Tame Fulham Surrender Meekly to The Undead
Today, Fulham hosted a match-weary Chelsea at The Cottage and, before a nearly packed house allowed the visitors to stroll to the easy victory they sorely needed in their drive to finish in the top four. Three goals by Chelsea’s two central defenders – only one of them from a set piece – did the trick, and with the loss, Fulham have now garnered one point from their last three matches. The Whites are the Premier League’s form team no longer.
Ah, but it might have been so different. For the first 20-25 minutes of the match, Chelsea looked toothless – little cohesion between defense and attack, and giving the ball away all too easily. They looked listless and cautious. By contrast, Fulham were spraying the ball all over the park and creating chances. Ruiz, Berbatov, and Karagounis scorned full or half chances, but Fulham looked to be in an attacking mood, with the always impressive Sascha Riether the most potent force up the right wing. One could have found himself wondering what Fulham could do in this mood with Ashkan Dejagah prowling the right in cahoots with Riether. But then … .
Totally against the run of play, Fulham found themselves behind. David Luiz, certainly the most interesting central defender in the league, looked to be no danger to a well-organized Fulham midfield and defense when on the half hour he launched a screamer from fully 40 yards into the upper right corner of Mark Schwarzer’s net. Nobody was at fault with the goal. You kind of hope that opposing central defenders will decide to shoot from that range. And Fulham were behind 0-1.
When a few spirited attempts for a quick equalizer suddenly petered out, Fulham fell back to playing ball control. Facing a side that had played 12 matches in six weeks [while Fulham had played 5], Fulham became content to string pass after pass along the midfield and then check back and let the central defenders play a one-two before going back to the same routine. When Chelsea screwed up a corner just before half time, John Terry remained in the Fulham penalty area. Instead of moving quickly to take advantage of Chelsea’s aging, slowing captain being so far out of position, Fulham instead began their agonizingly slow and steady progression up the field. When the ball was finally lost, Terry was right where he stood when his side took the corner. One quick pass and Terry left Riether for dead, sneaked behind Senderos and scored with a well-taken header. 0-2 just before the half. If there was anyone in the park that didn’t believe that the three points were gone for good, he must have been deluding himself.
Terry added a third in the second half, leaping between Senderos and Riether – the latter was ready to clear Fernando Torres shot off the line – to head home from about 6 inches. Schwarzer didn’t stand a chance with any of the goals. Fulham? Fulham made a few forays up the field as Chelsea contented themselves to inviting attack and then quickly countering. Senderos should have pulled one back but for a heroic goal-line block by his teammate, Mladen Petrić. And that was it.
Chelsea, who hadn’t won a league match on the road for three months, walked [and I do mean WALKED] away with the easiest three points they’ll have in a long time. And, yes, I know the difference in the cost between the two match day squads, but the truth is that Fulham drew their last four matches with the other team in Fulham – two and perhaps three of those matches could easily have been Chelsea defeats. They were exhausted from their efforts in three different competitions, and are desperately trying to fight off efforts by Arsenal and Tottenham to deprive them of eligibility to participate in the Champions League. They were nervous, slow-witted, and fully at sixes and sevens, and … .
An attacking team that counts on speed and width could easily have dominated the Chelsea of the first 25 minutes of the match. Attacks up the wing, simple running of the channels could have spread their defense and made them more easy to turn – more apt to make critical mistakes. Chelsea was there to be taken by a team that pushes up wide and quickly, that stretches the defense, that drives to the dead ball line. But Martin Jol Sexy Football © doesn’t allow for that. No, in order to play MJSF, you must move upfield carefully and, at the first sight of a defender stop short. Instead of putting that defender under pressure, you must check back and pass sideways or – preferably backwards . In MJSF, the traditional “slow, slow, quick-quick, slow” football interpretive dance must be performed as “slow, slow, slower-slower, slowest.” It is a prayer come true for tired, jaded defenders and midfielders and especially for aging, half-speed central defenders.
So, we lost, and if we play like that against Arsenal – just as hungry for points and not nearly so tired, we’ll get smashed by them as well.
Quick snapshots department.
1. This was Hangeland’s second sub-standard match in a row. Was his dramatic return to form just a short good patch of play? Is the poor play we saw so much of in late 2012 now the norm?
2. I absolutely hate the fact that the Petrić that I’ve been calling for to get a chance was nothing short of horrid on the day.
3. Why was our first substitution made at the expense of our most sure footed defender? Riise was excellent today. I hope not to hear any more calls for him to be rested.
4. Somewhat related, I immediately understood why Jol converted Emanuelson from a left back to a midfielder.
5. It was cruel to bring on Frei so late and have him run the left wing. We could have used his pace and his natural attacking instinct on the right wing and from the very beginning.
Things I am tired of seeing over and over that I saw again today:
1. Berbatov STANDING 10 yards from a loose ball and making not the slightest move to win it.
2. Karagounis auditioning for RADA. I know that everybody loves his all out effort, and the Ancient Greek does take a good free kick/corner, but his histrionics, his constant wailing and moaning, AND his diving should be an embarrassment to Fulham and its supporters. You’ve got game, dammit; play football like a man.
Oh, and there is no Man of the Match when we lose 0-3 to The Undead.