Five Game Assessment

It’s always hard to assess how a manger is doing when he takes over a sinking ship. That’s what we had last season when Scott Parker took the reins from Claudio Ranieri with the club needing more than a miracle to stay up. Parker brought back a sense of togetherness, and allowed the team to at least bring some joy to the banks of the Thames. I think the majority of fans were willing to give Parker a summer transfer window and the start of the season before jumping to any conclusions about him. But now, five league games into the season, we are beginning to see what Parker’s Fulham really looks like.

In terms of matches, we have had a relatively simple start to the league – or at least it SHOULD have been relatively simple. OK, there are no easy games in the Championship, but we haven’t yet come up against any of the leagues’ heavy weights such as West Brom or Leeds. Performance wise, things have certainly been mixed. I was there at Barnsley when we had an absolute disaster of an opening game and I can tell you that I was worried about Parker’s tactical awareness. We have a very strong side capable of hurting teams, but we got the game plan completely wrong. Contrast that to our game against Millwall were we played some of the most beautiful football seen this season in an empathetic 4-0 victory under the lights at the Cottage. Before that we also had a comfortable home win over Blackburn before beating Huddersfield at the John Smith Stadium.

What have we learned?

Parker clearly likes to play a fast paced, passing game with full-backs who attack high. We hold a lot of possession, switch the play constantly and put a lot of balls into the box. A lot of our goals have come from wingers or full backs making it to the back line and cutting the ball back for someone to prod home. We also push a lot of players forward meaning that we over load opposition boxes making it really difficult for teams to clear the ball. And with players like Mitrovic, Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Reid and Cairney we should score a lot of goals this season.

However, our style of play comes with a great deal of risk. As we saw on Saturday past, and on many occasions under Slavisa Jokanovic last year, that one miscued pass can allow an opposition team to cut through and be left with a one-on-one with our keeper. Our defence sits very high when we are in possession, so it’s a lot of pressure on those players to get it right. If we continue this then we might turn some teams over, but we will surely be on the end of some bad defeats as well. We also need to be careful that we don’t become a team with a single way of playing. On Saturday against Nottingham Forest we attempted 45 crosses with only 10 of them going to a Fulham player. Our goal came from when we finally kept the ball on the deck, but I really don’t know why it took us so long to try that.

My other worry is that Parker finished the game with no apparent system. I don’t believe for a second that putting every attacking player we had on the bench onto the pitch was plan B, it looked more to me that there wasn’t another plan so we just went into kamikaze mode. We essentially had no formation for the last 10 minutes after taking our right back off for a left winger. Parker had already taken Johansen, a centre midfielder, off for Bobby Reid, a striker. There was nothing coherent about how we finished the game, and that does worry me about Parker’s ability to come up with a plan B. Maybe I’m being harsh, but in any league around the world you have to be able to adapt your tactics according to each game, not just throw on a load of attacking players which results in losing your shape.

We come up against Cardiff on Friday night, and while they haven’t had a great start, we know only to well what a Neil Warnock team can do. They are tough and will sit back, so Parker will need to think about how he approaches this. I really like a lot of what Parker has brought back to Fulham. The team are passionate and they look like they care massively about the fans, but I’m hoping that we start to see more from Parker tactically speaking.

#COYW

Arise, Sir Steven

I’m sure many of you had a brother or sister growing up- but if you didn’t, let me describe it to you. I was one of four, and EVERYTHING was a competition in my house. Particularly with my younger brother as we were only 18 months apart, everything from tying shoe laces to eating dinner was completed with a highly competitive edge. It was carnage at times! I’d imagine that the rivalry between siblings is only intensified when you are a twin, so I’m sure there were some battles inside the Sessegnon house when Ryan and Steven were growing up. I reckon the twins loved getting one over on the other in a friendly way, but I also reckon that both boys spurred each other on, encouraged each other and essentially made each other better players.

However, while I think that the twin dynamic has benefitted the boys, I’d imagine that sometimes it must have been tough for Steven when he was watching Ryan take steps in his career at a quicker pace. What we have seen in public has been a real mutual respect and love between the boys, but I’m sure it wasn’t always easy, even if Steven has never shown it! He maybe felt in his twin’s shadow at times, but now it’s time for him to step out and make his own mark in the footballing world.

Many of us have been calling for Steven’s inclusion in the team for a year or so but apart from a few cup appearances, we were left frustrated. But finally, on a cold and windy night in the North West, exactly two years on from Ryan’s debut in the same league, we got to see Steven in action- and what a league debut he had. I was massively impressed with what I saw from him, particularly in aiding the attack. He maybe drifted to the left a bit more than we would want from a right back, but I don’t think that’s the position he has played most in so it’s OK to take some time to adapt. Like Ryan, he is a very hard worker, and also had to confidence to pass the ball around with pace. In attack he had the Huddersfield defence worried on several occasions and was very unfortunate not to come away from the match with an assist. Without his endeavour to get the ball into the box, we wouldn’t have clinched our second goal so he had a rea;;y positive impact on the result. He looks much more able in that position than Denis Odoi and Cyrus Christie so he should soon cement his place there.

It may have came two years after Ryan, but we all take our own routes in life and there is absolutely no shame in that. This is Steven’s time, and I’m buzzing to see what he has in store for us.

#COYW

Wafer Thin Fulham?

At the start of last week I was feeling cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. Tony Kahn and co seemed to have done excellent business in the transfer market without spending a penny and we were safe in the knowledge that two of our key men in Aleksander Mitrovic and Tom Cairney had committed their futures to the club. The additions of Antony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro have transformed our attack from worrisome to devastating for Championship defences. The season just couldn’t start quickly enough.

Fast forward one week and we find that the bubble of optimism is threatening to burst. I, like many Fulham fans, have been crying out for the addition of at least one defensive player. Our defence last season was diabolical and we now look to be entering another season with the same faces. Alfie Mawson should have been our knight in shining armour defensively speaking, but it seems that the mans knees are actually made of popcorn. Not ideal. While Bryan should be one of the best left backs in the Championship, I worry about the lack of cover there and Cyrus Christie, while he has his moments, is a bit of a liability. Odoi and Ream helped to get us promoted, but I fear that another season on while have impacted Ream’s legs. Let’s not forget that he has been on International duty for most of the summer.

Our midfield is also very light now that Seri and Anguissa have gone. Yes, we never for a second thought that Seri would be in a Fulham shirt this year, but I had hoped that Anguissa would stay and fight for the cause. I honestly believe that he could have been incredible in the Championship, but I guess if he didn‘t want to stay then our hands were tied. So we are left with Cairney, Johansen and McDonald. The three men who so brilliantly helped us on our promotion run 2 seasons ago. It’s important that they remain as part of the soul of the squad, but I never anticipated us not bringing in some cover for them, or players to challenge. Let’s not forget how crucial Norwood was that season. I worry about the fitness of all three senior midfielders going forward. We have a number of youth players who are talented enough to hold court when needed, but I’m still not happy that we haven’t brought in another experienced head there. The Championship is a long and gruelling season with a lot of midweek fixtures. Rotation is key for this, so to be looking pretty thin defensively and in midfield, has made me nervous.

Let me make something clear, I still believe that there is a lot of talent in this squad, and am fully expecting us to get off to a strong start next week, but without players to rotate, we could find ourselves in some bother. The Leeds of last year are a prime example of this. Bielsa’s high intensity game plan may be suffocating for other teams to try and play against, but there is only so long a group of payers can keep it up for if the team isn’t being rotated. I’d have hoped that we’d have brought in a few more numbers to help with this.

There is still time left so no one should be anywhere near full scale panic mode yet, but hopefully the powers that be have identified targets and are in a position to bring them to Motspur Park soon.

Just six days to go!

COYW

The Inside Scoop – Ivan Cavaleiro

The news of Ivan Cavaleiro’s arrival from Wolves was welcomed with both excitement and relief. We know only too well how difficult the Championship is as a league, so we needed to improve our squad before the season starts. With Ryan Sessegnon rumoured to be leaving and with question marks over players like Jean Michael Seri and Frank Zambo Anguissa we have a number of holes to fill. Cavaleiro is exactly the sort of player we need and should fit in nicely beside Mitrovic in the front line.

But instead of listening to me harp on about him, why don’t you read what a Wolves fan has to say. My friend and colleague Sylvie Devaney is a Wolves season ticket holder, so I decided to send a couple of question her way to help us get a picture of what we can expect from our new man.

What sort of player is Cavaleiro?

Cav mainly plays as a winger and works best linking up in a strong front three. He’s also capable of playing on either flank. Sadly, he didn’t get as much playing time for us in the Premier League as he did in the Championship (likely because Jota and Jimenez linked up so well and changes in formation), but he is a really strong attacking player and one of his greatest qualities is his pressing ability. Whether that’s always pressing for a goal or pressing the opposition to win the ball back, he works so hard.

What will you miss most about him?

A lot of things! It’s been kind of an odd two weeks for the club as Cav and Costa (both integral in our journey back to the Prem) joined Wolves around the same time and they’re both leaving around the same time too! If I had to pick just one thing, I’d say I’ll definitely miss his ability to have such a big impact off the bench, he was a great super sub for us last season and always a good option to have in the team. He has the ability to completely change games.

What’s your favourite Cav moment from his time at Wolves?

His first Premier League goal! It was at home against Southampton and Cav came on off the bench to make his league debut. He received the ball for his first ever touch in the Premier League and smashed it into the net! I think it was something like 90 seconds after he came on and it was such an amazing moment. It’s moments like that that show exactly what he’s capable of!

#COYW

The Case Against Aboubakar Kamara

With the news that Aboubakar Kamara looks like he may be returning to Motspur Park I’ll set out my arguments as to why the club should be exercising caution. My colleague Max Cohen has already given you the reasons why he thinks that he should be welcomed back with open arms but, as with anything, we need to look at both sides of the argument.

  • Basic Skills – Kamara was an unknown quantity when he signed for Fulham two summers ago but it didn’t take very long for us, and the players around him, to realise that this is a player who has a lot of improving to do regarding basic football skills. His first touch at times was shockingly bad and his decision making at key moments leaves a lot to be desired. Some say that he has a raw talent that needs to be nurtured, others say that he is still young so could still come good. But can we really rely on this? I’d like to think that a player with raw talent would show some improvement in two years rather than being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. His actual footballing ability for me is low and while his pace and strength are good attributes, he needs to be able to do the basics. Too often when Kamara gets the ball he sends it 5 metres to the left of where he meant to with his first touch, and I’m not sure if I can cope with another season of that.
  • Discipline – Kamara’s discipline is possibly the weakest part of his game. He fouls a lot, dives a lot and generally forces himself to walk the tightrope every game that he plays. I don’t know about you, but I’m genuinely nervous when he plays for us. The dive in the play-off semi final at the Cottage is a prime example of this. To be going in for a challenge and actively deciding that you are going to dive is blatant cheating and I don’t want it at Fulham. There is a difference between going down expecting contact and just trying to con the referee. He did it again against Bournemouth last season and it was clear as day for everyone to see. He also picks up yellow cards reasonably frequently and can be easily wound up by opponents. He is an accident waiting to happen, and we don’t need that going into a campaign were we are aiming for promotion.
  • Yoga/penalty/common assault – Aboubakar Kamara is more trouble than he is worth – both on and off the pitch. I’ve already touched on the diving but we don’t need to look much further for on-field indiscipline than the infamous penalty incident at home to Huddersfield. When your side is in the middle of a relegation battle, you don’t put your own goals target over the needs of the team. What he did that day was embarrassing and very nearly cost us points in our battle to stay up. Then we have a wealth of incidences off the pitch, from going to other games instead of supporting the team in a relegation battle, to the apparent fight with Mitrovic at a team yoga session. And when ordered to stay away, Kamara was arrested at Motspur Park for suspicion of ABH and criminal damage when he tried to get in. Do we seriously want a character like this in the dressing room as we seek to return to the Premier League?

All in all, I think that we could do much better. Want pace, power and a team player? Albert Adomah could be picked up on a free after being released by Villa. For me Kamara is too much trouble and I don’t think we need him disrupting the dressing room.