A 93rd minute winner by Aston Villaai??i??s Weimann may have dented Fulhamai??i??s hopes of storming into the top 6, but the mood within the club is clearly optimistic. Martin Jolai??i??s admission that if key players like Dempsey and Hangeland remain fit then ai???hopefully we can do something which is niceai??? and with the media eulogizing their fluid approach, fans clearly are witnessing one of best teams in Fulhamai??i??s history.

The performances are in stark contrast to the ones by teams set out by Roy Hodgson. With organization and defensive solidity their backbone, Fulham finished 2009-10 season in 8th place finish, their highest in Premier League history. Jol, in the game against Wolves, chose to field a front six brimming with creativity, rarely seen in any top league these days; with Danny Murphy who leads Fulhamai??i??s assists charts with 5, their deepest lying midfielder.

Zamora Out, Pogrebnyak In

That Bobby Zamora and Martin Jol were not a great fit was for all to see. Off the field, mumbling of a rift between the player and manager had been on since the opening month of the season; while on it, Zamora was the major roadblock between Jolai??i??s vision of fluid, free-flowing football.

Despite that, he was still Fulhamai??i??s biggest asset after Dempsey, scoring 5 goals and 5 assists in his limited appearances this season. Jol should in fact be thankful to the bulky striker, who can be credited with turning Fulhamai??i??s season around.Ai?? His injury time volley against Arsenal and his assists in the Newcastle hammering helped them notch up two key victories in January, after suffering their biggest home defeat in the Premier League against Manchester United in December.

However, the problems just refused to die out and Zamora finally moved to QPR. His replacement was Pavel Pogrebnyak, a star from Zenithai??i??s 2008 UEFA campaign, but who at Stuttgart had scored only 15 goals in 67 Bundesliga matches.

Pogrebnyak and Zamora's movement on the pitch depicted by heat maps (Courtesy http://soccernet.espn.go.com )

.

Pogrebnyak with his movement provided the catalyst that Jolai??i??s plan for fluid football needed. With Zamora in the side, Fulham tended to hoof the ball upfront, hoping for him to win the header and find a runner to pick up the 2nd ball. As a result, most of his touches were concentrated in one area with him trying to challenge the central defender in the air, and no touches in the 6-yard box.

Pogrebnyak though, shows better mobility with touches scattered all over the opposition half. He has also been ruthless in front of goal scoring 5 times from just 8 shots.Ai?? Of Fulhamai??i??s 8 goals since his arrival, four were scored from within the 6-yard box and none from outside the 18-yard box.

Dempseyai??i??s Movement Is A Key Feature

A key feature of this Fulham attack is Clint Dempsey on the left, the American International has been in superb form this season scoring 15 goals and assisting 5 times. On paper the formation may be a simple 4-4-2, but in truth it is far from it. Dempsey being a natural central midfielder cuts in creating the space out wide for Riise to bomb up and down the wing.

Dempsey's positioning on the pitch by percentage

.

When Fulham play Murphy and Dembele in their midfield, the opposition is left in a fix. If the midfielders play high up to pressurize Fulhamai??i??s two creative midfielders, it leaves plenty of space between the defense and midfield for Dempsey to exploit. This has allowed Dempsey to have 3.9 shots on goal per game, higher than any other Fulham player. If the opposition midfielders sit deep to track Dempseyai??i??s run, it allows Murphy and Dembele far too much time on the ball, both raking up high pass percentages of 83.3 and 86.9 respectively.

 

Damien Duff vs. Bryan Ruiz

Ruiz is a natural central midfielder, however initially due to Dembeleai??i??s form in the attacking midfield position and now Pogrebnyak and Johnson forming a formidable partnership, his chances have primarily come on the right-wing. He is far more comfortable with the ball and is a better dribbler than Duff, who on the other hand, is a natural winger and is a much better crosser.

While Duff is able to play only 0.3 accurate long balls per game, Ruiz has a much higher long ball accuracy of 1.6 per game. The statistics for dribbling tell a similar tale with Ruizai??i??s 1.2 successful dribbles much higher than Duffai??i??s 0.3. Ai??When it comes to crossing, Duff with 1.2 accurate crosses is way ahead of Ruizai??i??s 0.3 accurate crosses per game.

Heat maps of Ruiz (Fulham 2 Arsenal 1 ;January 2, 2012)and Duff (Fulham 5 Wolves 0; March 4, 2012)showing the difference in their movements on the pitch. (Courtesy http://soccernet.espn.go.com )

Ai??.

Ruiz picks the ball up and distributes it from the right-wing around halfway line, then moves forward to receive the ball out wide again. He then looks to come inside just before getting level with the opponentai??i??s 18-yard area. He rarely makes it in to the final third of the pitch, but by cutting in from the right he is able to pick out Dempsey, Pogrebnyak or Johnson and he has had much success doing it.

Duff is more eager to approach the touch-line and whip crosses in. This provides the team some much-needed width as Baird, Hughes and Kelly lack Riiseai??i??s attacking instinct. Ruiz is better suited when Fulham want to crowd the midfield and force the opposition wide, as they did against Chelsea in their match on Boxing Day and Arsenal after that.

After a run of three consecutive wins, for the first time since 2007, the match against Villa might have brought their shortcomings to the fore, yet again. The defense with a shaky Senderos at its heart, still remains an issue, and the performance may raise doubt about the steel and temperament of a team filled with wonderful creative players. Fulham have won only two matches away from home all season and Jol may need to consider more defensive minded players like January signing Mahamadou Diarra for such matches on the road.

Fulhamai??i??s football may not quite be Barcelonaai??i??s tiki-taka, but their attacking displays have seen them score more goals at home than any other team outside the top 5, and there is little doubt that the Cottagers are among the leagueai??i??s premier entertainers.

Stats from www.whoscored.com

Heat maps courtesy soccernet.espn.go.com

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2 Responses to “Fulham’s Corner ai??i?? Pogrebnyak Proves To Be the Final Cog in Jolai??i??s Vision for Fluid Football”

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  1. Aditya Sharma says:

    Nice article.
    Pogrebnyak (next time I’m just going to copy-paste his name rather than trying to spell it) has hit the ground running at Fulham, and the team as a whole is pretty impressive to watch. They have Dempsey and Dembele who are marvelous pass and move players, while they also have players like Riise and Duff who are more old-fashioned, in that they can bomb down the touchline and rocket crosses into the box.
    By the way, they didn’t sign Alou Diarra (the big bald French guy) in Jan, it was actually Mahamadou Diarra (the guy from Mali who used to play for Madrid)