Thoughts on Marcus Bettinelli

Yesterday’s result was for me the most disappointing of the season. That might seem a strange thing to say given that West Brom are, on paper, the best team that we have played against this season and will undoubtably be fighting for promotion come May. But with how the game went, I can only come away frustrated and disappointed. We were in complete control of the game against a very strong side, but have handed the Baggies a draw away from home on a plate. We have to learn from this, and quick if we want to stay within touching distance of the teams at the top.

The big talking point coming away from yesterday’s game, is whether or not we need a change between the sticks. Marcus Bettinelli hasn’t helped his cause so far this season. He has always been a decent shot stopper, but isn’t great in other areas. His distribution has constantly been called into question, and he is now making mistakes far too often, costing the team points. But before we start calling for his head, we need to look at things close up, and then look at things in from a wider perspective.

Close up-

Well it doesn’t look great, does it? A good corner into the right area, but why is he flapping at that? And why is he trying to claim a foul when Austin did what every front man in world football will do at corners? He just wasn’t strong enough, and his reaction has only made it worse. He has now come out and accepted the blame, and fair play to him for that, but really the mistakes need to be cut out.

However, while Betts made the error, there are a couple of other factors involved in this particular occasion. Firstly, why on earth do we not have a man in between Austin and Betts? For me, that’s a huge error in judgement from our defensive coaches if it was supposed to be like that. Of course West Brom are going to put Austin in there trying to put the keeper off, so why was Ream, or anyone not there to give him some sort of cover? Also, Mawson can’t come away from that scot free. He was supposed to be on Semi Ajayi, but he has let him run off him so easily. For a big lad, he sometimes doesn’t use his strength. So, while Betts has made the biggest error of all in this situation, he certainly wasn’t helped by his defence.

Wider perspective –

A lot of people won’t like this, but I think there are a vocal section of fans who don’t help the situation. At Barnsley away I was a couple of rows from the front and Betts was having abuse hurled at him from the word go. His distribution from the start was at it’s usual level, but a number of fans were on his back in a pretty abusive way straight away. This isn’t helping. Now, I know we have all paid hard earned cash to follow the team up and down the country so therefore have the right to express opinions, but for me there is a huge difference between that and just hurling abuse non-stop. If you honestly think that will encourage our players to up their game then you are mistaken. All it does is make the burden heavier and heavier, until someone will turn around and shout back, which is what I hear may have happened yesterday, although I can’t confirm that this. Another example is Cyrus Christie. When he came on against Nottingham Forest a few weeks ago we had some numpties booing him straight away. The guy looked terrified every time he got near the ball, and unfortunately as a fan base WE have to take some of the blame for that. It’s embarrassing.

I have no idea who we will start in goal against Sheffield Wednesday, but I do think that Rodak must be in with a chance. If Rodak does get the nod, then it should spur Betts on to up his game. Competition in that area of the pitch is important. But for us as fans, maybe it’s time to have a think about how we respond to whoever is on the pitch.


Back to Business

With the first international break of the season complete, it’s time to get our minds focused again on Fulham. We had just the four first teamers in action for their countries in Mitrovic, Ream, Sessegnon and Christie and it looks as though everyone has come away unscathed. We’ll find out tomorrow if we have any other injury concerns, but I think that Parker has a squad with a full bill of health. Harry Artur is suspended, though, so we know already that he won’t feature this weekend.

We have our toughest match of the season so far coming up on Saturday. At least on paper, that is. West Brom have always been a tough nut to crack and now, under the leadership of Slaven Bilic, we are up against a side vying for automatic promotion. They are unbeaten this season in the league with three wins and three draws putting them in fourth position in the table. Last time out they came back from two goals down against Blackburn to win 3-2, so we know that this team has a bit of metal about them. Encouragingly for us, though, they have failed to keep a clean sheet this season, so with our front three of Mitrovic, Cavaleiro and Knockaert we should be able to trouble a leaky defence.

We’ll have to look out for tricky winger Grady Diangana, on loan from West Ham. The England U21 international has scored three goals this season and is the sort of player who gives defenders headaches. He, alongside Charlie Austin and Kenneth Zohore, will give us something to think about. The Baggies squad has a tonne of experience and know-how at this level, so we will need to massively up our game from the draw in Cardiff if we are to get anything.

Winning this game would send out the message that we are going to be fighting at the right side of the table come May. It will hopefully give us a better idea of where we are as a squad under Parker’s management. If I’m honest, I don’t think we have seen the best of this Fulham squad yet. OK, the Millwall game was special, but we need to be playing consistently near that level if we are to go up. Everything went right for us that night, but we are going to have very few games were that is the case. We still seem to start games slowly which is something that we desperately need to get out of our system. With the talent in our squad other teams should be shaking in their boots with the prospect of facing us, but everyone knows that defensively we aren’t as solid as we could be. This gives other teams hope against us.

I suppose the biggest question at the minute for Parker to be pondering is who does he play in goal. Marcus Bettinelli has been a great servant for this club, but I worry at the amount of mistakes being made in goal. While I still think that he is just going through a slump, and is a much better keeper than what he is showing at the minute, I can completely understand the calls to let Marek Rodak, our very highly rated number two, have a chance. I think Parker will stick with Betts for now, but I’d imagine that he doesn’t have too many chances left.

As I’ve said before, this will be our biggest challenge of the season so far. Hopefully at 1430 on Saturday we can just enjoy the rest of the weekend’s football after watching Fulham romp to another win.


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.


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.


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!