The Barnsley match was a rough result. Was it really a bad performance though? The 90-minutes are posted, and I thought I’d approach this topic a bit differently. I wanted to break it down in 20 minute increments, with the 5 minutes to end the half and match. The reason is because it is common to come away with a general feeling, but then mistakenly use that general feeling and create a general assessment of not only our team, players, but overall tactics. I have a problem with this because we miss out on the positives and the areas we need to improve. There is already general talk of “should, would, could”, so why not analyze it and see how the “should, would, could” can be contextually applied to those moments.
Here’s my breakdown vs Barnsley. I will provide my overall thoughts after. (Disclaimer: I didn’t put much effort in researching name of the Barnsley players this go around. I know who they are, for the most part, but wanted to focus on Fulham specifically. Will adjust the next time I do one of these.)
- Pace of play is fast, as it should be in the first 5 to 10 minutes. We are just a tad out of sync in making good connections. For example, Knockaert slips from a wide pass by Mitro near the top of the box.
- Onomah slips on a one time pass from Cav. Onomah plays in a perfect through pass to Bryan, but the pitch speed has increased significantly due to the weather conditions.
- Defensively we struggle via Joe Bryan and KMac. When we get in the attack, Bryan doesn’t drop back fast enough, resulting in exposing Kmac, as Barnsley players get behind our CDM each time.
- This forces him to stick out a streteched challenge that misses – and results in Barnsley’s first shot on goal.
- The second shot on goal from Barnsley comes from the same combination, but this time the Woodrow simply bulldozes past Kmac and lets off a shot, that goes just high.
- The same combo of Bryan not dropping back quick enough happens because the referee doesn’t call a foul on Cav in which the winger gets basically pulled down holding the ball up. Hector cleans up the low ball into the box.
- I will bring this up in the overall thoughts, but Barnsley double team tactics on our wingers were crucial, and I feel Parker should’ve figured out a way around this. Unfortunately, in this moment, Knockaert tries to beat 3 Barnsley players, falls down, and a long ball over the top is assumed offsides. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and even more unfortunate, the Barnsley player runs into Rodak, but before that slaps the ball with his hand. That is also ignored, and we know the rest – Rodak pulls him down and the penalty is converted. Some wanted to complain about Ream here, but it’s clear as day that Rodak called him off and went for the ball – but mishandled it. Ream put himself between the attacker and the ball, just as any defender would. 1-0 Barnsley.
- In response, we break their double team not once, but twice. First when they pressured high on Sess, who passes to Cairney, then he goes down the line to Knockaert, who is fouled quite hard.
- We try to get the ball to Mitro twice, but the first time he doesn’t really put much effort in controlling the ball, and the second he takes a bit too long, but the deflection finds Kmac.
- We get a free kick in a dangerous position, but Mitro’s strike hits the wall, and his second is scuffed. Cairney forces the ball wide to Cav, who tries to get the ball on his right foot down the side, but is double teamed (again), and Barnsley break right through and down the sidelines themselves, before Bryan cynically fouls to put a stop to the counter.
- A fortunate bounce in the midfield, allows Cav to release Knockaert, but his left footed strike is deflected. Onomah controls, but just gets out of his grasp before it’s cleared away.
- We finally get a decent attack that starts from the back where Kmac breaks the double team pressure by sending in a delicate through ball to Onomah, who is then fouled. Onomah plays it quick to Cairney, sends it wide to Bryan, who sends it quickly to Cav. Bryan streaks inside, which drags the defender away from Cav, who gets to strike with his right – but it’s well wild and high.
- We manage a free kick that eventually sets up a deep throw in. Cairney gets free at the top right of the box and sends in a vicious cross, but it’s just out of Onomah’s reach.
- We are really zipping the ball well now, especially in finding Knockaert, who is doing well to cut inside and be a threat. He manages to find Cairney, who takes a shot, but it’s well deflected by Barnsley again.
- We finish off the couple minutes with Cav switching flanks with Knockaert. He holds off defenders, but again, the theme of the double team on our wingers is prevalent. We have no answer for it unless we can find someone central quick enough. We can’t, and Cav struggles to hold them off.
- The ball is caught in the wind, but eventually we get control of it. A brilliant little chest pass into the path of Cairney by Mitro allows our captain to get a strike, but not enough conviction and is easily saved. Knockaert visibly upset, but would’ve been a tough pass. However, other teammates, including Kmac, are visibly signaling the pass should’ve gone to Cav who was open on the left. I personally won’t blame our captain for trying to find the back of the net.
First half thoughts:
How anyone can say we are playing poorly is beyond me. How anyone can boo their team is also beyond me. As if the players aren’t going to be hard on themselves already. They know it’s a match that they should be winning.
We are moving the ball at pace. We are building from the back. Yes, it’s risky, but it forces Barnsley to press higher, which in turn gives our wingers more time. Unfortunately, we do not have enough pace centrally, so the wingers have noone to play off of. This is why many times our wingers are forced to hold onto the ball longer than intended. So not only Mitro is isolated, so are our dangerous wingers. We are creating chances, and we are absolutely not dominating possession in a slow pace. People say it’s boring, but that to me is a general assessment that is unchanged by stubbornness more than what is actually happening on the pitch. As I mentioned above, we are just out of sync at times. When we did start to look in sync, we were quite dangerous. However, the biggest issue to address is the double team from Barnsley. In my opinion, it’s time to change the formation to get more numbers centrally so those double teams look more like a risk to Barnsley versus a benefit.
- Instantly you can see the aggression by us is there. Bryan shoves Woodrow out of the way, and Mitro holds off two Barnsley players. Eventually a long ball from Hector finds Mitro to feet, which gets defended, but the ball deflects to Onomah. Onomah skillfully cuts back onto his left, and sends in a clever through ball to Mitro, who lets off a low strike that is saved.
- Shortly after, we get a corner. Safe to say chaos ensured as their keeper makes a mess of it, tries to recover, but takes out Hector (no foul), and Kmac strikes a low one that is blocked before Onomah’s volley goes over. More momentum.
- Kmac is too tight on a throw in, which prevents him from being able to confront a Barnsley midfielder from releasing their forward over the top of Hector and Ream. It’s a brilliant save by Rodak though as the striker tried a deft touch past him – denied.
- We go long ball again, and it reaches Cav, but the ball balloons to Mitro, which then is well defended via a diving header by Barnsley. Onomah tries to control the ball that is behind him, but Woodrow dispossess him and sends a long ball over the top. Ream is tucked inside and is expecting to just contain the Barnsley forward down the side, however Rodak has sprinted out of his box for some odd reason – and it’s 2-0 Barnsley. Momentum lost.
- In response, we change formation, but not before multiple stands of double team by Barnsley again. Kmac coming off is not surprising now after the match because we switched to a 4-2-3-1 and our CDM would be required to chase down counters all over the pitch, which is why Arter was put in. I did not want to see TC go though because he’s a gamechanger and can hold onto the ball in crucial spots. I would’ve more so chosen Onomah to depart instead because he isn’t as creative as Cairney. I think the early through ball that set up Mitro was a point that swayed Parker’s decision to keeping Onomah in vs Cairney.
- Immediately, my preferences were put to the backburner as Onomah was found by Mitro at the top of the box. Onomah sends in a brilliant through ball to Cairney’s replacement, BDR, who takes a soft first touch, but it’s well defended. He will play a crucial role into us not getting goals back unfortunately. Right place, right time, poor execution.
- Instantly we are playing 1-2 touches brilliantly in tight spaces, looking quite quality. Barnsley can’t perform their double team because we’ve crowded each side of the pitch that the ball is on. One anchor point such as Reid or Mitro, with the winger in Knockaert or central of Arter or Onomah – fully supporting the attack. Reid’s through ball to Cav is just a bit too hard and is collected by the Barnsley defenders. Momentum is back on.
- In the 4-2-3-1, Onomah and Arter essentially set up as a pivot two in the central midfield, but when they’re breached, it’s up to Bryan to track back and press high. Woodrow gets his chance because this is exactly what happens. Arter is just late on his challenge, and the midfield is breached as Onomah is forced to cover from the right side all the way over to the left. Bryan doesn’t press and doesn’t drop back, forcing Onomah even further to drop back, which confuses Ream and he’s given Woodrow too much space.
- Last mention of 4-2-3-1 change is that we now have the numbers both centrally and on the wing. Knockaert and Sess overlapping and underlapping, breaking down the double team pressure again and again. Pair that up with the mobility of BDR, and goodness me, we’re a force to be reckoned with.
- Against all tactics, ironically, was Barnsley’s next chance where it seemed we were completely surprised by their goal kick that went all the way over our defenders and set them up with a strike just wide.
- Kamara subs in for Sess, and now we’re at a true 3-5-2, with Arter basically dropping back in front of the defense. If we’re being picky, it’s more of a 3-1-4-2. What I liked especially about this was how we could now put Cav central and Knockaert on the left. This is something quite rarely seen this season, and I hope it’s enough for Parker to consider going forward as I feel Cav is so strong centrally than he is stuck on the wing. It also gives freedom to Knockaert to push out or in, similar to how he did against QPR at home where his movement off the ball set up Kamara’s goals.
- As expected, the 3-5-2 will have some holes defensively, and it’s no surprise we’re exposed when Barnsley take a quick free kick and send the ball over the top of Hector. Another vicious shot, but just wide.
- Really nice throw in direct to BDR, who chests it and sends a through ball inside the box to Onomah, who lobs it up for Mitro. Mitro controls it and finds Cav – who’s shot was surely to make it 2-1, but just went wide. BDR is making a huge difference.
- After a nice run by Arter to suck in the midfield, he sends a nice pass to BDR at the top of the box. He opts to take a touch, but it’s heavy, and defended yet again. As mentioned earlier, BDR’s touch let him down, but more so his decision making when he was the focal point to score. He was exceptional in movement and creating chances for others though. The deflection bumps its way to Kamara, who cuts inside and tries an outside of the foot shot on goal which is well saved.
- A handball should’ve been called on them as we were on the break via BDR, but eventually Kamara blazes down the side and cuts back inside to pass the ball to Cav central – who unleashes a shot that is unfortuantely right at the keeper, and we are unable to get the deflection before he smothers it.
- Shortly after we’ve got a free kick at the half via Arter. Ball is sent up to Mitro, his shirt is being pulled by somehow gets to it and finds Hector, who’s left footed shot is off the mark, but it reaches BDR. BDR takes a silky first touch and tries a quick shot from point blank range, but it’s well saved yet again. Another key chance for BDR to score.
- Terrible moment for us as Rodak makes a clean grab of their corner, but ambitiously tries a drop kick straight to their player. The driect pass is brilliant to Woodrow, who skirts past Hector, before making Rodak look poor beating him near post. All momentum lost. General assessments and assumptions commence.
- Hard to focus on the match after that killer. Mitro got a shot off that went wide. Onomah hits the crossbar. At this point, the match is over, and supporters are leaving early – don’t blame them of course.
Contextually speaking, and reading through the breakdown, does it really sound like we played bad? When I was watching live, I definitely felt that we weren’t quite right, but once I was able to find the source of the issues being us not able to handle their double team – it all came together. I think the scoreline heavily favors Barnsley, and doesn’t give our effort justice. I think it’s unfortunate that there is a linear mindset of scoreline = degree of effort. Our keeper made 3 crucial mistakes, and we paid the price in the scoreline. Tactically we were beat in the stalling of our attacks because of their double team pressure. We answered with the change in formation and bringing on BDR to help Mitro. We further answered with the change to the 3-5-2 that allowed Cav and Knockaert to play close to eachother, but more importantly having Cav play centrally as more of a threat. We broke their double team pressure tactic as a result, and Kamara coming on created a freedom down the sides we did not have before.
I think my thoughts are going to be wildly unpopular, but we simply didn’t find the back of the net, and conceded when our momentum was gaining. To be fair, Barnsley had their chances to add onto the score, but they failed just as much.
Overall, this leads me to think about the consistent argument of results vs how we’re playing. There is a camp that is so focused on how we’re playing, and thus downplaying results. Whereas there are those who are happy with the results, such as 7 unbeaten before this, but understand we’re not playing to our potential. Does that mean Parker In or Out? Hard to say, isn’t it? From a tactical perspective, he didn’t address the double team pressure until after halftime, and after we had conceded already. However, when he did address it, it proved the right move, but has been overshadowed by elements that noone can prepare for – which is not one individual error by one of our best players, but 3 total. I am not sure where I stand. If I was forced to choose, I’d say Parker in, but he’s on very thin ice – especially because his inability to address the opponent’s defensive tactics against us has hurt momentum. I think he’d be a fool not to utilize the 3-5-2 more often, but I have that luxury to say so because I only get to judge the end product.
Anyway, I hope this was worth a read, if anything to pass the time until the next match. I believe that context is everything, and I personally dislike general assessments that aren’t validated without a bit more digging. As mentioned, I have the luxury to judge the end product, so I don’t go out of my lane and judge the elements I’m not privvy to such as office meetings, team drillings, etc. Note: I would’ve put this in a video highlight package if it were allowed, but unfortunately any match footage gets flagged.