Fulham Fall by the Book
The way to beat Martin Jol’s Fulham is to recognize that it is an old, slow team, to recognize that its primary mode of play is to bunch the action into the middle of the pitch, and to have the discipline, talent, and determination to make Fulham uncomfortable for 90 minutes. Southampton did all of that today and came away the victors in a 2-0 match in which they really should really have scored five or six goals.
Southampton is not the same team that was in the third tier a few seasons ago. Imagine a young, speedy squad – most of them home grown – managed by Roy Hodgson. That’s what Southampton are. They base everything on defensive steadiness, midfield organization, and opportunistic strikers. They play like a unit and they have a single aim. Today it was to pressure Fulham all over the pitch, to never allow them to get into a groove, and to grind them down. They did this and they did this well. How well? The last count I heard on shots taken was Southampton 16 Fulham 1.
How did Fulham react? Well, on the day there were only two Fulham players who gained notice for positive reasons, Ruiz and Amorebieta. Each of them could win a ball, find a teammate, and generally help move the team forward. Senderos and Riether were poor on defense, and neither Riether nor Richardson could get upfield to support an attack. As a result, Bent ran and ran and got nothing for it, while Berbatov recovered nicely from his 90 minutes of positive play against Palace, and was back to his pouting, strolling, gesticulating best. Parker, Sidwell, and Kasami were swarmed when they got the ball and all had nightmares. Stekelenberg wasn’t at fault for either goal, and his distribution improved in that he actually got a few balls to Fulham players who immediately lost possession, rather than just punting directly to a player in red.
The goals were predictable and dead easy. Absolutely nobody marked Ricky Lambert at the far post after a corner and that was that. As someone remarked in the FulhamUSA.com chatroom, Berbatov was concentrating on a rather threatening blade of grass in our penalty area at the time. Jay Rodriguez got their second in an equally easy manner, when Riether left him unmarked in favor of marking … well, I couldn’t see anyone there. Lee Dixon, doing color for the NBC sports broadcast, blamed Senderos who was about 15 feet away. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of agreement from Fulham supporters about that.
If the first half was a demonstration of how a manager can prepare his side to capitalize on the weaknesses and counter the strengths of his opponents, the beginning of the second half showed once again, how SOME managers have no clue how to make halftime adjustments to get their team back in the game. The only substitution was for an injury and there was no discernable change in Fulham tactics.
Make no mistake, Southampton are a very good side. They not only benefit from the milk of their youth system – I say “the milk” because the cream is playing at Arsenal and Real Madrid at the moment – but they also signed some players from the lower levels that supporters of other teams routinely dismissed as “not Premiership quality.” When the Saints were under-performing last season, they went out and got a boss who firmed up the defense, put some spine and discipline in the midfield, and got all the players to play as a unit. Maybe it’s just me, but I think Fulham could benefit from that sort of move … AGAIN.
The thing is, that Southampton aren’t the only club out there who know how to play against Fulham. If everyone goes out with the same philosophy throughout the season, Fulham will be lucky to get 15 more points. That is, until something changes.
HatterDon’s Man of the Match – Nobody
Now please tell me we aren’t going to purposely tank the League Cup on Wednesday.