Classy Swansea Rule the Cottage
There was really no moment where Fulham looked the better of Swansea today, and perhaps not even their equal for more than a couple of 10 minute stretches. While Fulham’s midfield sprayed passes to nowhere, their back four and goalkeeper looked slow, distracted, and profligate. By contrast, Swansea are the best organized and most attractive visiting team we’ve seen all year. They attack in numbers, defend well, and pass, pass, pass, pass, and pass. The final score of 0-3 does not flatter Brendan Rogers’ side.
Fulham began with two changes from our heartbreaking defeat at Aston Villa. Ruiz came in for Duff and Diarra for Murphy. One can assume that Swansea’s non-physical game was more suited to the Costa Rican than to Duff, and one MUST assume that Diarra was in for Murphy in response to the elbow to his face he took from Steven Ireland at Villa Park. Whatever the reasons, the latter change pretty much settled Fulham’s hash.
The only time Fulham looked threatening was when the ball was at Dembélé’s feet. He is devilishly difficult to dispossess, and he’s always looking for the good pass. Unfortunately, his central midfield partner was a detriment to the Fulham attack. During the last 10 minutes of the first half [when Fulham looked as if it were only a matter of time before they equalized], the Mali international over-hit five passes that, had … say … Murphy taken, would have sprung a Fulham player free for a shot on goal. Those were five opportunities single-handedly lost during a period when Swansea were defending for their lives. As it was, Fulham really only had two threatening shots, both by Dempsey, one in each half, and both easily handled by the excellent Michel Vorm in the Swansea goal.
The Fulham defense looked distracted, almost lazy – especially in opening the game. Inside the first half hour, Hangeland, Schwarzer, and Diarra each gave the ball away when under no pressure and within breathing distance of our goal. On all three occasions, Fulham weathered the storm. But when Pogrebnyak was similarly generous, it led to a series of short decisive Swansea passes and a goal by Sigurdsson – for my money, the best player on the pitch today. Sigurdsson would score again and, with Fulham pressing totally unconvincingly as the second half drew on, Swansea gained possession in a completely open Fulham midfield and Joe Allen waltzed in for number 3.
The irony for me, here, is that I expected us to lose for the same reason we lost to United at the Cottage. Swansea has fleet attacking wingers, and we don’t defend them well. Today, Riise handled Routledge – who had his best match ever last week – very well, and Sinclair was almost anonymous on the left wing. What I DID NOT expect was for our central midfield to be so easily undone by the middle of Swansea’s midfield and attack. Dempsey and Ruiz did very little, but they got only fair service from Dembélé, and no service at all from Diarra.
And so we got the result that our play deserved, that our tactics deserved, that accurately reflected the difference in quality between the two sides. Yes, color it however you like, but Swansea are that much better than we are, and the reason is largely because of Brendan Rogers. The only thing that stops me from giving him my vote for Barclay’s Premier League Manager of the Year Award, is that I don’t actually HAVE a vote.
And, speaking of contrasts, the 3,000 Swansea supporters were highly entertained and entertaining. I think I know almost all the words to Land of My Fathers now. As for the home crowd, the only noise I remember hearing from them were angry groans when Senderos, Kelly, or Ruiz gave the ball away. Interestingly, I heard nothing of the sort for the play of Mahamadou Diarra – by far the worst player on the pitch today.
There is no HatterDon Man of the Match award when we lose 3-0 at home to a club behind us in the Barclay’s Premier League standings. If you’re keeping count, that’s two matches played, zero points, and a goal difference of -4, since Marteen Jol told the press that we had a very good chance of finishing sixth this season.
Oh well, we’re safe from relegation, nobody got injured today, and there’s always next weekend. Let’s see who are we … bloody hell, Old Trafford on Monday.
Until then …