Archive for March, 2008

A requiem for Leyton

March 28, 2008

This post inspired me to take a look at the league table of the Ryman (some say Isthmian ) League Premier Division, and indeed Carshalton, new home of Fulham reserve striker Ismael Ehu, are second from bottom, with 40 points.

But at least they aren’t Leyton.

For Leyton are bottom, staring straight into the ugly maw of the Isthmian League First Division.

Their record:

Played: 37; Won: 4; Drawn: 4; Lost: 29; Goals For: 32; Goals Against: 107; Points: 16.

That’s right, a mere twenty four points from second bottom.

Take heart, Fulham fans. Things can always be worse.

P.S. Hey MLS, if Leyton F.C. probably the twentieth biggest club in London, with a -75 goal differential, can manage to field ten youth teams, then surely New York Red Bulls, the only professional club in New York, owned by one of the richest beverage companies in the world, can manage more than five. Leyton F.C. is putting the MLS academy system to shame.

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Hero’s don’t always wear white hats

March 26, 2008

As Eddie Johnson puts in another feckless performance for the USMNT, and his stock plummets every week at Fulham, let’s all remember what he can do:

Some thoughts on wing play and crossing the ball

March 26, 2008

Today, when I should be thinking about the USMNT clash with Poland this afternoon, I am instead thinking about a Canadian and an Englishmen: Pauls, Stalteri and Konchesky.

While I haven’t read much out there that backs this up, my predominant impression of the Newcastle – Fulham game last Saturday was of Fulham’s attack having two outlets.

1) Shots from outside the box by Jimmy Bullard

2) Crosses from the wing by Messrs. S and K.

The teams dependence upon these two outlets would seem to have their root in a tactical system put in place by Roy Hodgson.

That Simon Davies, a right footer, has been played consistently on the left side of Fulham’s midfield, where he is forced to cut inside to get the ball on his strong foot, and that Leon Andreason, whose defense, workrate and athleticism are commendable, but whose crossing is not, has been played on the right side are decisions made by Hodgson in support of this tactical system that have been criticized extensively in the past week.

A typical Fulham possession might go as follows.

Keller dumps the ball off short to one of his defenders, usually Stalteri or Konchesky. At this point the team is in it’s basic 4-4-2.

Murphy drops back to pick up the ball. Depending on the defensive pressure, he either drops it back to the defense, work it sideways to either Davies or Andreason, or up to Bullard. Using short passes and crisp triangles, the team works the ball up the flanks to a central attacking position. At this point we see usually Jimmy Bullard on the ball, maybe five to ten yards outside the box. At this point the formation is a, well, 2-1-3-2-2.

——–20——14——–

–25——————26—

4———–21(o)———17

———–27————-

—–18———-32——

Obviously the spacing is a little off but you get the idea. I call it “the Shovel.” McBride and Johnson up top within the area. Davies and Andreason a couple of steps deeper, maybe just outside the corners of the area. Bullard central with the ball, with Konchesky and Stalteri having come way up, although one of them might be playing a little bit deeper, closer to Murphy’s line. Murphy supporting Bullard, and Hangeland and Hughes chilling deep.

At this point, the team takes one of the two options outlined near the top of this post. Either Bullard shoots it (and Newcastle’s keeper collects it without too much fuss.) or we go to option B, which is where things get interesting.

(Still with me?)

We pick a side. Let’s say right. So Bullard passes either to Andreason or to McBride/Johnson.

If he passes to Andreason, things look like so.

——20—–14——–

–25—————(o)26—

—————21———17

—-4————27———

———18—————32

Konchesky drops back a little bit to provide weak side cover, the right side striker will come up a little bit to show for the ball, Andreason has moved in a step to receive the pass, and Stalteri is coming up on the flank ready to overlap.

Now, traditionally, Andreason would make for the byline to try to cross the ball. But in our system, Andreason is either going to cut inside, and then play Stalteri through for the cross, or dump the ball down to Johnson or McBride who will then complete the triangle to Stalteri for the cross. If it’s Johnson, everyone calls him a coward and says he’s not good enough at this level and is a waste of space/human life, if it’s McBride, we praise his field awareness: either way the result is the same. A fullback, in the corner with the ball ready to cross.

But the real question is why? Why rely on our overlapping fullbacks to provide width? Why not play Davies on the right and Dempsey on the left, drop Murphy and throw Andreason in the center? Why not cross the ball with 0ur wingers like good old-fashioned Englishmen? Why insist on slowing the game down?

Well I dunno. But let’s look at what happens inside the box using both techniques.

If Andreason makes it to the goaline what happens?

The strikers will theoretically attack the ball, one of them coming in for the near post, one ghosting in at the far post, with Simon Davies coming into the area from the opposite wing and maybe Bullard or Murphy making a late clean up run into the top of the area.

If Stalteri makes it to the goaline, the same thing happens, except Andreason can also enter into the box. Maybe attacking that near post, maybe cutting across McBride’s run to the near post and popping up into the center. Maybe he sits in that dangerous area at the corner of a theoretical 12 yard box, where Stalteri can cut the ball back to him, and he can lay it off for a Bullard pile driver, shoot low for the near corner, or float the ball to the back post.

Using fullbacks to supply crosses allows the team to get that extra wide midfielder into the box. It’s a numbers game.

The problem, of course, as we saw against Newcastle is that the extra time it takes to work the ball to a fullback in a crossing position gives the defense time to solidify in the box. Add that to bad crossing from the fullbacks and forwards completely swallowed up by Newcastle’s center backs, and the tactical game plan failed. That much is clear.

But is the game plan wrong to begin with?

I don’t know.

What’s clear is that Hodgson has come up with an attacking plan to deal with the team’s many faults, and this is it. Has it worked? Not against Newcastle. Would a traditional, faster, game plan leaving the defense to the defenders and the crossing to the wingers have worked any better. Maybe, maybe not.

But we can see what Hodgson sees:

1) Lack of team speed. Speed kills, and Fulham are continually on the wrong end of that equation. With Bouazza having dropped off the face of the earth and Dio Kamara not being very good, we don’t have any good, speedy, wing options. Simon Davies is very quick and can beat a man with his first touch, but isn’t necessarily fast.

2) Lack of good forwards. Our forwards all have positives, but they also all have negatives. Look at it this way. Among our five or six or seven forwards, are there any who could play for another Premier League team this year?

Hodgson thinks a slow team with weak forwards has to rely on organization, discipline and team shape to score it’s goals. For Hodgson that means using fullbacks for width to get an extra man into the box. It didn’t work on Saturday. It happens.

But if supporters think that a different game plan or different manager is going to cause our non-existent Christiano Ronaldo to blaze past his man and whip in a cross to our non-existent Ruud Van Nistlerooy, they’ve got to look at the facts.

They blame Hodgson for not being attacking enough, but his tactics were extremely attacking. He played the fullbacks way up the pitch, and it cost us on defense. But because he is attacking in a slightly more obscure way, that fact gets lost in the shuffle.

One last thought on a post which has clearly gone on way too long, and probably contains more red herrings than a, than a, than a dutch herring buss:

I don’t know if Roy Hodgson is making the right moves or not. But I think he is firmly grounded in reality. He is making his decisions based on the evidence in front of him. Before he came, Fulham were on cloudcuckooland, to use the delightful phrase, with Lawrie Sanchez merrily pounding square pegs into round holes. Not anymore. Maybe we’ll stay up, probably we won’t. But I for one won’t be blaming Roy if we don’t.

P.S. There was something else I wanted to say but I forgot until now, and now can’t find a place to gracefully sneak it in, so here goes. Hypothesis: Hodgson used Andreason on the right flank not so much as an antidote to a specific opposition player, but more as an antidote to his system’s weakness against the counterattack with the fullbacks pushing so far up. Stalteri isn’t the fastest, so Andreason goes on the right to provide cover.

P.P.S. But I think he should be in the center.

P.P.P.S. Evidence! So I’m not completely crazy. But anyone else with more tactical experience than me, please weigh in in the comments.

Newcastle 2 – 0 Fulham

March 22, 2008

Painful and frustrating game. Newcastle scored an early goal thanks to Mark Viduka, and a late one thanks to Michael Owen.

Fulham didn’t play badly, but they didn’t play well either. Toothless up front and disorganized at the back, this game saw a reversal of much of the progress made since January.

From front to back:

McBride and Johnson: Johnson is going to take most of the criticism here, but to be fair, McBride didn’t do squat either. Johnson wasn’t getting any through passes to run onto and use his pace, and McBride wasn’t winning headers. On the rare occasions when a cross came in, neither seemed to be in the right place.

Davies, Bullard, Murphy, Andreason: Davies and Murphy had quiet games, Bullard played well, and Andreason looked lost and disgruntled on the right flank.

Konchesky and Staltieri: Both played very well indeed, playing solid defense, and providing most of the width in attack. However, their playing so far up the pitch so frequently may have led to added pressure on…

Hangeland and Hughes: Unusually shaky. Hangeland is being blamed for not closing down Viduka for the first goal.

The second goal was just poor marking, as somebody (Hughes?) found himself marking two players. Owen shakes free and poof, there’s the game.

Those who have been preaching on the message boards that Fulham will find salvation in attacking may have received their answer. Fulham played very aggressively away from home and got beat. Andreason wasn’t there to protect the defense, and Konchesky and Staltieri were constantly chasing down players from advanced positions. One of the more common sights from today’s game was a Newcastle player receiving the ball in acres of space, with only a few pigeons to slow him down. I’m not sure that a 4-5-1 as seen at Blackburn wouldn’t have been a better option. But hindsight is 20-20.

As far as our wide play goes, I think that Fulham have found a formula that sort of works, if we ignore the added stress that it places on the defense. From a purely attacking point of view, Bullard or Murphy get the ball out to Davies or Andreason, who then holds it up for Konch. or Staltieri. It’s not new and it’s not complicated but it works, forcing the defenders to switch off, creating good crossing opportunities. But how often did we see the crosses float across the area, as harmless as a soap bubble? Or even worse, come whipping in only to find Johnson and McBride watching, from the wrong part of the area, as the ball is cleared?

Fulham’s strikers ain’t that great, and this season at least, they ain’t gonna be. McBride has spirit, but he’s only a year younger than Jari Litmanen. Johnson has the potential to stretch a defense, but he needs to be forced to make an agressive play. Dempsey, Nevland, Kamara, Healy. These aren’t great options. Therefore we are reliant on the attacking system. So when the system breaks down, like today, there’s no moment of brilliance that will save us. We looked much more organized today than Newcastle, but the game was won in the 7th minute by a clever move from a clever striker. That’s not us. Attack is never going to be a strength for Fulham. I believe that midfield can be. So maybe, just maybe, the 4-5-1 can work? Against Derby, who knows. But as rotten and confused as I feel right now, I’m just glad I don’t have Roy’s job, because I know he feels a lot worse.

4-5-1 or 4-4-2, we’ve probably seen the last of Andreason on the wing. Murphy or Dempsey, please.

Hackwatch Vol. 2

March 22, 2008

F365:

HODGSON HOPES TO PLAY HIS JOKER

Fulham coach Roy Hodgson believes veteran striker Jari Litmanen could yet play a crucial role in their fight for Barclays Premier League survival.

Actual quotes by Roy Hodgson:

“To know Jari Litmanen as I did, having worked with him, and to know we could get him here was just a great joker to play in our pack,” said Hodgson.

“At the moment, because he hasn’t been fully able to get himself fit to figure, it’s not been a fortunate joker but still a good one to have around.

“You can’t have too many front players. They’re the ones that injuries happen to and they lose form, so you can never have too many going into a situation like we are.

“I’m delighted to have Jari around. He is playing with his usual enthusiasm. He’s certainly not match fit but he might just get there.

“I’m lucky in the sense that with McBride and Johnson doing well I don’t miss Jari quite so much as I may have done had it been a disastrous situation.

“I may have been looking in midweek and saying ‘My God, when are you going to be fit?’. But I can be more relaxed about it because the other guys are doing okay.

“When Jari is mechanically fit he’s never far away from being match fit. He keeps himself very fit. When we (Finland) played Azerbaijan he hadn’t played for a football team for five months. He’d not done one training session outside of the Finnish national team and he played 90 minutes.

“He’s contracted to us until the end of the season and then we’ll take a further assessment of the situation and talk to him again. Who knows – maybe he’ll be fit and we’ll like what we see and want to keep him for next season.”

Fair play. It’s more dramatic than, “Fulham coach Roy Hodgson believes veteran striker Jari Litmanen could yet play a role in their fight for Barclays Premier League survival, maybe, if everything else goes horribly, horribly wrong.”

Bonus: Structure of the article: 5 paragraphs of ‘analysis’, 8 paragraphs of quotes, 3 paragraphs of ‘analysis’, 7 paragraphs of quotes.

Now, wouldn’t it be easier, more efficient, and more informative to simply print transcripts? What was the value added of these 8 paragraphs written by our anonymous hack? His additions are either misleading, rewording of Hodgson’s comments which immediately follow, or contain basic information, such as “Five of their remaining eight games are away from Craven Cottage and Fulham have not won on their travels for 18 months.”

I see a market out there for some enterprising journalist. Next time you are assigned to craft an article out of an interview touching on several disparate subjects with no common theme, just submit a transcript of the quotes, perhaps, but not necessarily, with headings such as ‘ON RELEGATION’ or ‘ON JARI LITMANEN.’ Then, take your sloping forehead and protruding brow down to your nearest bar, and order a pint. You’ve earned it, son.

Newcastle Preview

March 22, 2008

Cute couple, huh?

COYW and all that.

Everton Preview

March 15, 2008

Everton are a scary team to be facing right now. Fulham are this close to making something happen, if the form on the field is anything to go by, but they need the psychological boost of a positive performance.

Everton do a lot of things well, they play the long ball, but they aren’t hoofers. They pass the ball accurately through the air, win headers and make intelligent flick-ons. When they get the ball down on the grass, they have players who know what to do with it.

Watching them play against Fiorentina, I was most impressed by the way they came in knowing they needed two goals, and they got them. Not by desperately throwing everything forward, but by playing their game, and trusting that if they did everything right the result would take care of itself. It didn’t of course, but losing on penalties is no sin. They got their two goals, and shut down a Fiorentina team that is fourth in Serie A.

It’s going to be a tough, physical game, but Blackburn away was the right preparation, and I am cautiously optimistic that Fulham can get a result.

P.S. Personally I find Everton’s shaven trio of Johnson, Osman and Carsley to be a hideous sight, truly the stuff of nightmares. Those bald domes twinkling under the floodlights… ugh. Let’s hope that Fulham’s players are made of sterner stuff.

P.P.S. I think it’s been shown that I am not immune to the siren’s call of the 4-4-2, but I think the 4-5-1 is right for tomorrow. Johnson up top, Dempsey to join him if we go down a goal.

Blackburn 1 – 1 Fulham

March 8, 2008

Well, with Reading beating Man City today, Fulham’s dearly won point was most definitely not enough.

Roy’s going to get some grief for sticking with the 4-5-1 for so long. And Eddie Johnson showed why he infuriates so many US fans.

But… as annoying as Johnson lightweight performance was, he did create the best chance of the game when he beat his man, froze the keeper with a step over and then rifled the ball into the corner of the posts. Almost doesn’t mean anything, but an inch in and down, and thats a great goal. Furthermore, immediately after Blackburn’s goal, Johnson squared the ball into… Murphy’s? path, which led to the deflection that fell for Dempsey. It was always a tough ball for Dempsey, coming at it from the ground, but again, almost a goal.

And as much as Johnson’s penchant for going to ground was harped on by the commentators, it was a ‘foul’ on him that led to the free kick.

McBride didn’t do much when he came on, nor did Healy (although he wasn’t given much of an opportunity). And while Johnson clearly squandered the vast majority of his opportunities, they are opportunities that wouldn’t have existed with any of Fulham’s other strikers.

That’s Eddie Johnson. He had a bunch of chances, screwed up most of them, came extremely close with one and created another, and then flopped to the foul that gave us the free kick that led to the goal. Annoying, yes. Irritating, yes. Infuriating, yes. Rubbish, no.

Like most football fans, I’m against diving. But at this point in the season, my morals have gone right out the window. With a 4-5-1, your lone striker has got to earn free kicks in dangerous areas. Even if Johnson was laughed off in most of his appeals, with a different ref, who knows? We could have gotten a couple more free kicks or a penalty.

The referee (deep breath). When I saw that Mike Reilly was allowing Blackburn’s goal to stand, I thought: typical. Fulham gets screwed by another bullshit goal in the second half. But when whoever was the color commentator defended that decision, as the foul was being shown in slow motion replay, I felt that the gears of the earth were slowing, and I became afraid that as all celestial motion ground to a halt, I would be thrown into the icy blackness of space. The commentator said that Stalteri has to stand up there, blah blah blah. Pederson hooked his leg behind Stalteri’s knee and then pulled him back with his arm. Clearly. I have performed that action or had that action performed on me countless times in my life, on the playground and what not, and let me tell you Andre the Giant couldn’t have stood up to that. It’s impossible. Pederson’s leg was behind Stalteri’s knee, Stalteri couldn’t take the step back, Stalteri stumbles backwards. It’s simple leverage. ARGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Overall, the game was more of the same. We must remember that Fulham are a very bad team. I resent that certain supporters are starting to blame Roy Hodgson for the position we are in. When confronted with the steaming of pile of dung Roy faced upon taking this position, what could he do but start at the back and try to make Fulham hard to beat? And he’s done that. Fulham are a bad bad team, Hodgson’s first two signings, Andreason and Hangeland have walked straight into the side and proved to be massive improvements. As for Fulham’s attacking signings, there are no sure things at Fulham’s price level, and Johnson and Nevland are about par for the course. I think that Johnson will prove to be a valuable, if not enjoyable player, but harping on about how the team offer nothing going forward is to miss the big picture. This team stinks! If we attacked non stop it would be no guarantee of either goals or success, because we don’t have good enough players. Trying to stop the bleeding at the back through organization and discipline and letting the goals come organically is the best we can hope for. Maybe it will be enough, probably it won’t. But it’s the only choice we have.

That being said, I wouldn’t be a fan if I didn’t have at least one beef with management, or at least one question. Why pull Dempsey to make way for McBride? What does Murphy give the team in that situation? Genuinely curious about that choice, as it seems to be a pattern.

Also, let’s not forget to give credit where credit is due.

Addendum: I realize that what I said about formation and intent doesn’t exactly jibe with my post from yesterday on the same subject. I’ll think about it some more.

Hackwatch

March 7, 2008

F365:

HEALY HANDED CHANCE

David Healy may have a chance to push his claims as a first-choice Fulham forward on Saturday – in the absence of Jari Litmanen.

Really? Fulham’s fifth forward is out injured so their sixth is going to start?

The Cottagers travel to Blackburn in the Barclays Premier League badly needing points on the road to salve their plight at the bottom of the table – with the likelihood of relegation increasing as time runs out.

True.

Roy Hodgson’s team’s cause will not be helped by the unavailability of Litmanen, who is back in his native Finland having new insoles made for his boots to cure a muscle strain.

It’s true. Jari Litmanen being in Finland will not help Fulham at Blackburn. However, considering that Jari Litmanen has not even made the substitutes bench for last three matches (or ever for that matter), Roy will probably dry his tears and get on with his work. Bonus Fact: David Healy has also not made the substitutes bench for the last three matches.

While Hodgson is left to bemoan the absence of the 37-year-old striker, opportunity knocks for Healy – who has been considered for a loan move as he struggles to catch his manager’s eye.

*Knock, Knock*

David Healy: Who is it?

Opportunity: It’s opportunity.

DH: Opportunity? That’s brilliant, come in!

O: Wait, who is this?

DH: It’s David Healy!

O: My bad. I thought this was Eddie Johnson’s house.

Hodgson, hoping Litmanen will soon be fit again, said: “It is frustrating for him and it is frustrating for me because it would give me another element in the competition for places up front.”

It means, however , that Northern Ireland international Healy could be back in the reckoning.

I am sure that David Healy is already reckoned as “another element in the competition.” Healium (snicker).

He has been linked with a loan move to a number of Championship clubs – but Hodgson has made it clear he wants to retain the former Leeds striker and has subsequently rebuffed any enquiries.

“Lots of people would like David and that is not surprising because he is a proven goalscorer,” he said.

“There are teams in the Championship who are looking for promotion or to avoid relegation – but I would prefer to keep David with me.

“I have told him that and he is happy to stay with us, so I have turned down their inquiries.”

Roy loves his elements. Because they are the building blocks of all matter. And all teams.

As for Litmanen, the likelihood is that – if his trip to Finland is fruitful – he ought to be back to reclaim his place shortly.

His place as an element, not as an actual player.

“Jari has had Achilles and ankle operations and needs these insoles to correct certain movement in his ankles which, if it doesn’t get corrected, brings about muscle strains,” Hodgson explained.

“That’s exactly what has happened – he has got a strain on the inside of his thigh that has come about because the new insoles that he thought were going to work didn’t.”

This is actually kind of awesome. I want to know more about this insole technology. This is the real story you hack!

I think we can all see what happened here. Some poor schmuck at the wire agency gets assigned to write an article about Fulham. He comes across two recent Hodgson interviews that are lying around. One about Jari Litmanen and his magical insoles, and one about David Healy staying around. You can practically see the wheels in his head spinning. Fulham have one striker that I’ve heard of who will be in Finland during their next game. Fulham have another striker that I’ve heard of who will not be going out on loan. Scribbles furiously on scratch paper. Therefore striker A’s absence opens the door for striker B! Brilliant! I’m brilliant! Hooray the sporting press!

Of course, I’ll look like I real doofus when Healy starts tomorrow. Which I would actually not be adverse to.

Words of Wisdom for Blackburn Away

March 7, 2008

“I’m on a mission, that n—– say is impossible/ But when I swing my swords, they all choppable.”

— GZA/Genius “Liquid Swords”

“A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.”

— Lord Peter Wimsey

Blackburn have 8 points from their last six home games, while Fulham have 2 points from their last six away games. Blackburn are 7th in the league, and well in the hunt for a UEFA cup spot (and in the mind of David Bentley, a Champions League bid as well), while Fulham are 19th with one foot in the grave. So why do I feel hopeful about this match?

Maybe it’s because CCN is spreading rumours about us playing two up top. I’ve agreed with Roy Hodgson that task one has to be to stop the bleeding from the back. But whether or not that job is completed it’s time to move on to task two: scoring the goals that will keep this team up. So what would a 4-4-2 for Fulham look like? Johnson and McBride together up top, perhaps, although with the club’s current wealth of strikers I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nevland or even Litmanen get a run out.

Midfield is where things get interesting. We’ve been using a five man midfield with Dempsey and Davies on the wings (with a touch of Kamara and Johnson thrown in) with a central three of Bullard, Murphy and Andreason. Murphy would seem to be the odd man out here. Perhaps a diamond with Dempsey and Davies squeezing in in our own half? Either way, Jimmy B. will have to be more disciplined than he has been in the past few games without two players to back him up. If we do go with two up, Andreason will the key figure. He’ll have to up his already prodigious work rate, and keep possession better than he has been.

But back to hope, why present… the simple explanation is that I’ll be watching this game, as opposed to Boro and United, and as often as it happens, it still surprises me when Fulham lose. I’m a bit like a dog who knows that his collar is electrified, but is still shocked (get it?) when he crosses the invisible fence.

My head: Blackburn 2-1 Fulham

My heart: Blackburn 0-1 Fulham