02.02.11 – Wednesday – 7:45pm
Barclays Premier League
Location: Craven Cottage: seemingly older than the battle of Trafalgar, lovingly restored in the not too distant past thus maintaining a lot of its original charm. Small, compact and built on a strip of land on which you would struggle to fit a cycle path, but brimming with character and personality – I would take it over a flat pack stadium in a retail park any day. Fulham’s long term plans may require a move to pastures larger – if, or when it does happens it may not get the same media attention as, for example the loss of Highbury, but it will be no less deserving.
Pre-match Gut Feeling: Score draw.
Waffle: Newcastle enter the game on the back of a training camp trip to Portugal, emerging from a packed Christmas and new year schedule finally with a game-free weekend – the one useful outcome from our unspeakable demise at Stevena… Stevena…. I can’t say it, you all know where and will be reminded of it for years to come via the BBC’s merciless enjoyment on 3rd round day. Fulham come into this game on the back of rousing and impressive 4-0 battering of Tottenham in the FA cup, playing with admirable style and confidence and serving up a nice portion of egg delivered directly to happy ‘arry Redknapp’s face. The footballing nation appreciates your efforts Fulham! Also, Newcastle happened to lose a couple of players to transfers, nothing too important though…
The Gaffer: Mark Hughes: Made a reputation being a very apt looking manager of the Welsh national team then ruined said reputation after taking over a Blackburn side and attempting to needlessly kick every team off the park, despite playing pretty decent football. He left this baggage when he moved to Man City, doing a steady if not spectacular job – the apparent lack of spark contributing to his eventual dismissal. In fairness the treatment he received after Man City were taken over by the hyper billionaire bond villain Sheik Mansour was extremely harsh, and undeserving of the continued progress made under Hughes’ stewardship – his results tending towards the positive in the short time he had been in charge. Spending a short period out of the game, he deservedly regained employment in his present post at Fulham, which after a slightly shaky start (arguably due to breaking the organised style of predecessor Hodgson in favour of a more fluid style) he has picked up more positive results. Overall, Hughes is a fairly likeable man and manager, with a decent amount of grey matter between his ears to back that up. Managerial Career Win Ratio: 41% (25% with Fulham).
The Team: Famed for high levels of work rate and disciplined organisation under Hodgson, and viewing this season they have kept the work rate but opted for more fluidity. Despite suffering indifferent form this season Fulham aren’t in possession of any huge immediate weaknesses, broadly home to a squad of sound athletic and technical professionals that on their day and at full strength can be a match to all but the very best. Also, they have been recently bolstered by the addition of plundered Chelsea youngster, Gael Kakuta, on loan to go with Steve Sidwell who joined earlier this month after an 11th hour u-turn on a move to Wolves.
- Danger man: Danny Murphy: A wise and experienced head that dictates a large portion of Fulham’s play with dynamic initiative, despite his advancing years, patrolling from box to box. In addition, Clint Dempsey’s technical ability, simplistic but effective nature and work rate are constant problem to any team, his late surging runs from midfield something which Stoke failed miserably to deal with in Fulham previous Premiership game. Naturally, the colossus Brede Hangeland’s threat at set pieces will be something that could quite easily cause problems, despite Newcastle’s generally impressive defensive work on set plays this season. Finally, a stringent eye will have to be kept on a lively Moussa Dembele, especially on the back of the impressive performance he delivered against Spurs on Sunday.
Pitch 1 shows the high involvement of Danny Murphy over a large area of the midfield – attempting 91 passes and completing 68. Note the range of passing, nearly all his unsuccessful passes being at fairly long range. Pitch 2 shows Clint Dempsey’s involvement, again over a broad area of the pitch despite his left midfield berth. (Diagrams showing pass location and success red = unsuccessful, blue = successful)
- Possible weak point: Fulham’s overlapping fullbacks. In recent games Fulham have adopted a 4-4-2 formation but with Dempsey and Duff playing on flanks opposite to their natural side and driving towards goal rather than being out and out wingers. This approach has invited full-backs Pantsil and Baird to dive forward to provide width and crosses, playing more like wing backs. This approach is positive, but also vulnerable to the counter attack – Man City capitalising prolifically earlier this season. This all depends on the ability of the away side to break up Fulham’s very efficient passing play (76% completed pass rate in their last league home game against Stoke).
Pitches 1 & 2 show Baird’s and Pantsil’s locations respectively on the pitch, noting high involvement in opponents half. Pitch 3 shows Duff’s inside play, but also noting his poor pass / cross completion in and around the opponents penalty area. (Diagrams showing pass location and success red = unsuccessful, blue = successful)
Tactical suggestions: The suggestion would be to play deep and narrow, but counter quickly and spread the ball into wide areas when in the attacking 3rd to exploit space. Packing the away midfield may have to be resorted to, to counteract the overloading from the inside runs of Duff and Dempsey, and the box to box presence of Murphy – although with the combative Nolan and Barton we still have options to achieve this. Gutierrez could potentially play a pivotal role in this game, his positioning being tracking back being the key to whether Pantsil has the freedom of the flank or leaves Hangeland and Hughes exposed to be flanked. With the missing trio of Tiote, Ben Arfa and Carroll a draw would be an achievable and sensible result to go for, especially with Fulham’s recent good home form.
Pantomime villain: A likeable club, team and set of fans all round…with the exception of Damien Duff. Horrifically overpaid and wholly useless while at Newcastle, he hastily scampered away after our overdue relegation, quickly forgetting his contribution towards that through a stream of abysmal performances which, by no means were the only factor in our demise, but had a telling enough contribution. He has since resurrected his career at Fulham – fair play to the club and him, but he won’t be remembered with much fondness on after a largely forgettable and expensive 3 years on Tyneside.
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