Tag Archives: Moussa Dembélé

The View From South Texas — FFC v. QPR

Sometimes, everything you try works

Fulham renewed their rivalry with their near neighbors Friday evening before what must have been the largest crowd since the hosts left the Premier League. Manager Kit Symons had been saying that once the new boys got their feet under them, the football at Craven Cottage would be something to see. And so it turned out to be.

Fulham put out what looks to be their default lineup – until James Husband’s loan expires anyhow – with the exception of Ryan Fredericks who replaced the injured Jazz Richards. The way the speedy number 7 patrolled the right touchline, it may be hard to get him off the pitch.

Fulham began the match by knocking the ball about comfortably. There was a lot of one touch stuff on display, with O’Hara and Tunnicliffe especially catching the eye with their accurate long passes. The first goal came just at the end of the 2nd minute when QPR’s Angella calmly watched Moussa Dembele rise alone to nod home his second goal of the season. After a dazzling display of quick, short passes, Ben Pringle found himself free just inside the penalty area and zipped home the second on the 16th minute. Ross McCormack put the match away just after the half-hour to make it 3-0. At this point, Fulham’s defense had been troubled only once.

QPR are a very good side, but they didn’t look like it Friday night. Their defense looked a step slow and the Hoops pretty much lost every challenge on each touch line. It was for this reason that Jamie Mackie replaced Chary on the 35th minute. Mackie is a bit of a bruiser, and I guess the idea was to unsettle Husband and make him less effective. There was a little bit of effort to get back into the game, but the half ended to a chorus of boos from the large QPR contingent who had grown somewhat restive hearing their near rivals chanting “Why are you still here?”

It was a complete surprise when the second half began without Mackie. What he could have done in his ten minutes of activity to upset his manager is a mystery to me. On came Leroy Fer, back from injury, and – as expected – QPR began play by trying to overwhelm their hosts. A funny thing happened, though. Fulham reacted to QPR’s attacks by pressuring Rangers all over the pitch. Fulham looked especially lethal on the break, and it was from one of these counters that McCormack scored the fourth and final goal.

Fulham has been a team of one half pretty much all season, but this was not the case tonight. Every time QPR tried to get back into the game, they found themselves under attack. Who was threatening them? Tunnicliffe … and O’Hara … and Pringle … and Husband … and Fredericks … and Dembele. Not only did QPR never look like cutting the deficit, more clinical finishing by Dembele, Husband, and substitutes LVC and Woodrow could have eclipsed our famous 6-0 thrashing of the R’s back in the Premier League.

Yes, everything worked. I didn’t see anyone to fault for anything, although I’m sure that there will be those that will. The thing is that Fulham showed themselves to be a sharp passing side – short, medium, long – with an eye for attack and the ability to repel counters. In Tim Ream, we may have found the reincarnation of Aron Hughes – the calm, economical, dependable, and elegant support for his #5. When some began calling Jamie O’Hara the new Danny Murphy earlier in the season, I was hesitant to agree, but today he and Tunnicliffe showed steel and creativity in the center of the midfield. Fredericks is crazy good out there. I’ve always valued right backs, and when they are tough in the tackle, and are possessed of blazing speed, then they are especially precious. And Moussa Dembele showed everything you want in a striker in this league. He was both quick and fast, was strong, ran the channels well, set up his teammates, and wasn’t afraid to take a shot or two. His distribution was a bit lacking, but I forgive him that because he tied Onuoha and Henry into knots all match long.

For me, the only thing that didn’t work was my DVR. Although I was promised a recording that lasted 2 hours and 5 minutes, it actually was 1 hour and 50 minutes. Anything that happened after the 85th minute remains a mystery to me.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match decision is a toughie. I narrowed it down to one from Tunnicliffe, O’Hara, McCormack, Pringle, Husband, and Dembele and then I remembered what I used to do on those rare occasions when a Fulham XI dominated all over the pitch while executing a cohesive and coherent game plan. So, a tip of the FFC South Texas sombrero to MotM Kit Symons. Well done Kit and well done all the lads.

The View From South Texas – Ipswich Town FC v. Fulham FC

Suffolk Shakedown Cruise

No fewer than eight Fulham players made their first-team debut today at Portman Road as Fulham played their first match in the second tier of English football for 13years. With so many new players playing in a new league with a fairly new manager, it was to be expected that there would be some rough spots in Fulham’s first competitive match.

And there were.

With Burgess and Parker appearing to be responsible for supporting the defense, and David and Hyndman setting up as the attacking portion of the midfield, it was clear that only one pairing was working as planned. David looked especially lively early on, playing with confidence and no little style. Hyndman looked competent and made good use of space to keep himself open. Having said that, it was the connection with Parker/Burgess and the new CB pairing of Budurov and Hutchinson that never quite clicked over the 90 minutes.

Although he was to be faulted for neither of Ipswich’s goals, Young Keeper Joronen looked well out of his league. He made a very classy save early on, but he was woefully hesitant in his area and demonstrated the worst distribution I have seen from a Fulham keeper in a very long time. A lot of this is, of course, inexperience. It was his first-team Fulham debut, and his first match at this high level period. Inexperience can be overcome and confidence will make him more in charge of his area, but his most glaring inadequacy may take many years to correct: He is completely one-footed. With modern goalkeeprs acting as sweepers, he’s outmatched. Several times his kicks went directly into touch because he was in no position to use his left foot, and he has neither capability within or confidence in his right. This is troublesome.

As a matter of fact, the times when I was most concerned during the match was when the ball was at the feet of Joronen, Hutchinson, or Budurov.

McCormack started today and was the first player subbed off. The television guy [and how nice to have only ONE voice in the box again] seemed to think that it was due to his ineffectiveness. I disagree. I think it was due to his lack of pre-season pitch time. I generally liked what I saw from him. As for his strike partner, I’m willing to bet that Moussa Dembele has never had a less effective 90 minutes on a pitch in his life. He couldn’t keep possesion, couldn’t turn, couldn’t find a teammate, and – most problematical for the near future – couldn’t bring either his strength or quickness to bear on Ipswich’s defense.

The match turned around when young Mr. Roberts came on. The ENTIRE TEAM went into attack mode and the Tractor Boys found themselves on their back heels for the rest of the match. Some will be shouting “ROBERTS MUST START NEXT WEEKEND,” but again I disagree. He’s 17, and I think we’ll be seeing him in the role we saw him in today for a few more months.

Of the new boys, the one who impressed me most was Stafylidis. Fulham might actually have a left back that can attack and defend. Also handy was his RB partner Hoogland, although not so much on the defensive end.

So, Fulham opened the season with a defeat, and it took 75 minutes to get hold of the match. It’s early days, though. Here’s what I’m hoping that Felix noted today.
1. Fulham have to take control of the match. By my count, the very first corner – and the first set piece of the match came in the 77th minute. This will not do.
2. Fulham have to realize that the Championship is the Land of the Giants. Hoofing the ball upfield from defense to moderately tall strikers is not going to work. Fulham have an advantage in ball skills, quickness, and fitness. The quick on-the-ground movement we saw after the Roberts substitution should be our prime mode.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match? Well, I was ready to give it to David after the first half, but there was that substitution. So, instead, it goes to Patrick Roberts, and may it be the first of many.


Partnerships: Hodgson and Jol

by EJL

Martin Jol will go into Fulham’s game with Stoke on Saturday knowing that only a win will likely be good enough to save his job. The Whites have won just one of their opening six Premier League fixtures, now totalling only three wins at home since the start of 2013.

Often when teams are struggling, like Fulham were last season, they rely on cliques or partnerships on the pitch to get results. Apart from the constantly disjointed right-flank of Ashkan Dejagah and Sascha Riether, there was nothing but an occasional moment of brilliance from Giorgos Karagounis or Dimitar Berbatov to carry them through games. Jol was the first manager to really take apart the 2010 Fulham team and attempt to mould his own squad and style, but the Dutchman has failed to find that grouped consistency that made Hodgson’s sides so difficult to beat.

Under Roy Hodgson, the entire team was constructed around numerous sets of players that complimented each other perfectly. Firstly, the formerly named ‘Thames Barrier’ — consisting of Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes — played a significant part in the Cottagers only conceding 34 goals in the Premier League during the 2008-09 season — the fourth best defensive record in the division. Hodgson famously said upon appointment at Fulham that everybody in his squad was the same size; there was no commanding defensive presence to slug away in a relegation battle. Sure enough, he solved the problem by bringing in the 6 ft 5 Norwegian, forging one of the best centre-half partnerships outside of the top four in recent memory. Hughes provided the athleticism, pace and conservatism that Hangeland lacked, whereas the latter’s sheer size, strength and aerial consistency compensated for the Northern Irisman’s flaws. It was a running theme in Hodgson’s system: start players that have one or two outstanding strengths and team them up with their near polar opposite.

Another example of Fulham’s balance was exemplified in the centre of midfield. Dickson Etuhu’s contribution towards getting the best out of Danny Murphy shouldn’t go without praise. A 2008 summer signing from Sunderland, Etuhu came to Fulham with just a season’s worth of Premier League experience under his belt and a fiery reputation. Similar to the strengths in Hangeland’s game, the Nigerian added a physical and ubiquitous presence to Hodgson’s new look midfield. His job was to break up attacks before they had a chance to bloom, collect the ball, give it to Murphy and let him ‘do his thing’. Mark Hughes’ attempts to convert Etuhu into a rampaging box-to-box midfielder were admirable, but it was his role as the enforcer that suited him best.

Those two pairs were Fulham’s spine for a good three-and-a-half years. Other notable duos included Bobby Zamora and Zoltan Gera’s exploits in the Europa League, and the connection between Zamora and Damien Duff — their trademark being a one-two coming in off the right-wing, sometimes leading to a goal (Everton 2009). The problem with Jol’s time at the club has been failure to establish, or continue, successful partnerships.

Developing understanding has been toughest in the centre of midfield. Fulham fielded thirteen, yes thirteen, different midfield pairings over the course of last season. Those ranged from Moussa Dembele and Mahamadou Diarra — who started the Whites’ first two matches against Norwich and Manchester United — to then loan signings Eyong Enoh and Emmanuel Frimpong lining up against Swansea on the final day of the season. To comprehend the sheer number of variations Jol used, Steve Sidwell, who started more games than any other Fulham central-midfielder, lined up alongside five different partners.

Partly down to the departures of Dembele and Danny Murphy, along with the incessant injuries of Diarra, the inconsistent midfield selection caused games to be won and lost in a matter of minutes. There was no similar harmony of playmaker and powerhouse for long spells until Enoh and Karagounis started together. But, of course, the following week a brand new and unbalanced midfield would wipe out any chemistry built the previous match. The standard and type of player that the club needed to bring in during the summer was painfully obvious. Fulham lacked, and still do, a central-midfield playmaker who can pass the ball well under pressure.

Bryan Ruiz, Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele were starting to show that said chemistry midway through the 2011-12 season, but the departure of the latter two saw the Costa-Rican struggle to work equally well enough alongside the remaining Fulham squad. Jol’s attempts to accommodate Ruiz have stretched as far as deploying him in a wide midfield position — a role the Costa-Rican unsuccessfully played in for much of his debut season — causing the split of the aforementioned partnership of Dejagah and Riether.

Even this season, with Jol under immense pressure from fans and, more recently, the media, team selection is still too varied. The 2-1 victory over Everton in the Capital One Cup was supposed to be the turning point of Fulham’s season, but instead of starting the same eleven that won the game, Jol made five changes for the following must-win match against Cardiff. If he survives the encounter with Stoke at the weekend and is given a vote of confidence by the board, his first port of call ought to be establishing the side that works the best. Hodgson proved that he didn’t need luxury players like Dimitar Berbatov or Bryan Ruiz to make the team tick. Relying on favourites now rather than in-form players and maintaining the law of divine right would be Jol kicking the chair away.

Derek Boateng and Giorgos Karagounis to restore familiar midfield partnership?

The backbone of Roy Hodgson‘s Fulham team was its balance between the midfield and defence. First of all you had Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes; any weaknesses they had were made up by the other’s strengths. Then you had the underrated duo of Danny Murphy, the captain, and Dickson Etuhu. The midfield was pivotal in Fulham being able to stand up to some of the best teams in European Football: Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Hamburg and Wolfsburg, all succumbed to the partnership consisting of two aging Premier League underachievers who, simply, complimented each other perfectly. Fast-forward a few years and the Cottagers find themselves struggling to rebuild their midfield after the unfortunate departures of former skipper, Murphy, the fantastic Moussa Dembélé and the once hero, Clint Dempsey.

When Mahamadou Diarra signed for Fulham in February last year, Martin Jol essentially had a £24 million player at his disposal. With the aforementioned Moussa Dembélé being deployed in a deeper, central midfield role, there was a new partnership in the making. Both of them were strong, quick, very good on the ball and excellent defensively. Dembélé would maraud forward, linking midfield to attack, while Diarra would act as the more conservative member of the two, opting to break up opposition midfield play. Due to Diarra’s prolific injury absences and, of course, Dembélé’s £15 million exit to Spurs, yet another combination had gone down the pan. Manager Martin Jol has experimented with many different alternatives so far this campaign. Baird & Sidwell, Sidwell & Baird, Diarra & Sidwell and Sidwell & Karagounis have all been tried and tested; the latter being the most successful due to the refreshing influence of Giorgos Karagounis.

Many football fans would’ve looked at the Bosman transfer of the Greek as an unimaginative signing; inadequate compensation for not bringing in midfield replacements in the summer. Ten appearances into his Fulham career and the former Panathinaikos man has impressed with his boundless energy and passion for the team. His performances make you wonder why he didn’t come to the Premier League sooner.  Similar to Carlos Tevez, he doesn’t let his size or physique get in the way, using his tenacious streak to make the middle of the pitch his own. He offers something Fulham have been lacking over the past four or five months: the ability to pass effectively in a number of different ways. Chris Baird showed signs of being able to fill the ‘creative midfielder’ void but has tailed off in recent weeks; showing his ineptness when being pressed by a more clued-up side. West Brom, early season, gave Baird all the time and space in the world and because of that, it looked as if Xavi Hernández had secretly slipped on a Fulham shirt.

Derek Boateng looks set to seal a £2 million deal to West London from Ukrainian outfit, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. After the Ghanaian returns from African Cup of Nations duty, there may be a return of a midfield play style reminiscent to Fulham’s most successful years. The combination of Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu was the ideal blend of playmaker and powerhouse. Murphy had all the tools to unlock a defence with his inch-perfect passing and incredible vision. His one downside was his lack of athleticism. Similar to how Hughes and Hangeland combined, Etuhu made up for that flaw. Being a 400 metre runner in his youth, the Nigerian could run and he could carry on running for as long as he wanted. His job was to do all the unattractive donkey work that Murphy was, perhaps, not capable of doing. It was often difficult to tell the difference between Etuhu and a bulldozer when he was in full flow; uncompromising in the tackle and not afraid to put his opponent in their place early on in a match. He, like Murphy, had his own drawbacks: his distribution. Although his role involved getting the ball and giving it to the nearest creative player, his passing really wasn’t on other players’ level.

The potential collaboration of Boateng and Karagounis (or the Greek and the Ghanaian?) is as close as you can get to the Europa League Final central midfield partnership. Karagounis can do his own running and Boateng will instil some bite back into the Fulham team. There’s little doubt over is physical presence, but whether he’ll be able to make the huge leap from Ukrainian football to the Premier League is not yet clear.

The View From South Texas — Man United v. Fulham FC

by HatterDon

Once again, sorry for the delay.

Moussa Dembélé Has a New Agent … and His Name is Tony Gale

Well, what an interesting match that was. Fulham showed parity with United in the first half hour, played like 11 frightened mice in the second half hour, and scared the bejesus out of the hosts in the third. A one-goal defeat was a deserved result, but this match was really about assessing how good we are this early in the season. After summarily dispatching a very poor Norwich side at home, we were at perhaps the worst away venue for anyone fighting for 9th or 10th place.

United were nervous. Their defense looked shaky at times, and it took a brilliant goal by van Persie to bag their equalizer. YES, we were ahead. A clever and well-executed free kick [and how long since I’ve used that phrase?] from Brian Ruiz caught that nervous defense all congregating at the far post. Ruiz slid the ball rapidly sideways and Damian Duff slotted it home. I believe there were barely two minutes on the clock at this time.

Oh, yes, van Persie’s equalizer. The replays show that there may only be three or four other players in the Premier League audacious enough to try the shot, and perhaps only van Persie is capable of converting it. And the fun was on. There were raids upfield by both sides that lasted until the 35th minute when the flashy Japanese midfielder Kagawa was there to put United up after Schwarzer should probably have held rather than punched an earlier shot. Fulham were disconcerted, and it only got worse 5 minutes later when United’s Ninja Turtle headed in their third from a nice cross from Young. Fulham  spent the rest of the half in lock-down mode, as if the most positive result from the day’s efforts would be a two-goal defeat.

The second half started much the same way. Fulham got a bit more possession, but it was almost exclusively in their own half. United were able to maintain a solid front in the unlikely case that the Whites would actually attack. When Sidwell came on in place of our most aggressive attacker – Kacaniklic – I thought the surrender was on. And yet … . And yet Moussa Dembélé’s brilliance, on display the entire time, suddenly turned serious. Only two minutes after Sidwell came on, Fulham turned the spigot on. Our second goal was a Vidic o.g., but it owed a lot to Dembélé, Ruiz, and Petrić – who, had the ball not trickled over the line, would have easily have booted it in.

This was in the 64th minute and for the rest of the match, United were on the defensive as Fulham went for a point. Dembélé created and actually took a shot or two, Briggs bombed up the wing, Ruiz delivered a magic touch or two, and Rodallega threatened. United brought on Rooney, Welbeck, and Giggs [nice subs, huh?] but to no avail. Fulham ended the match knocking on the door. As the travelers sang “Take Me Home Al Fayed” with gusto, the lads in the red tablecloth shirts just wanted the whistle to blow so they could take their own selves home.

3-2 United, but I turned off the television feeling like we had won. How did we look? Good marks for Hughes, Riether, Briggs, Kacaniklic, and Duff. Somewhat disappointing were Hangeland, Ruiz, Diarra, Petrić, and Schwarzer. TOP marks to Moussa Dembélé. After 90 minutes of constant praise by “color commentator,” Tony Gale, Our Brilliant Belgian looked every inch “one of the most creative players in the league. Easily a top four player.” As the final whistle blew, I turned to Hatter Mom and said, “Well, Dembélé’s transfer fee just went up £2m.” He was the leading man on the biggest stage in British football today.

So, how do we look after two matches and three points? Did the Norwich result flatter to deceive?  Well, possibly, but I certainly wasn’t predicting Champions League football after beating a woeful Norwich last Saturday. I think things look bright this season. Despite fairly mundane performances by Ruiz and Diarra, I think that we have plenty of creativity and steel coming from the center. Briggs’s creditable performance showed that we have some depth in defense. As a matter of fact, once we stopped inviting United to attack our back four, we looked fine. Counting Baird – nice to see him in a cameo, by the way – we have four good fullbacks, and four good centerbacks [once Senderos is back and Halliche is freed]. I like Special K up front, and Petrić looks very good. When Frei comes back, we’ll have even more speed.

My guess? This squad [with Dembélé] is good enough to get us comfortably in mid-table. If Moussa goes, we’ll need to pray for no serious injuries.

Obviously, Hatter Don’s [and Tony Gale’s]  MOtM is Moussa Dembélé. Good result, even if we got no points. Bring them all on, one at a time. COYW