Citeh Waltz Past Toothless Fulham
I hardly ever got into fights in high school, but one I remember really only lasted about 15 seconds. The guy took a wild swing. As momentum moved him past me, I grabbed him in a headlock and held on to him for about 15 minutes until he fell down exhausted. I never had to throw a punch. This pretty much describes the first hour of today’s Man City v. Fulham match. On the first of at least 20 occasions, Fulham surrendered the ball in their own half. A reasonably tame shot was parried into the path of David Silva who calmly converted and it was 1-0 and game over. This was in the 2nd minute of the match.
For the next hour or so, Fulham maintained control to the extent that the Citeh supporters howled in their frustration. During this period, Fulham managed a corner or two, but only one serious attempt on goal. When yet another midfield turnover presented Silva with his second – and what a player the little guy is – he made no mistake. You would normally say that this second goal “made the points secure” for the Etihad Billionaires, but the truth is that their one goal lead was all the surety they needed on the day. As nervous as the home fans were, nobody on the pitch – in either uniform – had the slightest doubt of the result. I doubt if any Fulham fan did either.
So, yes, we lost 2-0 to the richest club in the world – at their house. Yes, they started the day with Balotelli, Nasri, and Aguero ON THE RESERVES BENCH. So there’s no shame, right? Well, perhaps, but it would have been nice to have forced Hart into at least one save, to have forced him to race from his goal line to intercept a dangerous cross at least once. But that never was going to be the case. City were comfortable with Fulham passing the ball sideways, narrowing rather than broadening their “attack,” and making few forays near the City penalty area. Yes, City were comfortable. The thing is, so were Fulham.
How to assess the individual performances … well, just about every player surrendered possession in a dangerous area. This is a by-product of not spending nearly enough possession time actually attacking your opponent. The defense looked better than they have, the central midfield was much improved over the Wigan match. The attackers did what they were supposed to do under the “Jol strategy.” The only person to point a finger at for sub-standard play is Mark Schwarzer. He was completely at fault for the opening goal, and his distribution was more horrid than usual. I’m sorry, but we’ve loaned the wrong goalkeeper to Hull.
When all the outfield players do what they’re supposed to do and we still don’t mount any serious attempts on goal – or even any 30 yard hit-and-hopes – the problem is not the quality of play. The problem is the game plan. We want to make a lot of passes. We want to move sloooooooowwwwwwwwlllly out of defense into attack. We want to keep Berbatov closer to the halfway line than the opponents’ penalty area while in possession. We want to move the wide players towards the center whenever they are 15 yards from the goal line. We cluster everyone so tightly that the fewest number of defenders have to cover us. This leaves more defenders available to turn our 82nd sideways pass into a counter-attack.
So, yes, losing 2-0 to Manchester City at their patch is no mark of shame. It’s nothing to get positive about either. Absolutely no attacking against a team ready to play counter-punching football is not a positive step for the rest of the season. It’s also hard to celebrate the narrowness of the defeat when you consider that Edin Dzeko could easily have made it 6-0. The fact is that it is going to be a nervous, worrisome next few months. Fulham have the talent to escape relegation easily, but the way that talent is sent out to play every week is going to ensure that points will be very hard to come by.
HatterDon’s Man of the Match goes to Steve Sidwell for just always going for it. He was the only starter out there who hasn’t caught Dimitar Berbatov Slow-motion Sickness. A strong honorable mention for a quality substitute performance by Matthew Briggs.
Next weekend will be devoted to the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford. COYW