Kerim Frei completed his first full training session with Fulham’s senior squad this morning as he continues to step up his recovery from a pelvis injury that has sidelined him for much of this season.
The Turkish international has started just two games for Martin Jol’s side this season due to a number of niggling injuries and has been out of action since Fulham’s third round FA Cup draw with Blackpool on January 5. The teenage winger, who is expected to be available for first team football again within the next fortnight, burst onto the scene last season with a string of eye-catching performances after making his first domestic start at Chelsea in the League Cup.
Frei, who spent a month on loan at Championship side Cardiff last October, will need to fight off challenges from Ashkan Dejagah, Damien Duff and Alex Kacaniklic to regain a place in Jol’s starting line-up. Jol is quoted as saying:
Frei has had a little problem with his abductor. That is awkward for a young guy. He’s an explosive player and it’s been irritating him for six months.
This was one of those defeats that brings you back to earth with a bump. After a morale-boosting point at Stamford Bridge in midweek, Fulham headed into a tough test against Tottenham believing they could match Andre Vilas-Boas’ men and Martin Jol’s team selection was certainly adventurous. Not for the first time in his Craven Cottage tenure, the Dutchman was perhaps too open against a top side – playing both Kerim Frei and Ashkan Dejagah from the start, although the hosts were certainly contributing to an even contest up until Mark Schwarzer let Sandro’s speculative shot from distance squirm through his body and into the net.
The dispiriting nature of Fulham’s meek surrender after Sandro’s strike will have perturbed Jol, who spoke afterwards of a loss of Fulham’s ‘fighting spirit’. Many of the basic mistakes that littered their display were worrying and the squad now have eight days to put things right down at Motspur Park prior to the visit of Newcastle United, another side struggling to recapture their scintilating early-season form, on Monday week.
Schwarzer: The Australian goalkeeper’s decline is now becoming noticeable. Now 40, Schwarzer has a definite difficulty in getting down to save shots hit low to his right – and should never have let Sandro’s effort get through his grasp – although Fulham stood off the Brazilian alarmingly to allow him the pop at goal from such a distance. Stood little chance with the two predatory finishes from Jermain Defoe, but the psychological damage from his earlier mistake was considerable. 5
Riether: Forced off after coming off worse following a clash with Clint Dempsey – having gamely tried to persevere despite spending some time on the sidelines clutching his rib. Fulham badly missed the German who has been one of their most consistent performers this season and it remains to be seen how much recovery time he’ll need. 6
Riise: Found it difficult to contain the lively Aaron Lennon and also struggled to raid forward effectively. The England winger did well to pen his opposite number back, but with Kerim Frei fading badly by the hour mark, Fulham could really have down with some impetus to be provided by their adventurous full-back. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes and will probably still be reflecting on the golden opportunity he spurned in front of goal at Stamford Bridge. The Norwegian was noticeably the only man to venture past the halfway line to applaud the fans following this dismal defeat. 6
Hughes: Unable to replicate his midweek excellence, although this wasn’t a disastrous display from the Northern Ireland centre back. Largely successful in keeping Defoe quiet for much of the contest, but the England striker showed his international class by taking the two clear openings he had in the space of five minutes. Looked comfortable in possession, but had limited ‘out ball’ options due to a lack of movement in front of him. 6
Senderos: The Swiss has swiftly become the scapegoat for every poor performance and, although he was well below his Stamford Bridge levels, so were many other Fulham players this afternoon. Competed well in the air, but gave the ball away far too regularly and his two poor decisions cost Fulham dear. He opted to try and jockey Gilfyi Sigurdssson, but the substitute skipped away from him on his way to byline to cross for the second goal and, five minutes later, Senderos’ late decision to push up having failed to track Defoe’s run allowed the Spurs striker through on goal. Disappointing. 5
Diarra: Still looks short of match sharpness – and the worry is that the Malian midfielder will only be approaching his peak performance levels by the time he’s set to represent his country at the Africa Cup of Nations. He was combative enough in the midfield area, flooring Clint Dempsey early on with one fiesty tackle that delighted the boo boys, but too often chose the wrong option when in possession. Struggled to dictate the game against Spurs’ efficient duo of Sandro and Dembele. 6
Sidwell: Another whole-hearted performance from the man who’s quickly become the heartbeat of the side. Looked lively and, as a Londoner, understood the importance of another local derby. Played at a tempo that was missing from the rest of the side, but was often involved in an uphill struggle, battling to retrieve possession. Might have put Fulham in front with a little bit more guile and pace when released by a brilliant Berbatov pass in the early stages – and maybe that would have made for an altogether happier afternoon. 7
Dejagah: Given an opportunity to reprise his energetic effort against Arsenal last month and, although the Iranian started impressively, he couldn’t get the better of the outstanding Jan Vertonghen, who was filling in for Benoit Assou-Ekotto again at full-back. Full of running, Dejagah’s willingness to attack the Tottenham defence was commendable but he often opted to hold onto the ball or dribble past another man rather than retaining possession. It’s still early in his English adventure but this was a timely lesson about the importance of an end product. Had Frei converted his first-half cross things could have been very different. 6
Frei: For me whilst Frei is still finding his fitness, the teenager’s a far better option off the bench to run at tiring defences. He lifted a shot over from a promising position after Dejagah had been sent scampering down the right by another beautiful Berbatov flick, but faded badly thereafter. At 19 and having had so little time on the pitch this season, it’s harsh to be overly critical but the Turkish international too often took the ball into traffic and looked predictable after being nullified by Kyle Naughton. 5
Petric: Often a chance to press his claims for a permanent place in Fulham’s starting line-up, Petric struggled to get the ball in areas where he could hurt Tottenham in an almost carbon copy of his frustrating afternoon at Stoke a week ago. The Croatian, who couldn’t repeat his Hamburg heroics from a free-kick in a similar position at the Hammersmith End, looks a little more hesitant than he did at the start of the season, when he was taking shots from all angles, but there was no faulting his work rate on what became an infuriating afternoon. Expressed his disbelief at the heavy defeat following the final whistle on Twitter – and is likely to be sacrificed should Bryan Ruiz be fit to return against Newcastle. 6
Berbatov: Brilliant again against his former employers, but you have to wonder whether he’s becoming frustrated with those around him. Was Fulham’s creative hub in a fluent first half, playing two brilliant passes to send Sidwell and Dejagah surging forward, but his scornful look at the Iranian after he headed into the Hammersmith End in the second half said it all. Once again, Berbatov was forced to drop deeper to influence proceedings and found himself regularly running away from goal to retrieve the ball, thereby reducing the time he spent in space that could occupy Tottenham’s two centre halves. Looked horribly isolated without Bryan Ruiz creating space and pulling the strings behind him. 7
Kelly: Like Senderos against Sunderland, the Irish full-back’s been out of the first-team picture for so long it is harsh to judge his effectiveness on an unexpected early arrival caused by Riether’s injury. Did well to contain Gareth Bale – who would be far from your ideal opponent as a full-back looking to make an impression – but made the mistake of showing Sigurdssson inside a matter of minutes after he had replaced the Welsh winger. Five minutes later, he was caught horribly square by Dempsey’s through ball for Defoe as the England forward finished the contest clinically. 5
Duff: Kelly’s compatriot would have justified in his disappointment at being dropped after a diligent and effective display at Stamford Bridge, but being the consummate professional, Duff’s displeasure didn’t show. He made an immediate impact having been sent on for the fading Frei and was far more effective in running at Vertonghen than the teenager, although Defoe’s five-minute double rendered it all rather academic. For me, Jol got this selection wrong – and Duff will be desperate to start against his old club when Newcastle come to town. 6
Rodallega: The Colombian was offered ten minutes to pose a pacier problem for Tottenham’s back four than Fulham had managed previously, but the game was largely played in front of the visitors back four. 6
Fulham competed from first minute to the last at Stamford Bridge last night – and executed Martin Jol’s gameplan effortlessly. The Dutchman described the game as his ‘perfect scenario’ in his post-match Sky Sports interview and you could see what he meant. The Whites were quickly into their stride, taking advantage of the local discontent at the presence of Rafa Benitez in the home dugout, kept things tight at the back and looked dangerous on the break. So successful were Fulham that there’s more than a tinge of regret that the visitors couldn’t end their 33-year wait for a win at the Bridge.
Schwarzer: It was a measure of how surprisingly comfortable Fulham’s evening was that the Australian had very little to do. He fielded a speculative shot from Torres with consummate ease in the first half and was able to comfortably gather Ramires’ speculative stab from ten yards in the second half. The only time Schwarzer, who organised his defence expertly throughout, looked to be beaten the outstanding Aaron Hughes arrived to hook Torres’ shot clear from underneath his own bar. 7
Riether: The German’s fast becoming Fulham’s most reliable right back since Steve Finnan, even though he hasn’t yet matched compatriot Moritz Volz’s feat of scoring at Stamford Bridge. Riether was resolute in defence, seeing Eden Hazard substituted as Chelsea searched for a breakthrough, and was eager to surge forward. Had Mladen Petric not only just left the bench himself, the on-loan Cologne full-back might have made the winner. 8
Riise: Like Paul Konchesky before him, Riise will have to get over spurning a splendid chance to turn a creditable point into all three. Having galloped fully ninety yards to reach the Chelsea six-yard box, the away fans waited for Riise to finish a flowing break that began in Fulham’s own penalty area, but he failed to make a telling connection. Cech did well to save a deflected strike, but the left back’s wait for his first goal will go into a 57th game. Diligent defensively, but will wonder what could have been. 7
Hughes: Outstanding. Dependable. Flawless. Pick a glowing adjective and it will describe the Northern Irish centre back’s fautless display last night. In the absence of Brede Hangeland, Fulham’s centre halves needed to assert themselves against Fernando Torres and Hughes, for so long the unsung hero of this team, rose to the occasion. Rarely beaten in the air against a taller forward, Hughes was composed in cutting out the danger – twice blocking shots in his own box – before lunging to divert Torres’ effort to safety when it flashed worryingly across goal. 9
Senderos: The Swiss defender has a vocal band of detractors but his sins in a Fulham shirt have been difficult to identify. Having struggled on this ground in the past against Didier Drogba (who didn’t?), Senderos was exactly the physical presence Jol would have sought in the centre of his defence without Hangeland and didn’t put a foot wrong until added time, when a dreadful back header almost let in Ramires. The doubters should give Senderos, who has played two and a half games since April, credit for his part in a precious clean sheet. 7
Diarra: The Malian is such a key component of Jol’s team, with his ability to read the game, carry the ball forward and do the physical stuff, that even when he’s lacking match sharpness – as was clearly the case last night – he’s worth starting on the big nights. Diarra’s presence screening the back four denied the space Oscar and Hazard they craved, but he also forged a successful partnership with Steve Sidwell to keep the ball and dictate the tempo. Brought off as he started to tire after the hour. 7
Sidwell: It was fitting that Sidwell, who passed along the Fulham Road at the speed of a 211 on a non-matchday after a frustrating spell at Chelsea earlier in his career, produced his finest performance in a Fulham shirt at the home of his former employers. The ‘Ginger Iniesta’ scurried across midfield, timed his tackles impeccably, and was clearly up for the contest from the first whistle. He comfortably outfought Oriel Romeu and were it for not the excellence of Hughes, would have been my man of the match. 8
Duff: Restored to the starting line-up against his old club and Duff delivered exactly what you’ve come to expert: a whole-hearted effort, full of running and plenty of defensive work – none more important than when he stabbed a loose ball behind as he dropped beyond the far post. The Irish winger was offensive enough to keep Ashley Cole back in his own half for long periods, a crucial ingredient for Fulham’s success as the visitors looked to assert themselves. 7
Rodallega: An ineffectual and infuriating display from the former Latic, who failed to seize his opportunity to shine on the left flank. Used his height well against Cesar Azpilicueta but failed to attack the Spanish full-back or offer any real threat out wide. Rodallega looked slightly more dangerous when played through the middle, but even Dimitar Berbatov was perturbed by the Colombian’s enigmatic display judging by the Fulham skipper’s sixty seconds of berating him after an attack broke down in the second half. 6
Karagounis: Playing the Greek veteran at the point of Fulham’s attacking midfield triangle was a masterstroke from Jol. Karagounis ran his heart out and was far more effective than when he looked isolated as a left winger at Stoke; crucially, dropping back to form a third orthodox central midfielder when the Whites were under pressure. His pass to release Riise midway through the second half was the ball of the night and went off to a full-throated rendition of his jolly little song. 7
Berbatov: Brilliant without being devastating once again, Berbatov led the team rather than just the forward line last night. Rather like Alistair Cook, Berbatov seems to thrive on the captaincy and was a livewire throughout – completing fifteen more passes and enjoying double the number of touches as Torres, despite costing only a tenth of the Spaniard’s transfer fee. Had the assistant referee not wrongly raised his flag when the Bulgarian burst through on goal, he might have put Fulham in front. His only black mark came in injury time when his baffling decision to receive a short corner gifted Chelsea a last chance to come forward. 8
Baird: The Ballymena boy’s absence from the starting line-up was harsh as Baird’s arguably been Fulham’s most consistent performer since stepping into central midfield in September. Afforded a rousing reception as he replaced Diarra, ‘Bairdinho’ battered a free-kick shot at Cech but stepped seamlessly into the Malian’s role anchoring Fulham’s midfield and picked out a couple of impressive forward passes. 7
Frei: The Turkish teenager likes playing Chelsea and his fearlessness seemed to enliven Fulham as he exploded back into the first team. He dribbled away from Azpilicueta twice in two minutes, beating him on both sides, and on another evening might have won a spot-kick for the second season in succession after being caught by Ramires. Just as importantly, he showed great awareness to tee up Riise’s deflected effort, and it’s great to see such a terrific talent back in a Fulham shirt. Why didn’t Cardiff use him more during his month in the Championship? The Bluebirds’ loss is certainly Fulham’s game. 7
Petric: A late replacement for Rodallega but the Croatian striker – perhaps the most natural finisher at Motspur Park at the moment – couldn’t react quickly enough to convert the only chance that came his way when he miscontrolled Riether’s excellent cross. 6
Flicking through the morning papers after Fulham fought their way to another fully merited point against Chelsea last night was a very enjoyable experience indeed. The hacks had a few chuckles at the travelling support’s impressive range of ditties and there were more than a few compliments on how Martin Jol’s boys acquitted themselves on the pitch too.
Henry Winter, The Telegraph: ‘The main f-word was Fulham, Fulham. The visiting fans were terrific, in fine form throughout, beginning by mocking the Bridge announcer’s request for them to sit down by all standing up. They then serenaded the hosts’ interim first-team manager with “Rafa Benítez, he works where he wants”. The Fulham glee club then disagreed with a (fair) decision by Anthony Taylor with a chant of “We want Mark Clattenburg’.
Matt Dickinson, The Times: ‘Fulham might have snatched it. Giorgos Karagounis dropped a pass over the Chelsea defence for Riise to run on to, and it seemed the perfect counter-attack with Azpilicueta up the field. Riise has a left foot that can generate net-bulging power but, as the ball bounced invitingly, the best he could manage was a horrible duff. The ball trickled wide and, for the time being at least, Benítez had no need for ear plugs.’
Sam Wallace, The Independent: ‘In Dimitar Berbatov, they had the one man who occasionally raised the tone above the mundane … The moment when Oriol Romeu tried to bring him down with a rugby tackle around the Bulgarian’s waist was the acknowledgement that Chelsea struggled with the Fulham captain all night.’
Dominic Fifield, The Guardian: The Bulgarian oozed quality throughout. He played his part in all of Fulham’s forays upfield, even if it was the scuttling running of Kerim Frei in the latter stages that left Chelsea panicked. The Turkey international should become key to Jol’s side over the second half of the campaign and, if he does, this team can thrive’.
Victoria Lee, Daily Mirror: ‘The most ingenuity on display – apart from the sublime skill of Dimitar Berbatov – came from the visiting fans, with chants of “Rafa Benitez, he works where he wants” before, as the ground emptied early: “Is there a fire drill?”‘
Neil Ashton, Daily Mail:’In the past, a home game against Fulham was a routine win, another three points as Chelsea packed off their annoying little neighbours back to Putney. Not any longer.’
Tony Banks, Daily Express: ‘Torres turned in the box, and Aaron Hughes booted his shot off the line. Had it gone in, it would have been an injustice. Fulham had defended magnificently’.
Kerim Frei made his first Fulham appearance for six months and nearly turned the SW6 derby in Fulham’s last night and the Turkish international was delighted to be back in Martin Jol’s first team.
The 19 year-old’s brief cameo as a second half substitute came only days after he was recalled from his loan spell at Cardiff City and Frei wasted little time in tormenting the Chelsea defence as he did on his first start for the club on the same ground on his first senior start in the League Cup last season. That night saw Frei win a penalty and, on another evening, he might have repeated the feat minutes after replacing the outstanding Giorgis Karagounis.
The teenager beamed his way through a post-match interview with Fulham’s website – his dazzling smile showing everybody how happy he was back in the first team.
It was great again to be on the pitch with Fulham. It was a long time – two and a half months [since his injury on international duty] – and I’m really pleased to be back in the team and to have some minutes on the pitch. I train every day very hard to get my place back and that’s my target in the next few weeks.
It’s hard against Chelsea in every game but you always want to show them that you can do something and in every game I want to show what I can do. To get a point against our rivals tonight is very good, but we’re playing well so we have to have confidence and in the next few games get some more points as well.