premier league

Bravery and Belief The Missing Ingredients For Fulham

Fulham have earned a lot of plaudits for their performances in recent weeks. Two matches in particular stand out when The Cottagers played well against higher-placed opposition but only came away with one point out of a possible six from the two games. The games I refer to are the 1-0 defeat against Manchester United and the 1-1 draw with Chelsea. With more belief in their own ability and bravery to take the game to their opponents, Fulham could well have come away with anything up to six points from these two games.

Old Trafford

In both matches, Fulham played with their 4-2-3-1 formation. Although the three attack-minded midfielders were so deep it practically made it a 4-5-1 set-up that began both games. At Old Trafford against United, there is still a certain fear that exists amongst visiting teams that prevents them from really believing they can get a result at the biggest club ground in England. I wouldn’t say Fulham had too much of this fear as such, more a lack of belief in their own ability to take the game to United without allowing the champions to take control of the game. Fulham played some nice football in the first half and were unlucky to go in at half time a goal down after Wayne Rooney struck three minutes before the interval. Dembele and Dempsey in particular had caused the United midfield problems with their movement and Pogrebnyak ensured it wasn’t an easy night for Ferdinand and Evans despite not having many chances himself. In the second half, United began to dominate possession but without really threatening to add to their one goal advantage. But Fulham still didn’t throw caution to the wind against a United side clearly not at the races.

It wasn’t until Martin Jol sent on captain Danny Murphy with just under 20 minutes to go that Fulham began to play higher up the pitch and get more bodies forward in support of the previously isolated Pogrebnyak. In the dying minutes, United were hanging on against a side that suddenly had the belief that they could get something out of the game. And a Michael Carrick tackle on Danny Murphy as the former Liverpool midfielder surged into the penalty area failed to make contact with the ball and was wrongly ignored by referee Michael Oliver. That was a huge let-off for United. The closing stages must have left Fulham fans thinking if they had gone for it a little earlier in the game, that United were there for the taking and their side could have managed to rescue at least a point.

The visit of Chelsea

For Chelsea’s visit to Craven Cottage, Fulham were missing Pavel Pogrebnyak. Clint Dempsey played the lone striker role just a few days after becoming the club’s highest scorer in a single Premier League season. Fulham again started the game very cautiously, having good spells of possession but not really testing Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal or getting their attacking midfielders high enough up the pitch to do any real damage to their West London neighbours. As at Old Trafford just a few weeks previously, Fulham found themselves on the wrong end of a questionable penalty decision. Despite replays suggesting he might have been wrong to do so, referee Mark Clattenburg awarded Chelsea a penalty which Frank Lampard tucked away just before half-time.

As the second half progressed Fulham still seemed reluctant to come out of their shell and let their talented attacking players – Dembele, Frei and Duff – push further upfield and have a little freedom to roam and find space. Again, Fulham showed themselves to be very comfortable on the ball and not afraid to keep possession when put under pressure. In the final 15 minutes, however, the home side seemed to consciously begin to attack Chelsea. Perhaps finally sensing that this is not a great Chelsea side and that they possess enough ability in their own ranks to go toe-to-toe against anyone when they are on form, especially at Craven Cottage. Riise began bombing forward from left full-back, as he had become famous for earlier in his career at Liverpool, and Damien Duff played ten yards further forward and pinned Ryan Bertrand back for the first time in the match. The crowd could sense an equaliser was on the cards and after a run of corners were Chelsea were uncharacteristically poor at dealing with, Dempsey managed to head home for his 16th goal of the season. By this time Martin Jol had sent on Orlando Sa to add a physical presence to Fulham’s attack – further evidence of Fulham’s growing belief during the game. Fulham were still the better side in the closing stages and were looking more likely to find a winning goal. As Chelsea brought Drogba on and moved Torres to the right hand side, Ivanovic was left exposed several times, no longer receiving the support that Ramires had offered him for the first 83 minutes. This was an avenue Fulham exploited as they pushed for a winner but they eventually had to settle for a point as it finished 1-1.

What might have been

This is not intended as a criticism of Fulham or their manager Martin Jol. The Dutchman is building a good team that plays football the right way and is still in transition from the Mark Hughes team he inherited. The change in the forward line of Zamora and Johnson in front of a midfield four has been changed for the continental-style 4-2-3-1. A change which isn’t always successful straight away. Fulham now appear to be getting to grips with it and are showing they can match the ‘bigger’ clubs in the league on their day. But if Fulham had been a little braver in believing in the talent in their team, they could have come away from Old Trafford with at least a point and could easily have beaten Chelsea. Maybe next season, as Jol’s players become more and more comfortable with their formation, the manager himself will believe in his team a little more and be brave enough to take the game to the opponents in games like these.

Five Premier League players sure to be in demand this summer

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As the 2011/2012 season nears it’s completion, most clubs will already have a good idea of what areas they need to strengthen. Positions will have been identified as one’s that could be stronger, either in terms of back-up or a better player in the first eleven. In many cases, individual players will have been mentioned already in conversations between managers, board members, technical directors and scouting staff. Here are five players currently playing in the Premier League that are likely to attract interest amongst other clubs:

Junior Hoilett

This Canadian 21 year old has been a shining light in Blackburn’s struggle of a season. He great pace, dribbling ability and a fearless direct approach to attacking his opponents. As with most inexperienced wingers, his end product can be a little inconsistent. But this could be said of many wingers of far greater experience than Hoilet, and that is unlikely to deter any potential suitors when the transfer window re-opens. At the time of writing, Hoilet has 13 goals to his name in 60 starts for Blackburn. He’s also shown his versatility in being able to play on either flank, as well as being paired with Yakubu as a centre-forward on several occasions. He already seems to have matured and grown as a player, even since last season when he still appeared as slightly raw. But the rate at which he’s improved, created chances and scored goals for a struggling team is bound to attract interest from clubs higher up the league that have the money to put in a bid to match their interest.

James McClean

The Sunderland left-winger has had a huge impact on Sunderland’s season. After completing a £350,000 transfer from Derry City last summer, Steve Bruce was reluctant to give McClean a chance in the first team. Instead preferring him to gain some experience of English football by playing in the reserve team until Christmas. McClean only ever appeared as an unused substitute under Bruce. Bruce was then sacked as Sunderland manager in late November and was replaced by Martin O’Neill. In O’Neill’s first game in charge, McClean was sent on as a second half substitute with Blackburn leading 1-0 at the Stadium of Light. McClean helped his team complete a dramatic late comeback as the Black Cats scored twice in the final 6 minutes to turn the game on it’s head. McClean has not looked back since, going from strength to strength and being rewarded with a new three year contract in March. The fact that he has recently signed a new contract could either act as a deterrant to other clubs, or it could just push any potential transfer fee much higher than it would have been on his original contract. But for a man who turns 23 this April, he may be tempted by the lure of European football if a suitable offer comes in. His ability is not in question. He can beat players, is physically strong, decent in the air, quite quick and has an eye for goal. The only gamble for any potential interested parties is whether he can sustain such good form over a longer period of time.

Moussa Dembele

Fulham’s talented 24 year old has added to his growing reputation with a string of impressive performances in midfield this season. A key thing to note here is that Dembele’s contract expires in the summer of 2013. It is thought that Fulham are in the process of trying to agree an extension to his current deal, which as it stands could see him leave for free at the end of next season. If no new deal is agreed within the next couple of months, it may be that Fulham would rather recieve a fee for him now rather than see him leave for nothing 12 months from now. A player they only signed for £5million from AZ Alkmaar in 2010 would surely more than double their money if sold, after showing a stylish touch and technique that could see him fit comfortably in a team chasing honours or playing European football.

Mark Davies

Bolton midfielder Mark Davies is a player who has developed really well in the last couple of years. He is an energetic, intelligent midfielder who links up well with players around him. He isn’t afraid to run with the ball and always seems to have good awareness of what’s around him when he receives the ball. He seems to have flourished under the management of Owen Coyle at Bolton and at the age of 24, still has room for improvement. Much like Dembele, he doesn’t have an impressive goal return for a midfielder. And he hasn’t been a consistent starter at Bolton, with nearly half of his appearances coming as a substitute in his 3 years at the Reebok Stadium. But his quality on the ball, spatial awareness and energy in midfield could attract clubs with more financial clout than Bolton. And if Davies has ambitions to play for England, then he would surely be tempted to move to a club where history suggests players are more likely to be selected for England.

Luka Modric

After expressing a desire to leave Tottenham last summer, Modric eventually settled down to return to the Spurs side after Chairman Daniel Levy defiantly refused to sell him. He has again performed admirably this season, being an essential part of one of the most entertaining attacking teams in the country. However, Modric may be slightly frustrated that Tottenham still don’t appear to be ready to mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title. As well as the way he has been forced to play on the left or the right of midfield in the absence of Gareth Bale or Aaron Lennon in recent months. For someone who is really the focal point of the Tottenham team, and is an integral part of the way they play, manager Harry Redknapp damaged the Tottenham side by limiting the influence Modric was able to have on games from this position. Last summer the potential buyers were Manchester United and Chelsea. United are still lacking that something special in central midfield so could still be interested to find a replacement for Paul Scholes. Whilst Chelsea would almost certainly welcome him into their side where he would no doubt link up well with the gifted Juan Mata. But after Tottenham’s insistence last year that he would not be leaving so soon after signing a 6 year contract, the same outcome could occur whether Modric wishes to leave or not.