[A week after THAT win against QPR our newest contributor shares his views on the team selection. Welcome to the HammyEnd team Joseph!]
In Fulham’s previous games this season Martin Jol has tried some interesting and constructive, though far from wholly successful experiments with set-up, individual player’s positions, and personnel. He can now be justly satisfied that for in this game almost all his tactical decisions and strategic ploys worked out. In particular he is to be congratulated on the following initiatives.
First, in abandoning the 4-2-3-1 very effectively deployed in the mid-week European game and reverting to 4-4-2. The new flexibility that Jol has introduced in adopting different systems so as to adapt to specific circumstances is very welcome.
Secondly, in choosing Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora as the two front men. This was a far from obvious choice before the game. Although now the man in form, AJ had a hard game in mid week, and there were clearly other contenders. Despite seeming the classic English ‘little and quick, with big and powerful’ front two combination, AJ and Zamora have over the past three seasons started together on relatively few occasions, due to their respective injury and form problems.
Thirdly, in playing Mousa Dembele on the right of midfield, and Clint Dempsey on the left with licence to get central and forward. I do believe that this is the most effective positioning for both these gifted ballplayers. Dembele is a most exciting player. At his best his rapid change of pace and direction whist retaining close control of the ball, distinctly reminds me of Charlie Cook, (for post baby boomers, he is the great Chelsea Anglo-Scots player of the 1960’s.) However he is not an out and out striker, as has been previously tried. Dempsey can be a very brave and effective loan striker, though he is better used as an attacking midfielder.
Fourthly, in sticking with the Hangeland / Baird axis as central defenders. (The Hangeland and Senderos combination used in some earlier games just did not work. With this we even saw some uncharacteristic mistakes on the part of the usually immaculately safe Hangeland.) I do believe that the best potential combination remains the time tested partnership of Hangeland and Hughes. (Baird possibly doesn’t have the physical stature to make a regular central defender for all occasions. Lescott was on occasion able to boss him aside in the game against Man City). Baird would be my right (or utility left) back of choice, even though Grygera is a real find as a right back.
Fifthly, in combining Danny Murphy with Steve Sidwell in central midfield. Danny again had a superb game. He is that rare talent, what the Italian’s call a “register”, a type of playmaker who by his distribution and positioning can rule a game. Murphy aided and abetted by Sidwell, did control the midfield and direct this game. (Jol has also learnt, as did Sparky in the second half of last season, to substitute Murphy in the last quarter before he starts to fade.)
Sixthly, I would like to think that the decision that Baird and Riise should take the goal kicks resulted from a positive tactical decision, and not from any injury problem on the part of the goal keeper. Schwartzer is a truly great goalkeeper, arguably the best in the premiership at picking balls out of the air in difficult situations. If he has a weakness it is in some of his distribution which is not always optimum, particularly from goal kicks. Baird is a soccer artilleryman very much suited to taking goal kicks. (It does make me nostalgic to see a fullback taking gaol kicks. I recall that Tony Macedo, Fulham’s goalkeeper in my youth, often ceded this duty to his fullback Jim Langley.)
Lastly, one slight disappointment, in that Jol did not persist with using Mathew Briggs at left back. This season Briggs has shown real potential as a genuine wing-back of quality, (although I was not convinced by Jol’s experiment in the early European games to try him as a left winger.) Brigg’s performance against Chelsea was particularly impressive. Briggs has real pace, unlike Riise, who although a consummate professional, is now appreciably less quick than in the days of his pomp with Liverpool.
So let us hear it for the new manager, who has been brave enough to try things out, and also got things right……………….at least for this Derby game.