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Steve Says! Fulham vs Stoke

Steve Says!  Fulham vs Stoke
Steve Minton

Nobody quite saw that one coming. Drifting along on a huge wave of optimism given the exciting start to the season under more progressive football and then Norwich turned up, out-Stoked us, popped our bubble and sailed away with all three points last weekend. It was a performance devoid of many things – and rumours of a dressing room rift this week following comments made by Jones and Shawcross in the media lead to Chairman Coates firmly drawing a line in the sand.

It’s not all doom and gloom however. There were always going to be blips along the way under this new expansive, progressive style of football, and every team experiences off days during the season. Perhaps also we had some players believing the media hype following excellent performances against Manchester City and West Ham, and being brought back down to earth with such a significant bump could be a good thing.

We travel to Craven Cottage next to facea Fulham side who definitely have not had a good start to the season. A change of ownership has seen long-timer Al-Fayed replaced by another foreign owner in the form of Shahid Khan – the Pakistani-born American billionaire who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.
Fulham are languishing in 18th place having only managed one win so far this season. Leaking nine goals in six games so far and scoring only four, last season’s top scorer Dimitar Berbatov has yet to open his account. Let’s hope we aren’t in a charitable mood come Saturday afternoon.

Their slow start, coupled with seven without a win at home has heaped pressure on Martin Jol with some media outlets suggesting a loss on Saturday will see him ejected from his job, it is never easy when a new owner takes over and when results are going against you doubly so.

Berbatov settled the same fixture last season scoring on the brink of half time with an immaculately taken volley. Jon Walters also missed a penalty that day. Stoke were lacklustre and Fulham were much the better side. Stoke sat deep and tried to hit Fulham on the break – let’s hope we see something different this weekend.
The game also marks a return to Craven Cottage for Mark Hughes – Fulham fans were not particularly impressed when he resigned from the job after 11 months back in 2011. It will be interesting to see what reception he garners from the home crowd.

Team News

Stoke

Matthew Etherington and Jon Walters are both doubtful for the game. If Jon Walters misses out then it will be the first game he has missed in over two league seasons.
In his pre-match press conference manager Mark Hughes said there were various bump and bruises to be assessed before the game but did not give details if any players were likely to miss out through them.

Fulham

Definitely out for Fulham are goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenberg and defender Matthew Briggs.
There are doubts over Ashkan Dejagah, Scott Parker and Aaron Hughes.

Predictions

Euro Club Index are predicting a Fulham Win (45%) with a draw rated at 31%. (http://www.euroclubindex.com/asp/matchodds.asp)

The major bookies (odds from Oddschecker) favour a Fulham win with decimal odds of around 2.45. (http://www.oddschecker.com/football/english/premier-league/fulham-v-stoke/winner)

Tactical

Fulham vs Cardiff (Home stats Yellow, Away stats White)

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Possession was very even throughout the game, however Cardiff were much more impressive with the ball constantly probing. Fulham conceded their first from a corner kick and Cardiff made life very difficult with crosses into the box. Fulham were unable to cope with the sheer number of balls floated into their box and in truth the scoreline could have favoured Cardiff far more.

Fulham sat deep and threatened on the counter-attack with Bryan Ruiz scoring a quality leveller. That said Cardiff had 22 shots to Fulham’s 9, not good reading for Cottager’s fans being at home and showing poor attacking threat.

Cardiff showed significantly more strength and drive which unsettled the Fulham backline. If Stoke can create chances and dominate possession in the final third like against Man City and West Ham it could be a pleasant day in London. Worrying times to be a Fulham fan, and to be Martin Jol.

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As you can see, Fulham’s shots came from both inside and outside the box, pulling four saves from the Cardiff goalkeeper. Three of their shots were over the bar and Bryan Ruiz scored a super goal from outside the area.

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This graph is extremely worrying if you are a Fulham fan. Peppered shots in from inside and outside the box, several blocked shots. They are rather lucky that Cardiff were wasteful with the majority of their 22 shots in the game. Some great blocks inside the box prevented the scoreline being much higher. Cardiff should have done better however and Fulham need to tighten up as allowing so many shots inside their box will lead to significant pain against a better side.

Positioning and Influences

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Fulham are very reliant down the right side for their attacks, feeding to ball to Scott Parker and Kasami/Ruiz who play on the right side. As they operate a 4-4-1-1 formation, Kasami/Ruiz bring the ball forward feeding the ball into Parker or one of the two forwards (Ruiz/Bent/Berbatov) to try to create a goalscoring chance.

In possession Fulham prefer to sit deep, keeping the ball in their own half or around the middle of the pitch seeking to stifle the opposition and counter-attack when they are out of position.

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As you can see Fulham significantly favour getting the ball into Bent/Berbatov/Ruiz and making them responsible for the majority of their goals. Having scored only four goals this season something isn’t working. As 65% of their shots come from outsidethe box there are clearly problems with supplying quality into the penalty area. This would explain Berbatov’s lean streak as he seldom ventures out of the 18 yard box to create chances or collect the ball.

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Fulham allow a lot of space centrally and inside their 18 yard box for their opponent as we could clearly see from the amount of shots Cardiff managed to generate. Allowing your opposition so much time and space inside your 18 yard box is a recipe for disaster and you would definitely think if we can open them up we simply need a little quality to score goals.

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Conclusion

Fulham are a side presently free-falling with both the team and their manager under significant pressure to improve or face repercussions. Cardiff were wasteful in front of goal and similarly Stoke have been profligate in striking areas thus far this season.

Stoke’s defence has been poor in the past two games, conceding four goals you would not expect of the normally resolute back five, with Asmir Begovic being particularly poor to his lower-right so far this season.
That said Shawcross and Huth have been resolute, Arsenal aside, and you see Fulham having a tough time creating many quality chances.

With Jon Walters potentially missing out, along with Etherington, we may see a front line of Arnautovic, Ireland, Adam/Assaidi which would excite a lot of Stoke fans although this would provoke it’s own questions of whether to continue with Jones following his media outbursts and goalless league form or to recall Peter Crouch to provide link up.

Fulham do not look like scoring unless from a long ranger outside the box.
The game will boil down to two things – can Fulham deal with Stoke’s attacking impetus and can Stoke finish off chances.

Prediction: Fulham 0 – 1 Stoke.

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