Monthly Archives: August 2009

The demise of Fulham

I must start by saying that I have a lot of admiration for Roy Hodgson and Fulham. My first permanent flat in London was opposite Craven Cottage and my local pub was the brilliant Golden Lion (http://www.allinlondon.co.uk/clubs_bars/venue-248.php) – entry on match days is only for local and those with a Fulham member’s card. Finally, after Fulham had avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth, I met Roy Hodgson at Heathrow and congratulated him on his achievement that season (a story he still dines out on I’m sure).

 

With all that in mind I think that they are in real trouble this season. Hodgsons team is built on two attributes: organisation and hard work. People might think that I am doing them a disservice by underestimating their quality but what do they really have? Danny Murphy controls the midfield wonderfully well but their creative spark doesn’t come from the hardworking Johnson and Zamora. Fulham look towards their wide players for the creative impetus – Duff, Dempsey, Gera and Davies – but none of these have, in my opinion, sufficient quality to get into most Premier League sides.

 

So, why will Fulham be in trouble, probably come November? The Europa league will be the undoing of Fulham. Organisation will win games if everyone is, err, well, organised. The team that played for Fulham on a weekly basis was almost always the same and therefore they were sufficiently organised. Changing personal disrupts the organisational aspect of the team and causes problems for the concept of team defence.

 

But do Fulham need to change their team? Yes if they are not to suffer from burn out by the time the season ends. The way in which Roy Hodgson plays demands that his players work hard. The question will be whether the working demanded can be sustained through the Europa League groups.

 

I do not think that the tactics Hodgson employs can survive a European campaign. He has form when this situation is played out, think Blackburn. The only way in which Fulham can avoid a challenging relegation fight is to inject some attacking quality in the side – something which needs to be done by tomorrow afternoon.

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Lescott and Toure – together at last

This blog has discussed Birmingham’s forward line: how Alec McLeish needs to settle on a partnership and let them get to know one another. Centre backs are a different bread altogether and picking the two best players will not guarantee good or consistent performances.

 

Central defenders take their position from each other and in every successful partnership there is a leader. When the team has the ball the leader at the back controls the position of the second centre back and, in turn, the full backs and central midfield.

 

Without the ball the leading centre back directs the defending; when to step up, who will cover who etc. The most important aspect of a central defensive partnership is that there is one leader. There needs to be an authoritative voice and someone to take responsibility for the teams defending.

 

Currently Terry leads Chelsea, Carragher leads Liverpool, Ferdinand leads Man Utd and Gallas leads Arsenal. When Ferdinand was injured Vidic lead Evens and the defence was just as strong. However, after the torrid time Torres gave Vidic the partnership crumbled because Vidic lost his authoritative voice.

 

A central defensive partnership, if wanting to be successful, needs to have one ‘aggressive’ player and one ‘passive’ player. Having the same type in a line up will lead to frailty; either someone not taking the direction given by another or neither proving the aforementioned direction.

 

Kolo Toure has a previous history when taking a role within the partnership. From his Arsenal days he appears to fluctuate between ‘passive’ and ‘aggressive’. He was ‘passive’ during his time with Sol Campbell (‘aggressive’ / successful) and with Pascal Cycan and Senderos (‘passive’ / failure) but ‘aggressive’ with Gallas (‘aggressive’ / failure).

 

In the 2008 / 2009 season Joleon Lescott played alongside Phil Jagielka at Everton. Jagielka was new(ish) to the position so took his lead from Lescott. It is arguable as to who performed better but certainly Lescott was the organiser at the back.

 

At Man City the partnership, being new, with have no leader in terms of who is the most senior at the club. Both players have experience in the Premier League and are capped at international level. Toure is older than Lescott, has played more and won more but Lescott is English and more expensive by double the amount.

 

Whether nationality will play a part as to who dominates will be interesting as the rest of the first choice back four are English (Richards and Bridge). Either way, one of Lescott or Toure will need to take direction from the other. It is easy in most cases to ascertain which one of the two centre backs that will be but in this case there is not a natural leader. Two ‘passives’ or two ‘aggressives’ do not work together and it will result in Shay Given being a busy man.

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Birmingham and their lack of goals

It must be of some concern to Alec McLeish that Birmingham have only scored one goal so far this season. Not scoring a goal against Man Utd is not something to be ashamed of, nor would scoring have been expected. However, the two home games against Portsmouth and Stoke should have yielded more than one goal.

 

This concern becomes an alarming concern considering that Larsson’s registered effort against Portsmouth was a penalty. The way in which the penalty was gained should be something that causes McLeish sleepless nights. It was not given because a Birmingham player was fouled when through on goal, nor did a player block a shot with his hand. Essentially David James fouled Larsson when he was not in a goal scoring position. Therefore, Birmingham cannot, in my mind look at the penalty as a bone fide goal – it was a lucky goal.   

 

Home games against those teams which will be struggling with Birmingham should be the occasions when goals are scored. If Birmingham are faltering in front of goal against defences that in their other away game this season shipped four then there is a problem.

 

That problem is that Alec McLeish has too much choice. McFadden, Benitez, O’Connor, Phillips and Jerome have all played up top this season and all bar Benitez have started one of the three matches. There is a lot to be said for stability within a football team and creating partnerships which can succeed. Modern day examples of partnerships succeeding include Pires and Henry, Cole and Yorke, and Gerrard and Torres. These are some of the best players to have graced the Premier League so the question is whether the examples trickle down to players not blessed with the kind of quality that the aforementioned superstars have / had.

 

Yes. One of the most successful strike partnerships in the Premier League was Phillips and Quinn. These good players were incredibly successful when paired together. Peter Reid used a tactical system which played to their respective strengths and it worked. During last season the partnership of Beattie and Fuller was a driving factor in Stoke remaining in the Premier League. Before Beattie’s arrival Stoke were flirting with relegation, having signed Beattie and playing an orthodox 4-4-2 gave Stoke the resilience to keep most teams out and score the goals needed to take all three points.

 

So, that takes us back to Birmingham and their striking choice. The only way in which they will score the goals needed to stay up is if McLeish picks a front two and allows them to develop an understanding. My thoughts would be that Benitez would be one of the two. This is for no reason other than he cost a club record amount of money and I do not believe that Messes Gold and Sullivan would be happy seeing a lot of money being wasting away on the bench. My choice for Benitez partner would be McFadden. He does have the quality to play in the Premier League (something which is questionable with O’Connor and Jerome) and is dynamic enough to work between the line and on the flanks, if needed. Furthermore, when playing without the ball, a 4-4-2 can quickly become a 4-5-1.

 

Alec McLeish needs to make his decision quickly before Birmingham play too many six pointers at home and do not find the back of the net.

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The psychology of taking the lead against Man Utd

One aspect of Burnley’s victory over Man Utd which has not, to my mind, been discussed is the psychological boost it could give other teams.

Man Utd, if behind in a football match, would simply attack, attack and attack. The opposition’s defence would get deeper, ultimately concede and defeats which were on the cards would be turned into draw or victories. There was almost a belief that the equalising goal would inevitably happen. As a viewer I feel the same way; I expected Man Utd to score at least once. The game against Aston Villa last season is prime example of how this mentality can also affect teams which should have more self belief. 

Burnley, having hung on under immense pressure might have gone some way to shatter the defeatest mentality which all teams have when playing Man Utd. However, one other aspect will come into play when teams find themselves in a similar situation. Man Utd are not the same Man Utd that created the fear – they a without two very important creative players. Whilst they have replaced Ronaldo and Tevez the aura has not be replicated.

Andrew Strauss, Englands cricket captain, mentioned that the Australians, minus McGrath, Warne et al did not carry with them the same aura. The feeling of inevitability often contributes more to the actual result that the performance of either side. If both teams expect one result then that result will happen. One expects that Man Utd will need to be defeated in a similar way once again before the image finally falls but Burnley have shown to the rest of the Premier League that the inevitable result is not so inevitable.

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