goal in the 61st minute. In fact, this goal did not come from the slow attempt to break down Sheffield United’s deep defence, but instead the White’s were able to catch the Blades at a vulnerable moment as their attempted attack broke down. Therefore, the Cottagers were able to counterattack the Cutlers via a long ball from Andersen which went over the top of Sheffield United’s hardworking midfield and their defensive line to reach Ademola Lookman on the left-hand side corner of the opposition box. Fulham were able to by-pass the 5-3-2 system, which hadn’t allowed for much creativity, as Lookman took the ball down onto his chest, took a few steps further before taking the ball past Ampadu, into the centre of the box, and blasting the ball through Ramsdale’s legs into the goal.
To their immense credit, Sheffield United kept Fulham’s fans on the edge of their seat until the very last. They pushed forward pumping balls in the box but their clearest opening came from a wonderfully worked move. Basham brilliantly found McBurnie in the middle of the field, who neatly controlled the ball and poked it onto Billy Sharp on the edge of the Fulham box. Sharp then laid a neat through ball onto the path of Enda Stevens, who’s effort from the mid-left of the box was thankfully parried away by Alphonse Areola.
Aina nearly made it 2-0 for London’s Originals with another long shot, something that is becoming quite the trend for the versatile Nigerian defender. The move was started by Anguissa on the left wing, who placed the ball into the feet of Ademola Lookman on the edge of the opposition box. Lookman, being pressed by opposition defenders from both behind and to his left, managed to smoothly dribble around both of their challanges and lay the ball of to Loftus-Cheek. The Chelsea man, with his back to the goal, took a few steps before turning to his left and passing to Ola Aina who was in a pocket of space on the right side of the pitch. Aina then met the ball and saw his opportunity to shoot from range, with his powerful, dipping shot headed for the centre of the Hammersmith End goal, before Ramsdale got his right hand to the ball and slapped it over the bar.
This was Fulham’s first real chance which wasn’t from a counter-attack, showing just how hard it was to break down the side from Sheffield, who placed all eight of their defenders and midfielders around the box to block any creativity. Therefore, a long shot can be the easiest way to break this low block, even if they offer a worse quality goal scoring chance than a shot from inside the box. Perhaps Fulham should have taken more long shots to not only try and score but to also force Wilder’ men to adapt and start to press more to prevent this, which could have opened up more creative opportunities as their defence is dragged out of position a little more. However, Parker seemingly sent his side out to play with a higher tempo in the second half, which did create more chances for the Whites, including the goal.
Sheffield United made one last push to take a share of the points via a free kick in added time. As Fleck stood over the ball to the left hand side of the Fulham box, the commentator stated that this could be “the most painful two points dropped of the whole campaign, if Sheffield United were to score now”, and he certainly wasn’t wrong. The Scot put the free kick into the box, with the ball curving around to meet Loftus-Cheek’s head at the far post. This headed ball ten found the head of substitute Kenny Tete, with the resulting header bobbling towards Alphonse Areola in the Putney End net. As Areola hurtled towards the ball to gather it up, Bogle saw his chance to get an equaliser and also ran to meet the ball. Instead, Bogle’s touch on the ball took it from where the Frenchman was swinging his leg to clear the ball, with his kicking leg instead hitting Bogle in the legs. However, before Areola’s leg met Bogle’s, the goalkeeper’s left leg reached the ball and taken it clear of the wing-back. In what can only be described as a 50/50 challenge by both players, in which both also put their body on the line, both then went down in agony and both clutching their legs. Thankfully, for Fulham, the visitors’ penalty appeals were then dispelled by VAR, which from my perspective is only fair given the 50/50 nature of the challenge.
What did you think of the match and the last minute incident?
The first in a series of critical clashes against our relegation rivals since Fulham travel to Turf Moor to take on Burnley tomorrow night. Buoyed by an unexpected triumph on Merseyside on Sunday night, Scott Parker’s side can suddenly sniff some momentum in their battle against the drop. The Whites are now seven points off safety with fifteen games to play and, whilst survival still looks like a tall order, there’s no doubting that they have the stomach for the fight. After ending their Goodison Park curse whilst simultaneously snapping a thirteen-match winless streak, Fulham will be now be targeting a first win at Burnley since 1951.
It certainly won’t be easy against Burnley, whose continued upsetting of the English footballing applecart remains one of the game’s most unheralded stories. Sean Dyche’s style might be uncompromising but it is effective – and all of his players know their roles. Christened ‘the Ginger Mourinho’ Dyche has unapologetically adopted an old-fashioned 4-4-2 (cruelly described in some quarters as ‘Brexit Ball’) and his slavish adherence to the system means Burnley are notoriously hard to break down. The Clarets have a miserly defence – conceding 4.72 fewer than their expected goals against – which is the third best in the league, behind Manchester City and Parker’s own improving backline.
Burnley are content to work to their tried and tested modus operandi, sitting deep, soaking up the pressure and punishing opposition errors. There are ideally set up to wreak havoc on the counter-attack, with a midfield designed to pinch possession and feed a target man – mostly regularly the underrated New Zealand striker Chris Wood, who usually features as part of a traditional ‘big man, little man’ strike partnership. Dyche’s side is somewhat disrupted presently, with Burnley having seven starters on the treatment table at the moment.
This includes top scorer Wood and former Fulham academy graduate Johann Berg Gudmundsson, the Icelandic winger, who scored one of Burnley’s goals in their impressive 3-0 win at Crystal Palace last weekend. The injury list extends to both of Burnley’s natural left backs, in former Leeds defender Charlie Taylor and Dutch full-back Erik Pieters, and – perhaps most importantly – centre half Ben Mee. The commanding Mee, who will miss the Fulham game through the concussion protocols after sustaining a head injury at Selhurst Park, is a leader who forms a formidable partnership with former Brentford defender James Tarkowski at the heart of Dyche’s first choice back four. Burnley lost five of the six games he has missed this season, conceding twelve goals. In the period that Mee was out of the side, Burnley have lost 45.5% of their total eleven defeats this season and conceded 41.4% of the 29 goals they’ve let in.
Burnley sit deep, soaking up pressure and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake before counterattacking via a midfield designed to win the ball back then quickly transition the play up to a big target man, who either takes a shot himself or knocks it onto his smaller counterpart. The classic ‘big man, little man’ 4-4-2 playing style.
However, Burnley’s starting line-up is currently somewhat disturbed, with the Clarets having 7 players on the treatment table at the moment. This includes their top scorer, Chris Wood, as well as Johann Gudmundsson, the Icelandic winger who scored in Burnley’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday. The list of injured players also includes both of the Claret’s natural left-backs, Charlie Taylor and Erik Pieters, and, perhaps most critically, centre back Ben Mee.
Ben Mee, who sustained a head injury against Crystal Palace, is one of Burnley’s most important players. Not only does he often captain the side, but he also forms one half of a strong defensive partnership with James Tarkowski – a duo at the heart of a defence that constantly outperforms its XGA. In fact, to show Mee’s true value to Burnley, Burnley lost 5 of the 6 games that he has missed this season and conceded 12 goals in these 6 games. This means that in these 6 games in which he has been absent, Burnley have lost 45.5% of their total 11 losses this season and conceded 41.4% of the total 29 goals that they have conceded so far.
Burnley’s predicament this season is largely a result of their relatively poor displays at home. Turf Moor has a reputation as something of a fortress but the Clarets have lost five home matches already this year, conceding thirteen goals in eleven fixtures. They lost just seven at home throughout the entirety of last season – and there’s a strong case to be made that they are missing the atmosphere created by their boisterous home crowd. It might be the perfect time for Fulham to turn Turf Moor into a happy place at long last, but success will still be tough to come by. Parker will need to get his team selection spot on.
My initial thoughts were that this fixture appeared ideal for Aleksander Mitrovic, with pace not a prerequisite to beat Burnley’s deep defensive line and the Serbian’s physicality would have suited what could be something of a blood and thunder encounter. In light of Mitrovic’s untimely positive coronavirus diagnosis, Fulham should seek some continuity and stick with the 4-2-3-1 system that proved so successful against West Ham and, especially, Everton on Sunday. The visitors should set out to dominate possession again, using a number ten to unlock the home defence, which should be the perfect role for Ruben Loftus-Cheek – even if he’s still struggling to find his shooting boots!
My preferred Fulham line-up would look like this:
I feel Ola Aina should remain at left back after an excellent display on Merseyside. The Nigerian international’s versatility is a real asset and he linked up encouragingly with his compatriots, displaying the understanding you would expect having operated alongside Tosin Adarabioyo for much of the season, but seeking to get beyond Ademola Lookman and supplying Josh Maja regularly. Aina was not only defensively solid, but he also added attacking penetration which Robinson looks to be lacking at present, with impressive dribbling down the left flank and consistently good crosses – he can also score from long range as shown by his impressive goal against West Bromwich Albion in November. Kenny Tete enjoyed an excellent game against Everton – suggesting that he is rediscovering his best form with strong tackles and he should offer an attacking threat down the opposite flank.
The other pressing question is whether to reintroduce Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa into the midfield. Initially, I considered this a no brainer as his strength and dribbling ability could be real assets against a more physical side. But, after careful consideration and a discussion with a few other Fulham fans, I’ve changed my mind. Although Mario Lemina was substituted against Everton, he was fantastic at Goodison Park and deserves an opportunity to continue his blossoming partnership with Harrison Reed in the centre of the park. Anguissa is best deployed as a segundo volante and, with a number 10 in the line-up, his individual creativity is reduced. Anguissa’s return might also inhibit Reed’s own attacking output, which is the last thing we need after the former Southampton midfielder’s man-of-the-match performance at the weekend. It is worth remembering that Anguissa has clearly been affected by Fulham’s coronavirus outbreak – and there will be plenty of opportunities for him to make a big contribution before the end of the season.
What do you think of this line-up? Can Fulham finally get a win at Turf Moor? Give us your insights below.
The opportunities to record season-salvaging runs are starting to run out. No rational Fulham fan would tip the Whites to beat Everton on Sunday, firstly, because Carlo Ancelotti’s side are a formidable Premier League outfit when on form and secondly because success would be history making. The Whites haven’t won at Goodison Park in half a century and, with just two wins in the league all campaign, it would a significant turn up for the books. So, how can Scott Parker’s charges end their thirteen match winless run and spring a surprise on Sunday?
First of all, lets take a look at Ancelotti’s side. The knowledgeable and experienced Italian, who has made such an impact since taking over at Everton, likes to set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which transitions into a 4-3-3 when on the attack. Everton’s side is built upon a solid backline, with former Manchester United trainee Michael Keane usually partnered with Colombian international Yerry Mena, forming a physical and defensively sound centre back duo who are capable of passing the ball out from the back. On either side of them are Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne, full-backs who are once again defensively solid but who also offer an attacking presence when going forward, providing a real threat from set plays and in crossing situations.
Ancelotti usually deploys two deep-lying midfielders in front of his back four, who are asked to win back possession and create opportunities from deep. Aboulaye Doucoure has become something of a permanent fixture since his move from Watford in the summer alongside either Tom Davies or Andre Gomes, who seem to rotate regularly. The classy and creative number ten is usually James Rodriguez, who still seems like a clever capture from Real Madrid and has posed problems for plenty of Premier League defences, but Ancelotti can also call upon Gylfi Sigurdssson if necessary.
Where Everton are now much more potent than in the past is in the final third. Richarlison offers a real threat venturing in from the left or operating alongside Dominic Calvert-Lewin, whose finishing has come on leaps and bounds under Ancelotti. Calvert-Lewin, who combines athleticism with excellent technique, is also a big threat in the air and Fulham don’t need to be reminded of Everton’s goal threat. In the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage, the Toffees scored classical counter-attacking goals but also found the net by simply passing their way through the Fulham midfield. Even if Scott Parker’s defence has improved since the start of the season, they will need to be at their very resilient best to come close to getting a result this weekend.
There is a twist in the tale as well. Calvert-Lewin was substituted during Everton’s epic FA Cup win over Spurs earlier this week with a suspected hamstring injury. The in-form forward is therefore unlikely to line up against the Whites this weekend. Step forward Josh King, the suspect of a very public tug of war between the two clubs on transfer deadline day before he opted to move to Merseyside. The stage is set for him to open his Everton account with the winner, isn’t it?
Countering Everton’s adventurous line-up and nullifying their wealth of talent is a serious challenge. Here’s how I think the Whites should line-up:
I would suggest that Parker reverts back to his 5-2-3 formation for this fixture, with the 4-2-3-1 system seemingly more suited to other upcoming fixtures such as Burnley, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace – which remain must-win matches if the Whites are to have any hope of avoiding the drop. Nobody could serious place Sunday’s game in that category, but Fulham will need to take something back to London with them and I believe that the five at the back is the best option as it eliminates a number of defensive vulnerabilities.
Fulham’s wing backs, well experienced in this formation by now, should be able to pin back Everton’s wingers – reducing the threat of the low crosses from which the Toffees scored twice at the Cottage. It would also help to prevent Everton’s wingers from being able to deliver any high balls into the box, meaning that any aerial vulnerability is limited. The three centre backs would also be able to outnumber any conventional Everton forwards, especially in Ancelotti’s preferred lone striker system. Deploying three centre backs should also help to cut out through balls from midfield, something Everton have thrived upon before.
Parker’s midfield pairing, which will likely be Anguissa alongside either Lemina or Reed, should also sit deep when defending, just in front of the central defenders. Ideally, this would prevent the Everton number ten, likely to be Rodriguez, from exploiting any space between the lines, inhibiting their creativity and cutting off the majority of the service to the centre forward. This should mean that Everton may have to resort to long shots, a riskier proposition that produces far less expected goals than shooting from within the 18-yard box.
Fulham should look to soak up the pressure and wait for Everton to make mistakes to win back the ball before counter-attacking with speed – a strategy that we have seen employed fairly successfully, especially when the Whites surprised Liverpool at the Cottage before Christmas. Whilst I have no magic fix for Fulham’s goal scoring problems, the recent return of Kenny Tete to the side should free up Decordova-Reid to once again become an attacking asset to the side, rather than one placed into a defensive role.
Another question is that is it time for Josh Maja to start? Nobody outside of Parker’s coaching staff can know just how well the new signing has progressed in training and if he is ready to start yet, it is surely worth the punt. Maja provides the pace that Cavaleiro does up top, whilst he should hopefully also be able to convert the chances that he is given, as a natural striker. Besides, even if it does go wrong, there is always the option of bringing a replacement off of the bench and giving Maja some more time to settle in.
Fulham must start winning games. I appreciate that Everton may seem a big task due to their quality. However, the performance against the Hammers, who are in better form and in a higher league position than the Toffees, shows that Fulham are capable but simply missing the final product. Time is running out for Fulham to really mount their survival challenge, with just 15 Premier League games remaining. Could a first win in 53 years at Goodison, and 13 Premier League games, kickstart the push for survival – similar to how Maja’s goal against Fulham in 2018/19 put the fire in the team’s belly to go 23 undefeated to earn a play off place? Could it be fate that a Josh Maja goal kickstarts a Fulham survival push?
How do you think that Fulham should line up at Goodison on Sunday?
Yesterday’s goalless draw with West Ham was ultimately another frustrating night for Fulham fans. Scott Parker’s side were the more dominant force over the ninety minutes but once again couldn’t put away their chances. Draws will do little to aid Fulham’s predicament at the wrong end of the table and we must be getting to the point where even the Whites’ manager will concede that upcoming fixtures fall into the must win category.
Parker did at least deviate from his preferred five at the back formation – for the first time in twelve weeks – preferring a back four and largely matching West Ham’s 4-2-3-1. The personnel chosen might not have been adventurous enough for many supporters, however, with Aleksandar Mitrovic benched and Josh Maja only named as a substitute as Ivan Cavaleiro returned as a lone striker. An element of caution might have been understandable, given the way West Ham had swept aside Aston Villa in an impressive away win in midweek, and it was encouraging that despite sacrificing a defender, Fulham restricted West Ham to just eight shots – only one of which forced a save from Alphonse Areola.
Even if the focus was on a higher press and shackling the likes of Jesse Lingard, Said Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen in the forward areas, Fulham were far more creative than in the recent reverse at the hands of Leicester. Ruben Loftus-Cheek had a much more effective game, operating as a number ten behind Cavaleiro, pulling the strings from a number ten role rather than operating out wide. The Chelsea loanee thrived in the pockets of space he found centrally, as he had against West Brom a couple of weeks ago, and helped the hosts enjoy more of the ball as Fulham had 61% possesion.
This might well have been eerily similar to the ‘Parkerball’ of our Championship promotion season, with lots of pretty passing in front of the opposition and, in the end, precious little end project. But Fulham did muster twenty shots in total and the familiar failing of not hitting the target looks like it will come back to haunt them at the end of the season. Only two tested Lukasz Fabianski in the West Ham goal and you wonder how look it will be before Parker operates with one of Maja or Mitrovic up front from the outset – or even pairs them together, given how big a threat Fulham looked once they were both sent on with ten minutes remaining. Mitrovic as a focal point would certainly give opposition defenders more to think about, even if he doesn’t possess the mobility that Parker probably desires in his main front man. It does feel like this system is crying out for a Callum Wilson-esque striker, one who combines pace with natural goalscoring ability and some experience of a top flight relegation battle.
Mitrovic’s major combination was getting Tomas Soucek sent off in the dying seconds. That incident went to VAR deep into stoppage time, with Mike Dean opting to dismiss the Czech midfielder after consulting the pitchside monitor even though the elbow didn’t appear intentional. The general consensus seems to be that the red card was harsh – something that Mitrovic seemed to tell both Dean and Soucek, despite staying on the floor after the incident. The Serbian striker certainly perked up Fulham’s attack, having a couple of shots drift wide within a couple of minutes of coming on, and laying on another glorious chance for Loftus-Cheek.
The law of averages suggests that some of these shots have to go in eventually, surely? Fulham missed out on Josh King, who came on as a late substitute in Everton’s thrilling draw at Old Trafford last night, on deadline day and Parker turned to Josh Maja late on, sending on the on-loan Bordeaux forward as they searched for a winner. The Nigerian international, back at the club where he spent some time as a teenager, still seems a little raw – but he linked the play impressively without really having a significant sight of goal and Maja will gradually get more game time as he steps up to match sharpness. Becoming more clinical up top is the final piece in Parker’s puzzle, as the manager conceded afterwards, and the forthcoming trips to Goodison Park and Turf Moor – two places where Fulham traditionally struggle – would be good places to put things right.
How do you think that Parker can solve this? Would a more adventurous approach pay dividends? And, what did you think of Soucek’s late red?
Scott Parker has shuffled his pack for tonight’s crucial clash with West Ham at Craven Cottage, but perhaps not in the way the Fulham fans had been hoping for. After a gloomy week in the relegation battle and Newcastle’s incredible victory with nine men against Southampton earlier this afternoon, it feels like a must-win London derby – even if Parker himself is still not comfortable with such a label. The Hammers head to south west London in fine form, having won five of their last six games, and Fulham’s 12-match winless run threatens to render their earlier improvement rather academic.
Fulham’s feeble capitulation against Leicester City in midweek has prompted changes in the starting line-up. Aleksandar Mitrovic has been confined to the bench again, with Ivan Cavaleiro returning. The Serbian talisman was rather anonymous against the Foxes even if Fulham didn’t play to his strengths. Parker might be wanting his side to play with less possession and hit West Ham on the break, utilising Cavaleiro as the man to get into behind the visitors’ back line – as they have successfully in the past this season. Perhaps restoring Mitrovic to the starting eleven was merely Parker’s plan B in a run of more winnable fixtures.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa is also dropped after a disappointing run of form in recent matches. The Cameroonian international had been a mainstay in Parker’s side since the early weeks of the campaign, with his powerful performances and breaking from midfield catching the eye of plenty of pundits and potential suitors. Anguissa hasn’t quite been the same dynamic presence since Fulham’s COVID outbreak, which could be the result of his own recovery from long COVID, which has affected the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Allan Saint-Maximin this season, or the heavy fixture schedule catching up with him. In any case, Fulham’s central midfield duo with be an ex-Southampton pairing of Harrison Reed and Mario Lemina.
Parker’s final change sees Bobby Decordova-Reid back in from the start with Ola Aina dropping to the pitch. It isn’t immediately determinable whether this means a switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation in place of Parker’s preferred five at the back, largely on account of Decordova-Reid’s versatility. The former Bristol City man has filled on at wing-back on either flank already this season but he may also be deployed in a far more attacking role, having become Fulham’s most reliable source of goals this term.
I would suggest that a 5-3-2 set up is more likely with Areola in goal, Decordova-Reid at right wing back, a trio at central defence of Kenny Tete, Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo. The American international Antonee Robinson should start in his natural left wing back berth with Lemina and Reed in central midfield. Ahead of them is Ademola Lookman on the left wing, Ruben Loftus-Cheek will start from the right flank and Cavaleiro through the middle as Fulham balance trying to solve their toothlessness in front of goal with nullifying the Hammers.
How do our opponents line-up?
David Moyes has made just one change from the impressive win over Aston Villa in midweek, with former Fulham favourite Ryan Fredericks replaced by Jared Bowen, who has a habit of scoring at Craven Cottage. The Hammers should line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with an unchanged back line, with Fabianski in goal, Coufal at right back, a central defence duo of Dawson and Ogbonna and Cresswell at left back.
Their double pivot of Rice and Soucek also remains unchanged, as their good performances their season have been the key to West Ham’s good form with the Czech currently leading the Hammers’ scoring charts with eight league goals, a considerable feat from a deep central-midfield role. Loanee Jesse Lingard once again starts, after bagging a brace at Villa Park, looking to carry on his impressive start in claret and blue. Ex-Brentford flyer Said Benramah and Bowen start on the wings, providing a menacing attacking threat, with Miguel Antonio up front. The England international’s pace and goalscoring ability poses serious danger this evening – even if he was once a more natural winger himself.
This is a massive test for Fulham, and one where many are saying the Whites must take points if they want to survive come the end of the season. What do you think of the line-up tonight?