Out Gunned but Still Standing

 

It’s not long after the final whistle brought the misery to an end at Craven Cottage. It’s never nice losing at home, especially when another second half collapse saw us go from being in the game at 1-1, to being simply humiliated. It’s very easy to succumb to all out negativity after that sort of defeat and I’m not going to shy away from the bad parts of today, and our season so far, but I’ll also not ignore the positives.

Negatives

  1. Relying on Christie is asking for problems – He tries really hard, but Cyrus Christie is just so out of his depth. He is so focused on attack (and often doesn’t even get that right), that he leaves massive gaps behind him which welcomes opportunities for the opposition. Le Marchand bailed him out a few takes at 0-0 with some last-ditch tackles when Christie hadn’t even slightly gotten back to defend. I worry about playing him going forward, but maybe Fosu-Mensah will be back after the international break.
  1. One half team – There have been so many games this season were we have looked awful one half, but really good the other and today was a prime example of that. We did really well in the first half, but collapsed in the second. It was the same against Everton, while it was the first half were we barely showed up against Watford only for us to save it in the second. No team anywhere in the world will be able to get away with only showing up for one half of football. We have to be able to stay in games or else teams will just pick us off like Arsenal did today and like Everton did last week. I don’t know if it is a fitness thing or what, but whatever it is, it needs addressed.
  1. Slavisa’s subs – Today the decision to bring Kamara on was mind boggling. Ream I honestly think would have come off anyway as we need to ease him in after a back injury but to bring him off for Kamara was strange. I get that we then changed formation, but surely Floyd Ayite is a better option? I can’t criticise too much as I think Slav’s substitutions this year have been good (think Odoi at Watford as a prime example) but today there isn’t really any justification.
  1. Questions over Bettinelli – I have always been a firm defender of Marcus Bettinelli, but I can’t do that today. While some of the goals he couldn’t have done much about, a few certainly should have been handled better. It’s also getting to the stage that I’m questioning his organisation of the players in front of him as we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. He has to take some responsibility for that. However, the responsibility can’t land at his feet and his feet only. It must be a nightmare trying to organise different players every week, and when your right wing back is nowhere to be seen, the gaps were like the splitting of the Nile at times. Hopefully his time with England this week will give him some confidence going into the games after the international break.

Positives

  1. Sessegnon is adjusting – One of the things I was most excited about this season was seeing what Sessegnon was able to do in the Premier League. The expectation on the youngster’s shoulders was carried very well last season, but he started this season quietly. However, I’ve been very impressed with him recently, and I think today was his best performance all season. That might sound daft considering the scoreline, but he coped very well, for the most part, in the attacking threat Arsenal had on the left. He won a number of foot races with the dangerous Hector Bellerin, and his decision making on when to go forward, go inside or stay back was right nearly every time. I’m not sure if Slavisa Jokanovic will go for a back three again, but if he does I think we can be quite optimistic about Sessegnon playing at LWB.
  2. We are still giving teams something to think about – There is no doubt that we were in the game at half time and at times during the first half we were playing the better football. It was the same at Wembley against Spurs when after we scored our goal we looked more likely to be the team taking the lead, but for Trippier to score a trademark free kick. And against Palace I thought we were very unfortunate to come away with nothing. While the rate of conceding is alarming, it wouldn’t be fair today that teams are better than us man to man. With defensive improvement we could push up the league.2. So many players are due back from injury – We have played a different back line in every game this season, and that is simply not OK, but we haven’t been helped by injuries to the defence particularly. I don’t believe for a second that Ream’s withdrawal at 2-1 down today was tactical, as he needs to be eased back in after a back injury. While I think the decision to bring Kamara on was flawed, I think Ream would have been coming off anyway. Alfie Mawson has a lot of potential, but also clearly isn’t ready. He really should be our main CB, but it won’t happen until he is fit. Then last week we lost both Joe Bryan and Timothy Fosu-Mensah and there is just nothing we can do about that other than nurse them back to health ASAP. While some of the chopping and changing has been a choice, a great deal of it has been injury induced. We also badly need Tom Cairney to get fit. It is so evident that when he is missing we lack a leader in midfield who has a bit of discipline about him.
  3. While our rate of conceding is bad, we have played Spurs, City, Everton and Arsenal this season – Conceding 21 goals in eight games is never going to be OK, but I don’t believe that it requires a meltdown considering who we have played. Teams are going to concede goals to Spurs and City away, while Arsenal are lethal going forward. Yes, I’d rather we kept it down, but we have to be realistic and remember that an injury ridden defence is going to be delicious prey for attackers like Kane, Moura, Sterling, Silva, Lacazette and Aubameyang. We may have helped them along the way, but it takes something special for a full 90 minutes to keep them out.

So while today wasn’t pretty, there are still reasons for us to be positive. The three games after the international break are crucial, and maybe after them we will have a better idea of how this team is adjusting to life in the Premier League.

#COYW

Arsenal Thoughts

October is my favourite month of the year. I suppose it stems from the fact that my birthday is in October, but I have also always loved the colours of the trees at the this time of the year, and the fireworks at the end of the month. In Northern Ireland we don’t celebrate Guy Fawkes night, but we do have fireworks etc on Halloween night, so I always associate October with birthdays and fireworks. Last year Fulham really put a dampener on my normally high spirits in October with four lacklustre displays and therefore four disappointing results. We scrapped draws against Preston and Wigan at home, while we were beaten comfortably by both Aston Villa and Bristol City. It had already been a poor start to the season, and a fair few fans had already started to believe that promotion wasn’t a realistic target. Fast forward a few months, and Fulham were smack-bang in the middle of a push up the table, showing that a slow start isn’t the end of the world.

We have started slowly this season with just the one win so far from our seven games and 16 goals conceded. It doesn’t look great on paper, but it could also look a lot worse. We have to remember that Fulham have started the past few seasons relatively slowly, and have then ended up doing very well. We have had to deal with a massive jump up in quality as well as integrating so many new players into our club. I fully believe that we will have a good run of results soon and that the performances will improve as the players adjust to the league so we just have to hang in there and continue to support the team.

It would be amazing to start October with a win, but it will be extremely difficult against an Arsenal side who have won eight games on the bounce in all competitions. It’s a new era for Arsenal under Unai Emery, but the Spaniard seems to be settled in well at the Emirates with his side sitting 5th in the table after a real rocky opening few matches. They will have to overcome some European jetlag after their trip to Qarabag in Azerbaijan, but as it was a much changed side in the week, we shouldn’t count on the same levels of tiredness that Burnley had back in August.

We have a reasonably good record against Arsenal at home, with three wins, a draw and four defeats in our last eight games against them in the league. While this isn’t ground-breaking, it’s decent enough form for us against a traditionally much stronger club. Could Fulham repeat the wins of 2012, 2008 or 2006 this Sunday?

While Arsenal are on a rich run of form, we should note that they have only kept two cleansheets in the league this season. With Petr Cech looking like he might miss out because of an injury sustained last week, there could be a real opportunity for our front three to have a productive game. At the other end of the pitch, however, we will have to be weary of a side who have 14 goals already this season. Our defence has been our weakest point this year, and we will be without Joe Bryan and Timothy Fosu-Mensah for certain after the pair were forced off last week injured. I’d imagine that Ryan Sessegnon will revert to left back with Cyrus Christie on the right. I thought Christie was really poor last week, so hopefully we see some improvement this time around.

We have missed a fit Tom Cairney over the past few games, and I absolutely think that he makes the difference for us in midfield. While I agree that Seri is probably the best player to wear a Fulham shirt for years, I think we have missed Cairney’s awareness and knowledge of the English game in there. Hopefully we see him start on Sunday.

#COYW

Hammyend Player of the Month – September

As months go, September wasn’t particularly fruitful for Fulham. Five games played, two defeats, two draws and our solitary victory coming in a Carabao Cup match against Millwall at the Den. Before the season started I had been hoping for wins against Brighton and Watford (I hadn’t expected Watford to start quite as well as they did) while Manchester City was always going to be a bit of a free hit and Everton? Well, we never have a good time there, do we?

With the team not exactly covering themselves in glory it wasn’t easy picking out four players to even be nominated for September’s prize, but the team have come up with their suggestions, so here goes.

Marcus Bettinelli

Our number one always seems to split opinion, but I consider us very fortunate to have a player who is playing for the club that he loves. It’s very telling that after the defeats away to Manchester City and Everton that it was the two players to come from the academy who spent the longest applauding the fans. But onto the football. You could argue that it hasn’t been a great month for Betts as he has had to pick the ball out of his net nine times, but he also arguably saved us from defeats in both the Brighton and Watford games. He saved a penalty at Brighton while it could have been game over by half time against Watford if it wasn’t for a number of key saves. Slav even handed him the armband in the absence of both Cairney and McDonald from the starting team on Saturday, and while I’m not a big fan of keepers as captains, it shows a great deal of faith in him from the gaffer.

Aleksandar Mitrovic

I would imagine that it will be hard to keep Mitrovic out of these nominations in any month. This time around Mitro has scored twice including the equaliser against Watford. He was the main threat throughout the second half and is constantly showing why it was a stroke of genius from Jokanovic to give him a chance with us. He has the most shots on target in the league, alongside Mo Salah, and is sitting second in the race for the Golden Boot with five goals to his name. The player snubbed by Newcastle on his own has more goals than his former club in the league. Championship player, will never make it in the Premier League, eh?

Luciano Vietto

What a breath of fresh air the Argentinian has been in a month of otherwise uninspiring displays from the team. At first I thought that he had been quite wasteful against Watford, but looking back on it it’s becoming a habit of his to be involved in pretty much everything about Fulham’s attack. Despite looking quite skinny, he has great strength that so often sees him surrounded by players but able to keep the ball and start an attack. I do think that his decision making in the final third needs improvement, but he is constantly causing headaches for defenders. He grabbed the assist for Mitrovic’s equaliser taking his total to three for the season, third overall in the league. I fully expect more to come from him in the coming months.

Luca De La Torre

Normally I’d rather have players who have played more than once at least for us in the Player of the Month nominees, but with it being slim pickings this month, there was space for players with just the one appearance. What a performance we had from Luca De La Torre against Millwall in the cup. An assist either side of his first goal for the Whites meant that he was involved in every goal that night. We don’t really have another player at the club who can play in that number ten role so it will be interesting to see if he can do enough to get a chance in the league. He has been at the club for quite a while now, but is one who many have been excited about, and with good reason. He has the vision and the energy to be a very useful player for us, and his performance against Millwall was enough to see him get a mention in these nominees.

So there you have it, your four nominees. The poll this month will be held entirely on twitter so make sure that you cast your vote.

Plotting an end to Goodison Grief

To say that Fulham have a poor league record against Everton at Goodison Park would be an understatement. We have had 26 league games away to Everton across the Premier League and the old Division One and Division Two and have managed no wins, four draws and an embarrassing 22 defeats. In that time we have also conceded a massive 62 goals and have only scored 17 ourselves. I’d imagine that we couldn’t possibly have a worse record against any other club on the road! We have beaten Everton at Goodison Park twice in the FA Cup but the last time that happened was on route to Wembley when we made the final back in 1975. There have been so many games without a win between then and now, so it doesn’t exactly bode well, does it?

But let’s not worry too much about the history side of things. Slavisa Jokanovic will probably be made aware of the dreadful run we are on at Goodison, but he will be ensuring that his players look forward and not behind. This past year we have ripped up the history books so hopefully we can do it again on Saturday.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Fulham at the minute. We play some brilliant stuff at times, but we also have moments of complete brain freeze, moments that have seen us concede in the opening two minutes of our last two league games, or going from 2-nil up to drawing 2-2 against Brighton. Last weekend against Watford it was like two entirely different teams turned up in each half, and if we continue like this we won’t last in this league. However, I don’t think we will keep that sort of form up. I fully believe that we are still adjusting to life in the Premier League and that a good run of form is just around the corner. We have players in our side who can change any game, we just need to sort the defence out and then I reckon we will be able to cause some upsets around the league.

A game away to Everton is never going to be easy, but it’s a good time to face them given their own defensive difficulties this season so far. Like Fulham, they are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league and have also chopped and changed their defence for every game. We know only too well what that is like, and I’d imagine that Mitrovic, Vietto and Schurrle are licking their lips at the prospect of facing a leaky defence. There doesn’t seem to be much between us in a lot of the stats; they have conceded 11 goals to our 13 and both have scored 8 goals. However, Fulham are 500 odd passes better off, so hopefully we can use that to good affect on Saturday.

Everton have a fair few danger men in their side too, with Richarlison the obvious one. There were a lot of eye brows raised across the footballing world when we left Watford for Everton in a deal worth £50million, but he already has three goals in four games this term. There is also the issue of Gylfi Sigurdsson. While the Icelandic midfielder’s move to Spurs back in 2012 might not have been massively successful, I still remember being at the game against Swansea just before that move and Sigurdsson was fantastic. He scored two that day and completely ripped us apart. At £50 a ticket to sit in the Johnny Haynes stand to watch a 3-0 defeat to Swansea, it was a head in hands moment for my Dad.

Both sides have been poor defensively but with a fair amount of joy going forward, so I think we can expect a really exciting game tomorrow. Fulham have to cut out the mistakes, especially at the start of both halves. Alfie Mawson is out, and I can’t see Tim Ream being thrown in to a Premier League game but it will be interesting to see whether or not MLM is recalled to the side. I’d expect Denis Odoi to be recalled after his game changing performance in the second half last week, while no one but Jokanovic will know whether Joe Bryan or Ryan Sessegnon will get the nod at LB. I can’t see Slav going for a 3-5-2 in the PL so expect us to revert to a 4-4-3, but with the RB and LB being given freedom to roam.

Can we put our Goodison curse to bed? Can our defence hold out for more than 90seconds? Who will play in defence for Fulham? So. Many. Questions. But one thing we can be sure of is yet more drama. I’m going to be bold with my prediction and say that the curse will end with a dramatic 3-2 win with Mitrovic bagging a brace and Ryan Sessegnon getting his first PL goal. Magic.

#COYW

Next one up – Watford (H)

The great thing about football is that there is always the next game. At City last week we spent the majority of the game chasing shadows, and while that will be the same story for may sides who visit the Etihad this season, it’s still a memory that I want to eradicate quite quickly! So we move on to Watford tomorrow, a match which both sides will feel that they can win and bounce back from their respected defeats last weekend.

Watford started the season unbelievably well, with the win over Spurs particularly impressive. They have scored ten goals already this season, bettered only by Liverpool and Manchester City. They will also count themselves very unlucky to have lost on Saturday evening against Manchester United, but their second half display just came too late having already been 2-0 down. They are a strong team, and one that shouldn’t be underestimated.

If there is one man who isn’t going to underestimate Watford, it’s got to be Slavisa Jokanovic. Having guided the Hornets to automatic promotion back in 2015, Jokanovic and Watford failed to agree on contract terms and the two parted ways in rather frustrating fashion for both parties. So maybe there will be an added sting (pardon the pun) to this game as Jokanovic faces his old side for the first time since leaving.

It’s fair to say that Jokanovic surprised us all with his team selection last weekend, and while none of Stefan Johansen, Ryan Sessegnon at left back and Denis Odoi played badly, I’m hoping to see some changes tomorrow morning. I have no idea what Joe Bryan has done to deserve to be put out of the team after his brilliant displays against Palace, Spurs and Burnley. Hopefully we see him back there tomorrow. In terms of centre backs, I’d like to see Maxime Le Marchand partner Mawson this week. MLM was my surprise package in the first few games, but it all fell apart a bit when he was moved to left back against Brighton. He is much better in the centre and until Ream is fit again, I think a Mawson-MLM partnership is the way to go.

With Cairney out again tomorrow, I’d have Anguissa alongside McDonald and Seri. I have no doubt that the midfield battle will be key tomorrow, so it’s important that Jokanovic makes the right call with his choices. Anguissa looked very impressive again against City last week when he came on and while Seri was at fault for the first goal, I have no doubt that he will bounce back from that against Watford.

I’m expecting a lot of chances for both sides tomorrow so it could come down to whose attackers are more on the ball. He was an isolated figure last weekend but I feel like this is the sort of game that Mitrovic absolutely thrives on, especially in front of a home crowd. His four goals this season have him joint second in the goal scoring charts, while his shot count is only bettered by Sergio Aguero. We have a player here who is hungry for goals and thankfully Fulham have given him the perfect platform to perform on. At the other side of the pitch our defender will have the difficult job of keeping Andre Gray and Troy Deeney quiet. Deeney reminds me a little bit of Mitrovic in terms of his tenacious attitude on the pitch, and he is a player who seems to always be in the middle of the action. While he only has two goals this season he is still a player to be wary of. Another player to watch out for is Jose Holebas. The defender has an impressive four assists and a goal already to his name this season so is without a doubt one of Watford’s danger men.

This won’t be an easy game but I think Fulham are due a performance tomorrow. Watford are dangerous, there is no doubt about it, but I think that we have the stronger midfield, and if we win that battle, then we will create more chances which Mitrovic is primed and ready to put away. I have a good feeling about this one.

#COYW