Thursday, 15 March 2012

Fulham v Swansea City, Premier League, Match Preview

Jolly boating weather......

The aerial view of Fulham's Craven Cottage location confirms for many the sight that they will have noticed from the Yearly Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and it's indisputable that this is one of the more pleasant locations for viewing a football match in Britain.

It certainly beats, no disrespect intended, a journey to Macclesfield, Kidderminster or Luton, for example, all of which we've made in our enticing journey both down, and up, the Divisions over the years gone by.

So, when we visit the Club that sits in 10th, immediately one place above us in the Barclays Premier League, and are only the merest whisker of Goal difference above us, it will come as no surprise to pay a return visit to this most pleasant and quirky of the London Grounds.

After all, many of us JackArmy faithful will remember our most recent previous visit, where, after an ultimately unsuccessful 2-1 reverse in an FA Cup replay just a couple of seasons ago, I remember vividly saying to a Fulham fan on our way out of the ground - "See you in a couple of years, mate" and getting his confirming reply - "Hey, I think you're right. Be good to see you back, you can play." We were both to be proved right.

Well then, here we are me old China, the Jacks are in London again, and ain't we just loving it.

We come to this fixture on the back of that spectacular defeat of Man City's cosmopolitan and supremely expensive League leaders at the rocking and bouncing Liberty stadium on Sunday last, but should be wary that Fulham's last minute 1-0 reverse at Villa park last Saturday was immediately preceded by their 5-0 spanking of Wolves the week before - and they are undoubtedly a different animal at their Craven Cottage Home, and are guaranteed to set us a difficult test on their own turf.

Talking of differing animals, any of we Swans who haven't seen the almost bizarre statue of Michael Jackson (yes,HIM) on the side of the ground, and commissioned by their ever giving Chairman and Owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, are strongly recommended to take in a sight of this "Modern Masterpiece".

It puts me in mind of the work of the Artist Jeff Koons (a sort-of American Damien Hirst), and I'd certainly consider it to be redolent of his famous "Bubbles" work of recent provenance. Have a look , and see what you think.

Whatever, let's get back to what remains a very important game for both sides.

Since their visit to the Liberty back in November 2011, (doesn't it seem ages ago?), the squad has changed slightly, but not to radical effect. The detailed breakdown of that clash can be found here, so you'll excuse me if today I concentrate on the differences since then, both for them and us, particularly as that's what's likely to affect the outcome this week.

A major difference in the Fulham ranks concerns the outcome of that suspected, yet consistently denied, spat between Martin Jol, the Manager, and Bobby Zamora, now departed, but at that time their leading light and effective striker.

Despite Jol's insistence, both pre and post game against us, the fact remains that he was dropped from the Squad and did not travel to Swansea, and although playing a couple of games for them after that weekend, he was summarily sold to QPR in the January transfer window, which goes to confirm, I would suggest, that all of those stories of a falling out between the pair had some substance.

So, with him gone to QPR, Fulham have replaced him with Pavel Pogrebnyak, and, in the linguistically challenging Russian International on loan from VFB Stuttgard till the end of the season, seem to have unearthed a muscular gem, his having scored 5 goals in his 4 thus far appearances, although it should be noted that this includes a hat-trick against the currently wobbly Wolverhampton Wanderers. His partnership, with the recently in favour Andy Johnson, seems to be bearing some fruit.

A deeper analysis of the side, however, points toward the value added by the supporting MF'ers, with both Mousa Dembele, and the prolific Clint Dempsey, playing no small part in their better performances.

Fulham's persistence and continued presence in this division has generally been ascribed to their stable shape and system - ostensibly a 4-4-2 even before Roy Hodgson drilled that into their DNA, and Jol may tinker with the periphery of the side, but has remained faithful to the solidity that this base gives them.

With Mark Schwarzer restored in goal - he injured his neck against us at the Lib, which kept him out for weeks, - the cover provided by David Stockdale, the England u-21 cap recalled from Ipswich, has not been needed.

The stability at the back is provided by the system - the back 4 are always protected, but a consistency of selection always aids that, and it is built principally on Brede Hangeland, the CB for them being as much of a lock as Ash Williams is for us. Since being signed from FC Copenhagen, by Roy Hodgson, the giant Norwegian has settled into a pattern of excellence and reliability.

Last week's line up for them confirmed that there's been little change in their basic defensive set up, since the back 5 comprised Schwarzer, Kelly, Hangeland, Sendreros and Riise, which just happens to be how they set up against us at the Liberty. No change there, then. We'll settle for that.

In Midfield, however, whereas they went with a 4-2-3-1 at that Welsh visit, at Villa, it was more of a 4-1-4-1 with Danny Murphy being the holder and protector, Johnson and Duff wide, with Dembele and Dempsey central, and Pogrebnyak advanced.

Prior to this disappointing 1-0 reverse to the Villains (who had not exactly been tearing up trees themselves), the Cottagers had taken 16pts from the previous 8 games, but they were limited Away from the Cottage, and eventually succumbed to a late late Andreas Weimann goal, collected from a spilled Schwarzer save in injury time.

For this fixture then, I would be majorly surprised were they not to set up in a more attacking mind-set and formation, maybe utilising the benched Bryan Ruiz, and pushing either Dempsey or Johnson (more particularly) further forward.

Whatever, we can be certain that as a Home fixture, both their team and their crowd will expect a more confident and attacking-oriented performance, since that remains a truism in the performance of all but the very top top clubs. You know what I mean, and will have asked yourself the very question that all football fans do - which is, why do teams consistently and almost inevitably perform so much better at Home?

We're a classic example of this ourselves - you know that our Home record of 6-6-2 vs 3-3-8 Away, and Fulham's 7-4-3 vs 2-5-7 bears this out exactly.

These are interesting figures, since their 2% better Home record is matched by our 2% better Away record. So that's a certain draw then, is it?

You know, as well as I do, it's not that simple, oh no, far from it.

Here's a serious Academic Study that investigates the influence of the Televising of Games as a possible factor. Alongside that, this summation presents the broader and more significant arguments.

Whatever your ultimate take on it, we fans know that it still holds true - at least until you get to the elite level - and neither we, nor Fulham, are quite there yet.

What is unarguable, however, is that after last week's immensely satisfying besting of Man City at the Lib, and Fulham's concurrent reverse in the Midlands, psychologically at least, we are on a comparative high.

Our squad's self-confidence can not fail to be at a season's best level, given that the performance demonstrably matched the fantastic result. And, what's key, I would suggest, is our estimable Manager, Brendan Rodgers, who, incidentally, earned the important regard of his fellow PL gaffers, will not allow any sort of complacency or preternaturally inappropriate "success quotient" to affect the players - he will insist that there's still a long way to go, and we must continue to perform, before we can relax and take on a cigar.

Our Away form has without doubt improved throughout the season, although it would have been hard for it not to do so, but the pleasant progress from that first win at Villa has meant that we now approach these sorts of games with at least a realistic chance of coming back Home with both performances and points earned.

Whilst Fulham are a genuinely decent Premier League team, proved both by their retention of status and their expanding European Qualification, I would make the point again - after a defeat of the League leaders last weekend, it felt honest to confirm that we've really arrived in this division - and, moreover, we need have no fear of traveling to another patch and putting in a performance that not only pleases the eye but elicits reward as well - and that means getting a draw or a win from this fixture.

If we play to our capabilities, this is at least possible.

The side, as we've seen recently, has achieved a certain permanence, but what's equally rewarding is that it seems also to be appreciated by all the squad members, even those who don't necessarily start an individual game. Notice the performance of Wayne Routledge, who had waited patiently whilst Nathan Dyer stunned, but, given his chance last week, was instrumental in the winning goal.

The other half of that fantastic headed net buster was Luke Moore, who, as BR has said, continues to offer and give his total support and key performances even when brought on at any stage.

I am confident the rest of the squad feels exactly the same - the body language evident weekly and the interviews extant tell you so. This is a squad that genuinely enjoys being together, so that bodes well for this weekend.

This week promises to be a fairly open game, with both sides confident enough to play football on the deck, and with each all but safe for a further season in this financially rewarding set-up, we ought at the least get to see a game that resembles the more aesthetically pleasing pass and move mode than pertains in some Away fixtures. You'll know who I mean, since you've seen it for yourself.


My personal take this week is that we go to the Cottage to face an opponent that's dangerous, but not unbeatable.

I travel to the smoke this weekend from Llanelli, with my holiday-freed elder son (who lives in Cwmbran, Gwent) in tow, to stay the Friday-Sunday with my younger son, who splits his time between Paris (The Marais) and London (Battersea -Yuppyville).

This week all 3 Thomas boys will be not only taking in the game by the banks of Old Father Thames, but the delightfully coincidental Trust Evening on the Friday Night, where we get to spend an evening with Chairman Huw Jenkins, Trust Board Director Huw Cooze, Manager Brendan Rodgers, and Wales Manager Chris Coleman.

On the Town, indeed.

Promises to be a good evening, and it'll be great to meet up with Jack friends old and new, so, until later, it only remains to wish you all the best, and, hopefully, we'll return to be able to say..........

Onward, Swansea City.

And Mohamed Al Fayed has appointed his son Karim Fayed as Fulham's vice-chairman. "This reward is an appropriate recognition of his additional contribution and support," toadied chief executive Alistair Mackintosh.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Pierre, where is the match report ? long do I HAVE TO WAIT ?!!

#taps impatiently#