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Friday Fulham Stuff (30/11/12)...

Started by WhiteJC, November 30, 2012, 04:39:12 AM

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Understated and underrated - why Aaron Hughes is one of the Premier League's finest defenders's Michael Cox uses FourFourTwo's StatsZone app – now FREE – to analyse Fulham's often overlooked defensive stalwart...

Behind every great commanding centre-back lies a calmer, quieter partner. Nemanja Vidic was once the best defender in the league, thanks largely to his strength and aerial abilities, but Rio Ferdinand was equally important with his anticipation skills, constantly sweeping behind him. Arsenal is another example – Thomas Vermaelen needs a quick player like William Gallas (in his first season) or Laurent Koscielny behind him – he looks less comfortable alongside Per Mertesacker.

Butn the finest example is at a club with perhaps a slightly lower profile, Fulham. Their partnership of Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes is textbook – Hangeland is dominant in the air, commits early to tackles, and he's an inspirational captain. Hughes stays on his feet, takes up deeper positions, and he wins the ball more cleanly.

Naturally, it's Hangeland who gets more attention – his style of defending is simply more obvious. He's been linked with a move to Manchester United in the January transfer window, although he's constantly been rumoured to be leaving Craven Cottage in recent years, and at 31, it might be too late for a big transfer.

But the understated Hughes is equally important to the partnership – and he might even be a finer defender. When Martin Jol first arrived at Fulham, he paired Hangeland and Philippe Senderos, with Hughes a disappointed spectator. Hangeland and Senderos are fine defenders, but reasonably similar so the partnership didn't work naturally – and after gradually finding his way back into the side midway through last season, Hughes has become first-choice against in 2012/13.

Hangeland is currently suspended following a reckless tackle on Lee Cattermole in the home defeat to Sunderland, but in his absence Hughes has continued to be excellent, moving to the left side of the pairing to accommodate Senderos. The absence of Hangeland was a big blow for the trip to Stoke, but Fulham conceded just once – and then kept a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge in midweek. Considering they'd conceded eleven goals in their previous four league fixtures, it's an impressive record – Senderos has done well, but Hughes was supreme in the draw at Chelsea.

The peculiar thing about Hughes' defending is how understated it is. In 14 games, he's attempted just eight tackles, and conceded only three fouls – that's not a sign that he isn't defending, instead, he gets into good positions and stays on his feet when winning the ball. He hasn't been sent off in over 400 Premier League appearances, and has only received three bookings since the start of 2009/10.

He's a more prolific interceptor – doing so 2.6 times per game, compared to 0.6 tackles. That balance is not unheard of, but it's in stark contrast to a more rugged, simple defender like Sunderland's Carlos Cuellar, for example, who intercepts 1.6 times a game, compared to 3.2 tackles.

Hughes' performance against Sunderland showed those tendencies:

And he's always positioned well inside the penalty box – against Chelsea he constantly cleared the ball, and got back to make two crucial blocks – notably from a Fernando Torres shot.

This weekend's match against Tottenham should suit his abilities well – he might have struggled in the air against a tall powerful striker like Emmanuel Adebayor, but he's still suspended, and instead Jermain Defoe will look to sprint in behind the defence. At 33, Hughes might have lost half a yard of pace, but his positioning remains exemplary, and that remains the most important attribute for any centre-back.

Stats Zone is a free-download app from FourFourTwo powered by stats from Opta, updated LIVE in-play, and pre-loaded with all data from the 2011/12 and 2010/11 Premier League and Champions League. Stats Zone is brought to you in association with FFT's bet partners Coral: click here for a free £10 bet


Fulham Fans on Dembele, Dempsey & The Match. Plus Team News & Pub Ammo

The last transfer window has added a bit of extra spice to this otherwise lesser of the London derbies. Vilified ex-Spur Berbatov now plays for Fulham. Whereas the Tottenham players Dembele and Dempsey, the later of which didn't exactly leave in dignified circumstances, used to play for Fulham. And as I'm sure you're aware, ex Spurs boss Martin Jol is the man in charge at Fulham.

Perhaps to be expected, the Fulham forums reveal that Dempsey will receive a mixed reception. Some will clap in appreciation of his 5 1/2 years' service, some will boo at the way he forced a move out of the club, where as the undecided will just stay silent. Expect to hear the following song sung at some point:

He scores with his left,
He sores with his ri-ight,
Dimitar Berbatov,
Makes Dempsey look *****

On the other hand, Dembele is expected to receive applause all round. He was a good player for Fulham and they always knew the inevitability that he had the quality to move on to bigger things. They also expect him to get even better at Spurs and take another step up at some point.

As for the actual game, once all the (un)pleasantries are out of the way...

"Spurs will be a tougher test than Chelsea. Not only will Demebele' and Dempsey come back to prove something, we'll have to deal with Bale and a very inform Defoe."

"Last year we battered them and got counter punched, hopefully football gods are on our side"

"Bale has the ability to destroy any team. Not only with his undoubted skills but also his cheating & diving. Defoe worries me. He is a player I have always admired. He has far too much pace for our defence. We must take the game to them from the start & expose their weakness in Gallas & Dawson."

"I am not convinced that AVB has the team figured out, which could be good for us. Individual efforts is what has been pushing Spurs."

"Target gallas, hes slow and old and weak. dont know why AVB starts him over dawson."

"The backline is shaky, their midfield sputters at times. A win is not impossible."

"A league win over them is well overdue, a decent performance at home is well overdue, some luck is overdue. Praying bale steps on his missus hair straighteners."

Fulham Fan Predictions: Fulham win 25%, Draw 30%, Spurs Win 45%

Pub Ammo
-Tottenham have won the last five Premier League matches between the two clubs.

-Fulham have not won for six Premier League games (D4, L2).

-Fulham's starting line-up against Chelsea had an average age of 32 years and 32 days, the oldest of any Premier League club for almost three years since Portsmouth in March 2010.

-Fulham have lost 50 of 101 London derbies in the Premier League.

-Spurs have conceded in each of their last seven Premier League matches, and kept only one clean sheet all season.

-Gareth Bale has been booked three times for simulation since the start of last season - more than any other player in the Premier League during that period.

-Tottenham have made more defensive clearances (645) than any other team in the Premier League this season.

Team News & Selection
Dembele isn't expected to play all 90 minutes as AVB reports on his injury: "It disturbs him, he is not 100% cured. It can come back but we don't expect it to take him out like before."

Elsewhere Caulker has overcome illness and is fit for selection. Adebayor will complete his suspension and is unavailable for selection as well as Benny, Kaboul and Parker. The latter of which is reported to be back in action in two weeks.

Walker  Caulker   Dawson   Vertonghen
Lennon   Sandro   Dembele   Bale

Walker did well against Liverpool, so I'm happy to eat my words about him needing to be benched in my last preview. Let's hope he can continue to improve. Caulker in for Gallas please. Other than that, it pretty much picks itself. I'm going for another 2-1 Spurs. COYS.


Fulham manager Martin Jol hints at January move for Aston Villa outcast Darren Bent

Fulham boss Martin Jol has refused to rule out a January swoop for unsettled Aston Villa striker Darren Bent.

Bent has fallen out of favour under new Villa boss Paul Lambert in recent weeks and has been tipped to leave the Midlands club in January.

Jol brought the England international to White Hart Lane during his spell as Spurs boss back in 2007.

When asked whether he would move for the former Charlton man, the Dutchman said: "You never know, but we have three good strikers in Berbatov, Petric and Kacaniklic.

"We could maybe have one more creative player but you never know what will change."

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Jol's Spurs Preview

Martin Jol insists that Saturday's game against Tottenham Hotspur is about three points and nothing more.

During Friday's press conference, the Manager fielded dozens of questions in regards to going up against his former club and the return of Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembélé to Craven Cottage.

Having impressed against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, Jol has targeted another positive performance, and is hopeful his side can claim victory.

"This is another game," said the Manager. "We're at home and, as we know, we need the points. The same applies to them [Tottenham] because every team wants to do as best as they can. That should make for a good game.

"Tottenham have some terrific players, but we have quality too. We had a decent result at Chelsea, so Saturday's match is about trying to win three points and not about our opponents.

"Obviously when we faced them last year it was a new experience for me, it was the first time I had managed a team against Tottenham since I left. It was nice, but it's something you get used to very quickly.

"Spurs have had a good season and they come to Craven Cottage on the back of two straight victories. We know some of their players very well. Mousa Dembélé has impressed when he has played for them and it seems like every time he plays, Tottenham win. But he's playing no differently to when he was with us.

"There's also a return for Clint Dempsey too, someone who left with the hope of playing UEFA Champions League football. We used him in a slightly different role, now he's playing in a higher 10 position – I'm sure he will adapt because he's a player that is always hungry for goals.

"We have a different side to last season, and, if you look at someone like Dimitar Berbatov, he's a player that has made an impact. He is real quality, and in recent weeks he's had to play a little deeper, but I think he's done well.

"He's done what was needed but, at the end of the day, he's still a striker and one that will score goals – which he has done."

With five goals in his 10 appearances so far, Berbatov, who will again captain the side on Saturday in Brede Hangeland's absence, will be joined by Kieran Richardson following the midfielder's return from injury.

"That's been a great piece of news for us as Richardson is a player that gives us something different," added Jol. "We've had a few injury problems lately, and it's been difficult. But both Bryan Ruiz and Alexander Kačaniklić return to training next week, as does Simon Davies, so we will be at full strength again. Brede will be back for the Newcastle United game, so we're getting there.

"We haven't had the best spell lately, we know that, but it hasn't been that bad. As I said, the game against Chelsea was very positive and we have to build on that. With 15 minutes left we could have sat back and done our best to keep them out.

"But instead we took the match to them and, having broke a couple of times, perhaps we could have had more to show. I liked the way we kept them under pressure, and that showed the heart of this side. We always want to win."


Diarra: "Be Our 12th Man"

Mahamadou Diarra was full of praise for the travelling Fulham faithful who made the trip to Stamford Bridge in midweek.

The Mali international admitted the noise of the fans means a lot to the Team and he hopes the same level of support continues all season, starting with Saturday's game with Tottenham Hotspur (3pm).

"Of course we could hear them on Wednesday!" Mahamadou told the official website. "They were really good. Not only then, though, it is every game I play I can always hear that people are behind us, pushing us to do well which is always a great moment.

"Our fans are the best and I think they will be like that for the whole season; especially on Saturday because it's a derby game and we need to win, we need the three points. If we look at the statistics, in our last six games we've had four draws so it's the time to think about three points.

"One of the best things about the match this weekend is that we are playing at home so that's going to be very good for us as we will have the supporters behind us and they can be our 12th player, as they help us all the time. I think it's going to be a great game."

Diarra's appearance against Chelsea was only his seventh of the season after suffering from knee injuries. The midfielder put in a dominant display alongside Steve Sidwell in the centre of the park - before being withdrawn on 64 minutes - and he was pleased to help his side earn a deserved point.

"I had four or five strong training sessions before the game," he explained. "Because we knew it would be very tough so we had to make sure that I was really ready for it.

"I'm happy for the Team, not only for me, because if you watched the match you could see that we were really strong. We were really compact and we worked like a real team. That was a good example of a team performance.

"Some people said that Chelsea didn't play well but I think that's because we had the better tactics and we had a good attitude."

Fulham welcome Spurs to Craven Cottage on Saturday in our first home London derby of the season. It's a game that Mahamadou knows will require the same high levels of performance that they showed in midweek.

"If I make a comparison between Chelsea and Tottenham then I don't think there is much difference," he said. "Spurs have almost the same style of football; they are strong going forward, have a good midfield players and they are so quick in their attacks so we have to be very careful.

"We'll have to do what we did against Chelsea with the ball, to try to play how we always do and make sure we are not always defending."

After joining the Club in February, Diarra is getting ready for the festive period and what he knows will be a gruelling month for his side as we prepare for six matches throughout December.

"It's my first winter playing in English football and I am looking forward to it," he said. "I know what it's about. I have to be ready for it and, like everyone else, I have to keep myself fit.

"Nothing is easy here and I would like to keep my form and fitness so that I can play in all six games. I want to do what I can to help this Team. It's not going to be easy, it's going to be my first time playing five or six games in one month so we will see, but I'm ready for it."

There are a limited number of tickets remaining for Saturday's match for supporters with a booking history.


Up For The Cup

Fulham are ball number 17 in the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup which takes place on ITV1 on Sunday.

The draw will be held at around 2.40pm following the televised Second Round tie between Milton Keynes Dons and AFC Wimbledon.

The Third Round ties are due to take place on the weekend of 4th and 5th January 2013.

Last season, Fulham were knocked out in the Fourth Round of the competition following a 2-1 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park.