Match Review: Fulham v Southampton

Ian Walton

On the surface, Saturday's 3-0 thumping by Southampton seemed more of the same from relegation frontrunners Fulham. Help, however, is on the way. Why Fulham need their new signings to settle in yesterday.

Last week it was haiku.

Yesteday it was a retooling of A Visit From St. Nicholas, or Twas The Night Before Christmas, if you prefer.

In about the 71st minute of today's match against Southampton, my friend Peter leaned over to me and asked, "How familiar are you with iambic pentameter?" Not much.

On the surface, today's thumping at the the Cottage may just seem like normal service resuming after yesterday's euphoric spending binge. Diagnoses of schizophrenia or bipolar II disorder could easily be made based solely on the tweets of Fulham supporters in the last twenty four hours, a twinkling of hope chased with a massive shot of reality.

The truth, as so often it does, lies somewhere in between "Now we'll push on to the top half," and "We're shite and we're going down."

Rene Meulensteen opted to deploy a 4-3-3 against the Saints today, in an effort to best utilize William Kvist and Lewis Holtby, the only two new signings immediately available for selection. The formation and player selection, at least to me, makes sense. Big money was spent on players charged with keeping the club in the Premier League, so they have to be played, don't they? Holtby needs to be given license to attack, but playing him in a 4-2-3-1 necessarily means sitting Scott Parker or Steve Sidwell. Why not give Kvist some cover, stay difficult to break down, and let Holtby dictate the attack from wherever he sees fit? My only question would be why Damien Duff was selected in the first XI. Surely Alexander Kacaniklic or even Pajtim Kasami would have been a more effective option? Making bones about one player is really just splitting hairs, isn't it? Also, that's two cliches seamlessly woven into one sentence. Take  that, iambic pentameter.

Why didn't it work, at least not for ninety minutes? Can you imagine how difficult this is for a new player? Supporters tend to think of players as FIFA '14 automatons who can be plugged and played into any new club, city, league, locker room, role, table position, or culture and easily maintain their highest level of performance. That's simply not reality. Both Holtby and Kvist, to their credit, performed admirably given the circumstances, but Fulham haven't been one William Kvist and one Lewis Holtby away from being brilliant all season. This is a side that has fatal flaws, relegation level flaws. Two new players in their first match are not going to change that.

Fulham, again, were the architects of their own destruction. Without getting too bogged down in the statistics or patterns of play, consider the following:

Adam Lallana was played in and scored after an ill-advised ball was played out of the Fulham back line.

Rickie Lambert scored after Southampton again won the ball in transition, Sascha Riether was slow to recognize the danger, and an unmarked Lambert slotted home.

Jay Rodriguez latched onto a long clearance, was not properly defended by Brede Hangeland, and sniped the top corner of Maarten Stekelenburg's goal.

Conversely, Fulham were unable to capitalize on any of the chances they created, Darren Bent's first half volley the most notable. I've harped on this point before, but it's worth repeating: Clubs don't succeed because they can't score, but rather because they leak goals. If I have one criticism of the transfer business, it's that Fulham didn't appreciably improve across the back line.

All of that said, this is not yet a relegated team, in spite of the fact that Fulham currently sit dead last in the league table and surely cannot rely on goal differential to do them any favors. Shahid Khan, Alistair Mackintosh, and Rene Meulensteen believe they have bought the players to save the club from the drop. The challenge now is to settle said players and find the system most conducive to making use of their particular talents.

This has to happen in less than half a season. It's bleak, but not impossible.

Keep calm and hope the new boys love West London.

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